We could be looking at highly successful Smart Grid program results that are viewed as failures because of improperly set expectations. Let me explain.

After Distributech in March, I blogged some thoughts on where Smart Grid stood and what the future might bring. It launched interesting discussions with some friends who are intellectually and emotionally invested in Smart Grid security. Particularly this sentence:

I don’t believe we have yet discovered the idea or concept that will make Smart Grid a huge win. I hear time of day billing, disconnects, better information for planning, … some of these are nice to haves for the utilities. But there is not much there to really excite the consumer. How much did people really change their driving habits long term with the gas price hikes? Still thinking about where the big win is with Smart Grid, but my prediction is we have not yet widely discovered what the driver to make Smart Grid a big win.

My smart grid friends came back saying Smart Grid is so much more than this, and they are definitely right when we look at the projects our clients are doing under the Smart Grid umbrella. And if you look at documents like NIST 7628, you see the six smart grid areas are much more than time of day pricing and demand response. They include

This blog entry on the Networked Grid Conference finally crystalized the issue for me. Here are two key paragraphs:

It was reported that Duke Energy canvassed 70,000 customers for adoption of a new variable rate pricing plan and only 20 signed up. In a later panel, the 70,000 number was challenged and an alternative number of 10,000 was suggested. Either way, the uptake was statistically insignificant and this tells us something about customer engagement in Smart Grid. …

A discussion on the Smart Grid’s killer app was notable for its failure to identify any new ideas about what that killer app might be. There was some discussion of demand response and electric vehicle charging as the killer apps but these are known potential applications of Smart Grid technology already and each has some issues around consumer uptake which would be necessary for them to be truly killer apps. This shouldn’t be a surprise however. The killer apps will emerge only when the infrastructure is in place and innovators can begin to see the possibilities to create those applications.

Since Smart Grid isn’t owned by any one company or set of companies, the message has grown with whatever the press and general public would find most interesting. Which is something that they will see with their own eyes and experience daily. Think of the articles you have read about Smart Grid, especially in the mainstream press. How many have talked more than a throw away sentence about Distribution Grid Management and Wide Area Situational Awareness?

Yes new meters are being installed, and they are smart. But if there is no killer app, that engages the customer do customers really care if their meter is smart? And maybe the consumer features do catch on eventually, but will it require a whole new set of meters and infrastructure as other “revolutionary” technologies that flopped a few times before catching on?

This is unfortunate because there are so many great projects in various stages all over the US and World that fall under the broad Smart Grid umbrella that have little mindshare. I don’t know if it is too late to break the time of day / smart home link to Smart Grid when it comes to expectations in the general public. But the most encouraging news is this quote from the same blog:

Another interesting statistic that was quoted was that at least 80% of the US public has no idea what the Smart Grid is. Certainly among people that I talk to, that number doesn’t seem out of line with my experience.

Maybe it is not too late to adjust expectations.