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NARUC Panel Explores Consumer Benefits of Smart Grid

in Smart Grid by

WASHINGTON, February 14, 2011 - A panel of representatives from T-Mobile, Echeleon and state and federal governments discussed the value of smart grid for consumers on Saturday at the The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners yearly convention and explained how the smart grid will be able to bring both consumers and utilities increased efficiencies.

The smart grid integrates the electrical network with a telecommunications network. By allowing different parts of the grid to "talk" to each other, consumers will be better able to control their electricity usage and utilities will have increased control to manage the demand.

Commissioner Sherman Elliott from the Illinois Commerce Commission emphasized the need for collaboration between electricity providers and telecommunications firms in the building of the smart grid. The current grid contains a great amount of waste, he said - nearly half of the energy currently generated by power plants lays idle in transmission lines.  That unused electricity could easily power the entire fleet of electric vehicles currently on the road.

The current electrical grid is outdated, said Elliott; a smart grid would relay information to smart meters and appliances that will provide consumers with the information necessary to make smarter decisions about their usage. A smart grid would also allow for demand-based pricing that would lower the cost of electricity during low demand periods.

Nick Sinai, Senior Policy Advisor from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, espoused the need for consumers to be able to obtain their usage and pricing data from the grid. He agreed with Elliot that the inevitable evolution of the smart grid will occur sooner rather than later, but it needs both federal and state support.

Sinai highlighted that once the grid is active, it will spur large-scale innovation in the realm of energy monitoring. Current meters present users with minimal data. Smart meters paired with applications could potentially be used to not only measure usage but also limit it or time heavy usage activities such as laundry. Jim Andrus from Echelon, a smart grid technology company, stated that currently a number of new companies have entered the market including Cisco and IBM which plan to produce consumer products for the smart grid.

Garnet Hanly of T-Mobile encouraged the utility commissioners to work with commercial providers of existing telecommunications networks rather than build new ones. She said that by using an existing network, consumers would not only gain the advantages of the smart grid but also better telecommunications services since the networks would overlap. Sherman, while supportive of the notion of using commercial networks, emphasized the fact that any partnership would have to ensure that utility data be given priority on the network.

Based upon comments made by the commissioners, they seemed to be supportive of the idea smart grid but voiced some concerns about cyber security issues and potential privacy concerns. The issues of cyber security and privacy will be addressed by NARUC in more depth in a panel on Tuesday. Overall,  the commissioners seemed to believe  that the smart grid will not only benefit consumers and utilities economically, but allow for more efficient energy usage which will have a positive impact on the environment.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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