“At times we’ve been tempted to scare consumers into the right behavior.”
Chances are you are only vaguely aware of the so-called smart grid. Brewster McCracken [right] executive director of the Pecan Street Project hopes someday you’ll consider it as integral to your consumption of electricity as the Internet is to your consumption of knowledge.
Whether that happens depends a lot upon how consumers are enticed to embrace the concept, which promises to give them more control over how and when they use electric power, and how much it costs them.
The term smart grid is relatively new, but the basic technologies have been around for decades. At the core of the system is a smart meter, a more technologically robust version of that electric meter with the revolving wheel that resides behind a bush on the side of your house.
With a smart meter at the center, proponents of the smart grid envision an environment in which a consumer could track energy use within a home or business with the same ease and whiz-bang cleverness as the latest iPhone app. Gee, the kids left the plasma screen on in the game room, and it’s sucking energy like crazy!
Proponents believe the smart grid will encourage consumers to use less energy, and by modifying their habits buyers can take advantage of dynamic pricing, the option of paying less or more for their electricity, depending upon when it is used. On hot summer afternoons rates go up to run that A/C, at night they drop while you charge your electric vehicle.
Sounds promising, so what’s the problem?
The smart grid has plenty of supporters, and pilot projects have been implemented all over the country, one of the largest of which is in Austin, Texas, where McCracken’s energy management initiative resides. But consumers have been slow to embrace the smart grid, and at a recent conference at The University of Texas at Austin, researchers and energy executives pondered why.