Scads of new smart grid research

Because I know you just can't get enough of the smart grid and smart meters, I wanted to direct your attention to new research outlining concerns for (among?) those building out these new technologies.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Because I know you just can't get enough of the smart grid and smart meters, I wanted to direct your attention to new research outlining concerns for (among?) those building out these new technologies.

The first is a new report from EcoAlign that illustrates the very real consumer perception problem that utility companies face as they spend billions of dollars on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure. The report, entitled "Separating Smart Grid from Smart Meters? Consumer Perceptions and Expectations of the Smart Grid," reflects data gathered during 1,000 online interviews in May 2010.

The most poignant statistic from my perspective is the fact that 70 percent of those surveyed haven't heard of the phrase smart grid. On the face of it, that's not a great thing for all the companies spending money on the buildout BUT it also means that these same companies have an excellent opportunity to participate in shaping consumer perceptions. The other positive thing is that those who HAVE heard of the smart grid believe that it will bring them benefits. So, there's a good foundation of good will. Most of them associate the benefits with having some greater degree of control over their utility bills.

The next analysis is from PricewaterhouseCoopers, which has released a report called "Smart Grid Growing Pains" that outlines what it calls growing pains for smart grid deployments. Nothing really revelatory, but here are the six areas of discussion in the report:

  1. Capital expenses associated with the buildout: According to Pricewaterhouse, capital expenses for the utilities industry are supposed to be $75 billion this year, which is more than double what they paid in 2004. The question is how much can utility companies bite off at once.
  2. Smart grid awareness: Even though there are pilots going on in something like 33 states, close to 70 percent of Americans have never heard of the smart grid. Almost as many haven't heard of smart meters. So, even though this stuff is being built out, there's a huge evangelism challenge ahead.
  3. No one know the financial impact: Frankly speaking, there's a lot of intuition associated with smart grid deployments right now. No one seems to know the exact impact that these technologies will have for either the utilities or the consumers (both residential and business). We need some hard figures.
  4. Security: Because technologies are increasingly connected, there are myriad concerns about data breaches (both malicious and unintentional). Attacks against the various systems at electric and water utilities have grown measurably since 2000.
  5. Information overload: Various industries have been talking about the promise of business intelligence for years, but many businesses struggling with how to analyze and act on all the great statistics they are now collecting. Even if utilities collect this information, can they really use it effectively?
  6. Technology convergence: The convergence between networked meters and information technology networks will present an interesting dilemma: Who is best qualified to integrate these things? What's more, with all the start-ups in this space, where is it safe for utilities to place their bets?

The final report you should grab is from the Lexington Institute, which is a self-described think tank on national priorities. Called "Smart Grid Implementation: Strategies for Success," the 19-page report provides more information on the following topics: cybersecurity, smart power transmission, interoperability standards, and consumer adoption/acceptance.

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