Getting educated about the smart grid



If you missed it, last week the world’s leading event on green innovation, aptly named West Coast Green, held its annual event at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, Calif. Keynote speakers such as Al Gore, David Suzuki and Jerry Brown, exhibits showcasing new technology and smart products as well as green-focused business sessions all came together to make this event truly spectacular.

And while everyone surely had their favorite memory, “Home Energy Management – The Smart Home of the Future” which included panelists from Intel, Best Buy, Tendril and PG&E, left a lasting impression for the attendees from Horn Group.

“What we learned from these industry insiders is that the smart grid is a huge umbrella under which many other technologies fall, including power generation and power management technologies,” noted Simon Suza and Mina Manchester in their Horn Group blog. In addition they wrote “…we were impressed by how the individual speakers representing seemingly divergent corporate interests came together and agreed that in order to tackle the smart grid dilemma, we need to work together. A major takeaway from the conversation was that in order to develop a smarter grid, we need to maintain open standards and develop and implement technologies that leave room for continuous improvement and evolution.”

Learning more about the smart grid

So what is a smart grid? Well, according to the U.S. Department of Energy it’s an electric grid that delivers electricity from generation points to consumers while Wikipedia takes it a step further by saying that it uses “digital technology with two-way communications to control appliances at consumers\’ homes.”

However, one of the most concise definitions comes from an article posted in October 2009 at The Street by Senior Contributor Daniel Dicker, entitled “Smart Grid, Smart Move, Not-so-Smart Investment.” He says, “Smart grid is a phrase used to describe the installation of meters and timers in homes and businesses, so that electricity usage can be monitored and more efficiently allocated. Right now, the domestic electricity consumer has very little idea where he\’s using his power and what it\’s costing him — all he normally gets is a monthly bill, most often based on an averaged amount. Smart grids will inform the consumer where, precisely, he is spending his money and how he might more economically schedule his laundry and dish washing.”

And while Dicker may have nixed the idea of making a financial investment in companies involved in the technology, he does support the concept as well as the benefits that the smart grid apparently offers. These include operational efficiencies which save energy, reduce cost, promote environmental quality and increase reliability.

Moving toward a smarter grid

The session at West Coast Green is just one of the many indications that those in the know know that the smart grid is the wave of the future. In fact, all it takes is a search on the Internet to see the number of news stories about moving toward a smart grid future. From the Pacific Northwest to Baltimore and Cleveland, the U.S. Department of Energy, utility companies and technology companies such as are embracing a smarter future.

There has been push-back from consumers, however. In San Francisco, for instance, consumers stopped PG&E from installing smart meters pending further evaluations about accuracy, security and public health. Their biggest concern: higher electricity prices.

 This is why consumers need to take the time to educate themselves about smart grid benefits. And utilities need to do a better job in early-stage field testing and communication and not make the consumer shoulder all the burden of investing in smart grids.