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Customer engagement breeds results in smart grid deployments

By Donna Donnawitz
March 21, 2013

There's a funny thing that happens when utility providers turn to the smart grid- it does almost nothing to change how consumers use energy. This is a bit of a problem becausethe smart grid basically has three core functions: enabling more renewable resource use, improving grid transparency for utility providers and allowing energy companies and consumers to take more control over how they use electricity. If consumers are unable to use the smart grid to improve their power use, then one of the core points of smart grid deployment gets ignored.

From a utility perspective, renewable resources, transparency and internal power management may seem more important on a day-to-day basis, but utility providers that want success need to get consumers involved. There is a simple reason why consumer involvement is so important, and its the same thing that drives so many other things in life - money.

Taking advantage of consumer engagement in smart grid deployments
Smart grid is extremely expensive. It is not pleasant for utility providers to go up to consumers and say "Guess what everybody, we're putting millions of dollars into this really cool technology that helps us operate more sustainably. And oh, yeah, you're rates are going to pay for it." Customers aren't happy with higher costs unless they see benefits. If utility vendors are the only ones benefiting from the smart grid, they will face major problemsfinding public funding and acceptance of the transition.

A recent Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative study found that a few early smart grid deployments have found success for consumer engagement and showcased how much can be gained when the people using utility services understand how to take advantage of the smart grid and have the tools they need to do so.

Patty Durand, executive director of the SGCC, explained that consumer engagement has a wide impact on smart grid success.

"When utilities take certain steps to engage consumers in the smart grid and empower them to manage their energy, it works," said Durand. "As consumers become more educated about smart grid and smart meters, and have access to more information, pricing, and automation applications, their knowledge and favorability grows, and so does our nation's energy efficiency."

Easing consumer engagement
One challenge with getting consumers involved is that the rest of the grid is so complex that utility providers are too busy dealing with grid complexity to divert resources for customer engagement.Cost-efficient terminal servers can ease smart grid developmentsomewhat by providing interoperability between the serial-specific solutions in the grid and the Ethernet technology used for data transit. This eases smart grid deployment and can leave utility vendors with more time for consumer-focused projects.

Perle offers a range of cost effective serial-to-Ethernet converters to help meet NERC-CIP compliance for the protection of critical cyberassets in substations. The IOLAN SDS HV/LDC Terminal Server is designed to meet harsh environments associated with Power Substations with attributes such as support for substation AC and DC voltage ranges, extended operating temperatures and meeting emission, immunity and safety approvals associated with substation IT equipment.


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