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America's direction on smart grid

President Obama, who has eloquently made the case for a federal role in technology innovation and electric grid modernization, should adopt a goal for national smart grid efforts.

That goal is to have 50 million households and small businesses empowered to receive, understand and act on their energy usage data in less than four years.

And that goal was suggested to the president's chief technical officer, Aneesh Chopra, by Chris King, chief regulatory officer at eMeter, and others at a meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

King's biggest takeaway from the meeting was a lingering concern that such a goal might not be included in the administration's smart grid framework, due out soon.

"We need to adopt a concrete goal that can be measured and understood," King told me. "Without a specific goal, I'm afraid the administration's framework could be just another white paper that doesn't lead anywhere specific."

The suggested goal of having 50 million households and businesses with access to energy use feedback by 2015 is based on current U.S. utility commitments for interval meter installation, which have reached 48 million, according to King. He added a conservative margin of 25 percent to that number for deals struck in the next couple years. Usage feedback would be attained via private, secure accounts on online portals and/or in-home displays.

Such an initiative, King pointed out, requires no new spending or regulations, but would provide direction to utilities beyond the mere installation of meters. This goal would also serve as cover for state public utility commissions to push utilities to provide end-user benefits to smart meters that ratepayers have paid for, an argument made Wednesday by Andrew Campbell, former senior energy advisor to the California Public Utilities Commission, according to King. Campbell's point was structured to echo the president's own logic: Pres. Obama has often stated his goal of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 to galvanize an industry.

King said that the group of private sector players invited to inform the administration at the meeting also emphasized that reaching for the goal stated above would propel job creation and technical innovation—two of the president's oft-stated goals.

In turn, the private sector group heard from administration officials that the White House has four key elements to its grid modernization strategy: consumer engagement, promoting innovation, ensuring grid security and cost-effective grid modernization.

"We're all in favor of motherhood and apple pie," King said. "This is where adopting a specific goal comes in."

Other advice—actual steps to achieve the above-stated goal—freely offered to the administration at the meeting:

  • Establish standards for online communication of consumer energy data, as well as for home area network interfaces (a step that's underway) and
  • Pricing options that could include peak-time rebates, critical peak pricing and/or time-of-use rates


What surprised King about the meeting? The administration's interest in learning about projects that reflected consumer-related successes, he said.

As you may know, we've covered consumer engagement and participation in grid modernization in great depth. One need search no further than my colleague Christopher Perdue's column yesterday, "Customer Engagement: Keeping It Simple."

But if you're looking for more, I'd highly recommend a number of publications by outside groups, in addition to a selection of our columns from the past year.

"The Need for Essential Consumer Protections: Smart Metering Proposals and the Move to Time-Based Pricing" by the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), AARP, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), Public Citizen and Consumers Union lays out baseline concerns for dynamic pricing programs.

A few other highlights may be found in the following columns: "Smart Grid and Consumer Protections," "Data Privacy Issues," "Data Privacy Issues: Part II," "Smart Grid Consumers Up for Grabs?" "Consumer Concerns About Smart Grid."

King, of course, is internationally recognized for his thought leadership and guidance of meaningful pilot programs that produce data on many of the questions explored above. See our latest interview with King in two parts: "eMeter's Chris King: Regulation, Consumers, Zigbee" and "eMeter's Chris King: Regulation, Consumers, Zigbee: Part Two."

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily



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