Non-Profit Group Formed to Engage Consumers on Smart Grid

Consumer backlashes to smart meters in Bakersfield, Calif., and Dallas have gotten the attention of utilities and smart-grid technology vendors in the United States.

Too many consumers associate smart meters not with energy conservation and personal-energy savings, but with higher energy bills and no discernible benefits. That’s a problem not just for disaffected consumers, but also for the entire smart-grid ecosystem — utilities, technology vendors, regulators, and governments — which ultimately depends on consumer acceptance of smart meters and other consumer-facing elements of the smart grid.

The smart-grid industry, if I might call it that, has recognized the problem. An awareness has grown that while the industry might have done well in defining its technological requirements and evolving its business practices, it hasn’t been nearly as proficient in educating and communicating with consumers, many of which don’t know much about the smart grid and don’t understand the benefits of smart meters.

To address the matter, the Smart Grid Consumer Coalition (SGCC) has been formed. A non-profit organization, the SGCC comprises a number of consumer electronics and technology companies, retailers, consumer advocacy groups, and utilities. Defining itself as a cooperative rather than a trade association, the SGCC’s mandate involves making sure that consumers understand how and why they will benefit from the adoption of smart meters and other smart-grid technologies.

Founding members of SGCC include Magnolia/Best Buy, Control4, GE, GridWise Alliance (GWA), IBM, NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), and Silver Spring Networks (SSN). Membership fees haven’t been specified, but the non-profit group has encouraged consumer advocacy and privacy groups to get involved.

The vendors and utilities spearheading the SGCC aren’t entirely selfless. They understand how much their own success is contingent upon consumer acceptance of what they’re selling. To quote Richard Walker, president of Control4 Energy Systems, in a column he wrote for the San Jose Mercury News:

Consumers don’t know what the Smart Grid is, or understand why they should care, and they’re suspicious that the new “smart meters” will mean higher bills, not cost savings. But here’s a certainty: If they don’t embrace, accept, and use the technologies and services the Smart Grid makes possible, none of its benefits can be realized — for consumers, or for anyone else.

Perhaps the SGCC was formed belatedly, but it also has come together with a good deal or urgency and clarity of purpose. We’ll have to see whether it fulfills its mandate.

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