On the 13th June 2011, the Obama administration took a stab at renewing focus on smart grid projects by releasing a report on smart grid policy and announcing some new smart grid initiatives. Before worrying over the country’s budget deficit was so popular, when stimulus spending was possible, the federal government put $4.5 billion towards smart grid projects. There’s much less money in this new push just $250 million for projects in rural areas. By calling attention to the advantages of a smart grid, though, and by focusing in on consumer education, the administration might be able to put pressure on utility companies to invest in the smart grid, by getting to them through their customers.
Consumers interact with the smart grid mostly through smart meters, which give individual households information about their energy use. In some places, utility companies are racing to install smart meters. Texas, for instance, is one-third of the way towards its goal of installing 6 million meters by 2015. But not all companies are so eager to install them, and in some places, customers have fought against smart meters because of worries about higher bills or radiation levels. One of the administration’s new initiatives is Grid 21, which is supposed to “promote consumer-friendly innovations” and help people access their energy use data.
If the smart grid’s going to develop, getting consumers this information is vital, because right now utility companies are blaming them for the flagging momentum on building a new grid. In a survey released yesterday, utility leaders blamed “lack of customer interest and knowledge” for holding back smart grid projects.
But customers should be demanding smart meters. Any household can benefit from an energy diet by cutting back and saving money on bills. As in any diet, it helps to know how much you’re consuming and which habits are hurting you the most. Smart meters provide this information, and you might think twice about using your energy sapping microwave once you know how much money you have been wasting on it each month.
Some utility companies. the ones facing the pressure of building new, very expensive plants to keep up with demand, are on board with this thinking, but others see little benefit in helping their customers buy less of their product. In its report, the Obama administration made it clear that it’s not planning on pressing utility companies too hard to adopt any one smart grid policy: The report emphasized that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to this issue. From a consumer’s perspective, though, there is one simple step to take, the sensible consumer should demand a smart meter from their utility company or install one themself. Although if they go this route, expert advice should be taken.