New coalition pledges to bring consumer voice to smart grid activities

There has been plenty of research released in recent months about the value of smart grid investments in the minds of business executives representing utility companies, as well as public sector and government organizations.But a new non-profit organization hopes to amplify the voice of the consumer in informed smart grid decision-making.

There has been plenty of research released in recent months about the value of smart grid investments in the minds of business executives representing utility companies, as well as public sector and government organizations.

But a new non-profit organization hopes to amplify the voice of the consumer in informed smart grid decision-making. It emerges reports of backlashes in California and Texas related to apparent glitches in smart grid pilots taking place in those states.

The Smart Grid Consumer Coalition describes itself as a cooperative effort (not a trade association) dedicated to research and education about smart grid issues including potential applications, their reliability and thorny consumers such as data privacy. The acting executive director is well-known industry analyst Jesse Berst, who is managing director at GlobalSmartEnergy. Among the high-profile founding corporate members are Control4 Energy Systems (which was credited on sparking the idea), General Electric and IBM. Here's a list of all the founding members:

  • Magnolia/Best Buy
  • Control4
  • GE
  • GridWise Alliance (GWA)
  • IBM
  • NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
  • Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC)
  • Silver Spring Networks (SSN)

"Most consumers don't get yet or understand why they should even care about this stuff. ... We need to step back and start to educate consumers on why they should care," said Richard Walker president of Control4, on a press conference call to discuss the coalition.

The organization hasn't revealed what it costs to join, but it is encouraging advocacy, privacy and consumer groups to become involved -- it doesn't want fees to be a barrier.

In conjunction with the coalition's formation, GE released some smart grid consumer perception data today, which it collected a national telephone survey of about 1,000 U.S. consumers. The research found that close to 80 percent of those surveyed weren't really familiar with the term "smart grid" although they said it was time to update the nation's electrical network. That's a good thing, since the Obama administrations is pouring something like $4.5 billion into smart grid projects in places like Colorado, Hawaii and Ohio. (Here's some more information about where the money is being spent.)

A majority of those who DID the term believed smart grid technology could help with making better decisions about their electricity usage. But, as the GE survey illustrates, we have a long way to go before consumers can make truly educated decisions.

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