Utilities Poised to Blow It When Smart Grid Rolls Out

blue electric meter photo

Photo via FeatheredTar via CC

According to new research from IDC Energy Insights, utilities are not even remotely ready for the smart grid particularly when it comes to one vital piece of the puzzle - customer interaction. So far, utilities have been this big, lumbering entity to which you send money every month in order to have your lights stay on, your refrigerator keep cold, your heater to keep you warm. You don't think about it daily, nor do you call up your utility for a chat often - or at all other than when you're moving. But with real time pricing and new interactive technologies, you can bet you will. And they're not ready for that. The smart grid is absolutely necessary, no question. From helping to reduce emissions worldwide to incorporating renewable energy into our electricity infrastructure, and upgrade to a smart grid is worth the hassle in the long run. But utilities are finding it to be a rocky transition.

According to IDC's report, 35% of utilities with smart meters installed have seen their call volume increase between 10% and 30%. As Earth2Tech points out, "But not only will customers seek to interact with utilities more around the topic of new smart meters and demand response services. The addition of variable, real-time pricing, and home energy displays also provides a direct channel for a connection between the utility and the customer like never before."

When someone sees their bill changing on a near hourly basis and are actively encouraged to get involved in understanding and changing their energy consumption, then they're simply going to want more interaction with the company who is providing said energy and changing said prices. But utilities lack both the business model and the communication technology to provide this heightened level of service.

So focused on the actual infrastructure, utilities are not investing in technologies like live chat on their websites, or even mobile device interfacing. And only 60% of utilities have a consumer-facing website.

Utilities could have a good long time to prepare for the surge of customer interaction. According to a Microsoft survey, only 8% of utilities worldwide have completed their upgrade to a smart grid, and 37% are working on it. More than half haven't even started. But when you dig down into why, it's because it's just such a disruptive technology.

Customer interaction aside, utilities have to change everything from their technologies to their business structure. Security is suddenly a whole new can of worms, as is real time pricing, carbon footprint management, and more.

"As this study clearly shows, the disruptive nature of the smart grid revolution, and the innovations it brings, has caught many in the industry by surprise, including many utilities that already have embraced smart grid technologies," said Jon Arnold, managing director for the Worldwide Power & Utilities Industry at Microsoft, in a statement. " "Some incorrectly assert that the utility industry is unwilling to change, but the survey shows the opposite. It's the magnitude of change to everything from business models to systems that's overwhelming."

More on Smart Grids
Chinese Gov't to Spend More on Smart Grid Projects than U.S. in 2010
DOE Report Says Smart Grid Can Cut US Emissions by 12% (Video)
Getting From Point A To Point B: Why Fixing The Electric Grid Is Critical To Our Energy Future
Cisco Stakes Out Bigger Presence in Smart Grid Scene

Related Content on Treehugger.com