If I can track the path of the aircraft I’m supposed to be on in two hours, why can’t I see my electricity consumption in real time?

If I can track the path of the aircraft I’m supposed to be on in two hours, why can’t I see my electricity consumption in real time?

One of the longstanding challenges for our nation’s utilities is that electricity (and natural gas and water) is one of the very few things we purchase on a daily, all-day-long basis without having any idea what we’re actually paying for our purchases.  It’s akin to stopping into your local convenience store throughout each day, grabbing whatever you want and then getting a bill at the end of the month tallying it all up.  Imagine the shock and surprise.  And blame.  “There’s NO way I ate that many bags of Cheetos!  They must’ve made a mistake!”

This is one of the key promises of the Smart Grid.  With fancy meters that read our consumption in real time (as opposed to a guy who comes to your house and reads the meter once a month) we should all be able to have dashboards that show us on a moment-by-moment basis how much electricity we’re buying, how much we’ve bought for the month so far and how much we’re going to pay for it.  If the dashboards are really, really fancy, they should be excellent little behavioral management tools.  For example, you should be able to pre-set a payment target into your dashboard and have it manage your consumption accordingly.  Thus, when you tell it to crank the AC a little higher it would say to you, “Are you sure?  You’re on track to pay $200 this month but that change will put you on track for $225.”  You’d get to make the choice about whether or not your comfort was worth the extra 25 bucks.  And, thus, we’d move every single one of us from a place of automatic behaviors to conscious choices about our energy consumption.

There are just a couple of tiny problems with this amazing vision of the future:

1. Denial is a beautiful thing.  Our Utility Pulse study reveals that 63% of the population is genuinely interested in all the empowerment that comes along with the Smart Grid (pricing programs, management controls, etc.)…but 36% are not.  Those 36% will cite a whole host of nefarious reasons — the utility will be spying on me, they’ll know when I’m not home, such technology is dangerous, etc.  But the bottom line is it’s just a whole lot easier to consume all the Cheetos we want and then blame the convenience store for overcharging us.  Once we all have dashboards and the ability to actually monitor our own consumption, we don’t get to blame the utility anymore.  And that’s no fun.

2. This is a what’s-the-big-deal-event for most consumers. Almost every utility in America currently deploying Smart Meters is running ads and cranking out bill stuffers that say things like, “With our new Smart Meters we’ll get notified every time the power goes out!  We’ll be able to locate problems on the line faster!  And we can instantly turn on and off service to make your moving process easier!” The response by most of us is, “Um, right.  Can’t you do all those things now?”  It’s unfathomable to most of us that when the electricity goes out a dude in a truck has to drive around and look for the power line laying on the ground.  “Really?” our collective voices cry.  “Really, utilities can’t look at a computer screen and in a millisecond see exactly what’s going on?”

In a world where I can hold $10,000 worth of technology on a single device in my hand for $300, and I can instantly see real time coverage of the Tsunami swallowing Japan, or watch the flight path of the aircraft I’m about to get on, or access the menu of a little Indian restaurant in New York that I might go to in a few weeks, I have a basic expectation that utilities can track every electron on the system at any moment.  That I could have a dashboard that allows me to do the same is not News.  It’s a basic expectation.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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