The Social Impact of the Future Smart Grid

Next Generation Communications Blog

The Social Impact of the Future Smart Grid

By Erin Harrison

While much progress has been made with today’s smart grid, the smart grid of the future will impact our business landscape, the energy marketplace and the ways in which we interact socially and culturally.

The smart grid’s largest social impact will be seen in developing nations, notes Christine Hertzog, managing director of the Smart Grid Library, in a posting “Managing Change for the Smart Grid.” Hertzog states that approximately 2.4 billion people of the world live in energy poverty – what she terms a “permanent blackout.”

In addition, the smart grid will enhance control and convenience in the industrialized world while allowing for social progress in developing nations, according to smart grid experts. When and how well these benefits gain traction will depend on how skillfully today’s energy providers manage change.

“The technologies in smart grid can make a huge difference in delivering electricity to these people,” Herzog says. “Whereas we will see incremental improvements in our lives, for them this will be the difference between night and day.”

Applications such as micro grids – highly local, renewably produced electricity that has selected destinations, based on a communal decision such as powering a well, will be part of that change management for the smart grid, especially in developing nations.

Smart grid design is another area of change management that needs consideration. Smart grid designs should incorporate social and cultural behaviors and viewpoints in order to fully enable the benefits of the smart grid going forward, according to Hertzog.

She notes that while the underlying technology may be the same, how information is presented could have some very localized distinctions, therefore power utilities need to make sure that their interfaces are appropriate for all of those consumers.

With a shared system for existing and new services, energy draw can be managed and systems protected with a complete view of what is happening across the network - at every level.

Other social considerations include messaging to consumers, so that those reaping the benefits of the smart grid understand how far-reaching those positive implications can go.

According to Hertzog, social acceptance and satisfaction is dependent upon three categories of messaging to consumers, not just the environmental benefits, but also how a smart grid is capable of supporting electrified transportation, therefore improving a country’s energy security.

“That message needs to be more strongly communicated. This can help eliminate wars and massive environmental cleanups based on our continuing reliance on oil,” she says.

Another area consumers need to be aware of is the rewards and the risks that go along with new types of energy consumption data made available to them as well as utilities and third parties, Hertzog adds.

Finally, consumers also need to be made aware and secure in the new kinds of relationships between various companies that are being forged in the smart grid ecosystem – for example, where a company other than the main energy provider may own the consumer relationship.

For additional information about ALU's smart grid insights and initiatives, its GridTalk resource is a good place to bookmark.
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