Video Reveals Truth About Smart Grid

minicooper93402, via Flickr


by Elisa Wood, via Renewable Energy World

We don’t think about energy until something goes wrong, and this week things went wrong on an historic level. As a result, the public and pundits are again focusing on the fragility of big electric grids.

Ten percent of the world’s population — more than 600 million people — lost their power in India on July 31, marking the largest blackout in history. India’s grid collapse follows the storm-related outages that left Washington, D.C. sweltering for days when a freak super derecho hit in June.

So the timing couldn’t be better to accelerate consumer education about smart grid, and the non-profit Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) is on the job.

Smart grid uses high tech devices to make the electric system more sophisticated and less likely to fail. It also opens the way for a future of decentralized power, where the home, car, and office building each become power plants in their own right.

But smart grid requires a degree of customer energy self-management, something foreign to most of us. So the energy industry has been working hard to figure out how to interest consumers in the various energy displays, time-of-use rates, smart meters and other tools of smart grid.

To do this, utilities must get inside the head of the consumer, something Proctor & Gamble or Apple Computer do routinely, but monopoly-based utilities have never before found necessary.

In an effort to help, SGCC recently not only asked consumers what they think about smart grid, but also video-taped their responses. After all, sometimes what we say only half reveals what we mean. How we say something means a lot.

“It’s one thing to read a one dimensional set of quotes. But it is another thing entirely to watch consumers and hear them saying in their own words what they think and what they know,” said Patty Durand, SGCC executive director, in a recent interview.

The group interviewed 24 consumers in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. What did the interviews reveal, and how can the information help utilities?

It turns out consumers do want data about their energy use, but also want help understanding what it means and how to use it. They worry about reliability and price and in some cases the environment. Most important, says Durand, they don’t all think alike, so shouldn’t all be approached by utilities in the same way.

Consumers generally fall into five categories, she said.

  • Traditionals – Often senior citizens who oppose change
  • Do-it-yourselfers – They want to save money and mange their spending
  • Easy Streets –  Highly educated consumers or those making a good income who want to save time and avoid waste
  • Young Americans – Those just starting out who don’t know much about smart grid but want to learn
  • Concerned Greens – Environmentally motivated individuals who are highly likely to embrace smart grid

Each of these groups responds differently to smart grid pitches. Utilities will be best able to capture consumer interest if they tailor messages to each, she said.

For example, information about renewable energy will resonate with Concerned Greens and Easy Streets, while it will irritate the Traditionals. They might respond better to a message that emphasizes U.S. competitiveness. “There are so many opinions and passions around energy and the environment that the targeted message is better,” Durand said.

The bottom line is that utilities for years have treated customers as “monoliths,” she said. Watching consumers in action, on video, makes clear the differences in consumer concerns and interests.  “Education is key, but it needs to be carefully deployed.”

See the ten things consumer want most from smart grid and a short clip of the interviews here.

Elisa Wood is an energy writer for This piece was originality published at Renewable Energy World and was reprinted with permission.

12 Responses to Video Reveals Truth About Smart Grid

  1. Leif says:

    As a 71 year old that falls into the last “category” and motivated to see distributed energy everywhere, I can see the day when electric car owners will be able to charge their car at night time cheep power and resell that energy back to the grid during peak demand at a personal profit. Where home energy producers with Solar PV production will be able to sell their afternoon peak production at “value added” prices while taking a walk in the park with the kidders and earn enough to pay for a home cooked meal for the family.

  2. The Wonderer says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s also an opportunity for deregulated, monopolistic utility companies to significantly increase revenue. How this is implemented and regulated will make all the difference.

  3. Greatgrandma Kat says:

    Being an elder myself and knowing quite a few I don’t think we are less agreeable to change. After seeing and living through so much of it some may be burned out on it but the majority know change is constant. We here in our very big county, but small communities had a smart grid installed over all of last year and it works great to track use and find ways to cut back.

  4. Leif says:

    Put Solar PV in your yard and bleed the bast***s.

  5. Tom Amitai says:

    What’s that picture supposed to be? It looks like a section of an under construction communications tower about to short out some high tension lines.

  6. Mark Ziegler says:

    IBM has growing ambitions in the smart grid area. A friend of mine says it is just another way to get your money.


  7. Chris Winter says:

    We’re all going to be paying for energy for the foreseeable future. I guess the question I would like to ask your friend is, “Somebody producing energy is going to get your money. What kind of somebody would you like that to be?”

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    They haven’t treated customers as ‘monoliths’, they have totally ignored them. Differentiating their advertizing is a minor part of the problem and often backfires because it is still a mechanistic way of approaching human needs – go Leif and Greatgrandma, ME

  9. The Wonderer says:

    The dirty, greedy, bast***s will be able to measure what you are selling back, and steeply discount it (if we let them).

  10. Gaiaphon says:

    For those who, like us, opted for at least partial energy independence, super-insulating our homes and then installing solar water heating, the value of renewables is now a demonstrable benefit.

    Photovoltaics on our roof (probably Bulding Integrated PVs… to replace our roof tiles, which sorely need it) are the next logical step.

    Here in the UK we have the option to sell off our surplus electricity back to the National Grid, in summer and that will at least partly offset the cost of buying in more power, during the winter months.

    As we also invest in electricity bonds with our Electricity Supplier, to enable them to build more renewables and getting a 6-monthly dividend in the bargain, we do well out renewables.

    For that to work, though, you need a smart grid, else conditioning the current load, with the constant spikes and troughs in supply and demand that renewables entail would be a nightmare!

    In contrast, electricity bills for all our neighbours have gone up and they have nothing to show for it.

    SMART Grid? YOU BET!!! :oD

  11. Leif says:

    My electric costs have gone down to free in the summer and down 1/3 in the winter with my Solar PV investment. In addition I receive about 10% RoI. How is your Wall Street Investment doing? The neighbors get my summer green overs with minimal line loss for transmission.

  12. Mark says:

    where can I get an explanation of smart grid?