Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Smart Grid Brass Ring For Consumers

Since I live and breathe Smart Grid these days (even though I am focused solely on Smart Grid security), I am constantly dumbfounded at the lack of awareness of the Smart Grid by most people I speak to "on the street".  I go to parties, social engagements, or wherever I may travel,  and am asked what I do for a living, and when I tell whoever is inquiring that I work in Smart Grid Cyber Security, the inevitable question is nearly always "What is a smart grid?"

It is particularly interesting when one of my neighbors asks me and I take him (or her) to the meter on the side of their house and point to the recently installed Smart Meter and explain what it is and how it works.  Sometimes I hear comments like "Oh yeah, I heard some people have had their bills go up." or "I hear these cause cancer."

So we are essentially with either no perception of the Smart Grid, or a collection of sound bites that fail to tell the story.

...but what is the story?

What I mean by this is "What is the story from a consumer perspective?"  Why do I want a Smart Meter, or a Smart Grid anyway?

Years ago, before I had a computer, I heard of this "Internet".  It was all over the place, this Internet discussion.  Internet this, Internet that, email, surfing, World Wide Web, @this, .com that, blah, blah, blah.  It was a big joke to those of us who did not partake in the festivities...at least for a little while.

Then the internet became cool.  No, I don't mean cool in a hipster with gel in his hair sense.  I mean that the Internet became an environment where everyone could get something out of it beyond the interesting technology that makes it all work.  It became a fixture.  It started to take off.

The Internet did not really take off until it became something that delivered value to those who partook in it.  Once we realized that we could save money shopping online, save stamps with online banking, save fuel with online shopping, download music, movies, news, entertainment, etc. we all took to it like ants to picnics.  We are hooked.

Then came the whole smart phone revolution.  We discovered that we could not only carry this cool Internet with us, but we could also download interesting "apps" that we could do interesting things with, and suddenly discovered that these apps were something we could no longer live without.

Okay...maybe that is a stretch, but those of us who live happily in the app using world will probably agree that apps are a great thing, and they endear us to our devices.

So that brings me around to the Smart Grid, and consumer adoption.  This morning I saw an article about a new iPhone application called JouleBug, which makes a game out of saving energy.  The application is rather low tech, but it is sort of interesting with good graphics.  It illustrates a conversation I have had with some people in the Smart Grid space, where I insist that what it will take for consumers to "buy into" the Smart Grid is a combination of some sort of savings on power consumption AND an interesting way to interact with the ecosystem.  Sound bites on news programs and lower bills alone will not win us over.  An cool iPhone application (as an example) with cool graphics, push notifications, easy to use, and a general fun feeling may indeed be a winner.  If it gets us to change our energy usage in a positive way...even better.  After all, changing consumer behavior is really what the Smart Grid is about.

We, as humans, are not far removed from the creatures that flock towards bright and shiny things.  Perhaps we are a bit shallow in that regard, but if it gets us to save energy, then so be it.

Just my opinion.

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