Coalition enlists consumers in smart grid

The SmartGrid Consumer Coalition launches to educate consumers how smart-grid technologies can better control energy use at a time when consumers are apathetic or opposed to smart meters.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

Electric power companies and industry groups on Tuesday launched the SmartGrid Consumer Coalition, a nonprofit with the goal of getting consumers involved in managing their energy consumption.

As previously reported, the newly formed coalition is made up of utilities, smart-grid companies, research groups, and one consumer advocacy group. During a press briefing at the DistribuTech utility conference, representatives said members intend to do research on consumer preferences and collaborate on ways to inform consumers about smart-grid technologies.

"We don't think the smart grid is smart until the consumer is actually involved," said Katherine Hamilton, a president of an advocacy group called the GridWise Alliance. Giving consumers control of how they use energy will help them make changes to lower their consumption, she said.

Founding members on Tuesday reiterated some of the benefits to modernizing the electrical infrastructure, including more reliable service, increased use of solar and wind, and reducing imported oil by using more electric vehicles.

"We look at it as the ultimate enabler of prosperity, economic growth, and...clean and reliable power," said Guido Bartels, general manager for Energy and Utilities at IBM. He added that the U.S. should upgrade its power grid to compete with other regions of the world that are moving ahead with smart-grid programs.

Perspective of advocacy group
One group that stands out from the founding members is the Ohio Consumers' Council, a utility ratepayer group that advocates for lower rates.

Utility executives have shown concern that smart-grid programs won't appeal to consumers if there are higher electricity rates. The Ohio Consumers' Council decided to participate with the SmartGrid Consumer Coalition even though many consumers are still not sold on the benefits, according to Janine Migden-Ostrander from the Ohio Consumers' Council.

"You have to look at the view of what is in the interest of the customer, not just tomorrow but 20 years from now," said Migden-Ostrander on Tuesday. "If you can reduce peak-time use, that will alleviate the need to add new power plants on the supply side."

In the long run, it's cheaper to reduce energy demand with efficiency than to increase energy supply through more power plants, she said. Her group intends to audit the two smart-grid trials now going on in Ohio to ensure rates don't go over pre-set price increase limits, she added.

The smart grid means modernizing the electricity grid to be more reliable, efficient, and able to handle a two-way flow of energy on the grid. Electric Power Research Institute

Other founding members of the group are General Electric, Silver Spring Networks, Control4, Ember, and Magnolia/Best Buy. Think tank the Future of Privacy Forum is also a member.

The creation of the group comes at a time when there is a backlash against installation of smart meters in California and Texas, where consumers have complained that bills have gone up after two-way smart meters are installed. In both cases, the accuracy of meters is being studied, according to local reports.

The first study of consumer views on the smart grid from the SmartGrid Consumer Coalition is due to be released in April, said Jesse Berst, the acting executive director and the managing director at research company GlobalSmartEnergy. Based on the results of that study, the group, which is self-funded, will launch a public service campaign to increase awareness.