Biggest Smart Grid Challenge Facing Utilities? Consumer Education.

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Photo by mpeterke via Flickr Creative Commons

There are myriad challenges utility companies face as we work to upgrade our electrical grid. However, there is one that stands out as easily fixable. The stories we've heard over the past year about consumers balking at smart meter installations could have been avoided. So too could a smart meter opt-out bill introduced in California. The one thing that can help move installations of smart meters forward more quickly and smoothly, and which can help progress on the smart grid over all, is a simple step that for some reason utilities seem to leave out of the mix -- educating consumers. According to a new study, the majority of Americans don't know what smart meters or the smart grid is; yet once they're educated, the majority are in full support of the upgrade. According to a new Market Strategies International E2 (Energy + Environment) Study, 79% of Americans know little or nothing about the smart grid, and 76% don't know anything about smart meters. No wonder consumers are wary, and even hostile, toward a utility that comes in to install a new meter that uses new technology. Why wouldn't they be concerned?

Yet all it takes is simple consumer education on the part of utilities to rectify the matter and move forward with an energy efficient, economically responsible system like the smart grid.

The survey shows that after having the technologies explained to them, 75% feel that the smart grid, complete with smart meters, should be a priority over the next 1-5 years, and 67% support their utility company in installing the technologies.

It seems only logical that once consumers understand the many ways an updated smart grid can help with energy conservation, both at their own home and on a national level, that the support would roll forward. Why utilities aren't spending more time and effort in devising and implementing consumer education strategies before they come pounding on the door with newfangled meters is a bit of a mystery.

This isn't to understate the legitimate concerns around the smart grid, from personal privacy to grid security. However, for basic concerns common among consumers, such as a smart meter raising the cost of energy bills or being a serious health threat, an education program is an absolutely necessary component of rolling out smart meters. It's one thing to set goals for X million meters to be installed in five years, and it's another to make sure that you customers are part of the process, and are supportive and comfortable with the technological advancements.

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