Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Post # 20 - Report: Consumer Acceptance and Behavior Still a Smart Grid Challenge

A report produced by the telecom research firm Maravedis in partnership with the Telecommunications Management program at the University of Maryland University College finds that the current level of utility commitment to smart grid widely varies, while consumer buy-in remains a major challenge.

Entitled “Smart Grids and the New Utility,” the report concludes that -- for all the smart grid buzz over the past few years -- most roll-outs to date have been in secondary markets involving small clusters of trial users. Among the report's principal findings:

  • New levels of standards protocols need to be agreed on, from device to network, and especially across utilities (investor-owned, municipally-owned, coops, etc.). Since the different utility classes are regulated differently, Maravedis identifies a need for “utilityagnostic” devices.
  • While most smart grid focus is on “microenergy management” within households, the "onslaught" of Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) will require new “macroenergy” levels of management.
  • With respect to wireless issues, the report reached two principal conclusions. First, use of licensed spectrum is preferred over unlicensed spectrum. This will place WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, a telecommunications protocol that provides fixed and fully mobile internet access) at an advantage for wireless smart meter communication and the backhauling of aggregated usage data. Second, wireless carriers believe that smart grid initiatives will help machinetomachine (M2M) services and, like Kindle and the iPAD, “offer new opportunities in monetizing 3G wireless services.”
  • Maravedis concludes that utilities likely will not emerge as a new breed of wireless carrier even after embracing IP technologies, wireless access and intelligent 2way devices. However, Maravedis says it uncovered “some interesting examples of electricity coops rolling out triple play services that include Internet access, television and wireless solutions.”
  • Due to the enormous costs, complexity, standards, and regulatory needs a truly operable smart grid will require, “[t]he government’s role is paramount in moving Smart Grid initiatives forward.”
Maravedis also highlights a major challenge frequently discussed in this blog: the jury is still out in the key areas of consumer acceptance and consumer behaviors:
"A Smarter Grid will turn the utility business model insideout, but will smart meters create smarter consumers? Do consumers really care to micromanage their electricity usage? There is a populist backlash against smart metering trumpeted by notions of higher rates, horriblymanaged rollouts, ideas of big brother hovering, and who will own (and get to utilize) the volumes of near realtime usage data. Smart metering is only the start to the Smart Grid transformation, and if its value isn’t properly communicated then household, township, statewide and nationwide economies will end up being the largest challenge to Smart Grid initiatives." [Emphasis added.]

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