The US government has a vital but limited role in fostering the transition to the smart grid, according to the head of the Zigbee Alliance.
The government should do -- and refrain from doing -- a number of things to support a smooth transition to the Smart Grid.
First, it should ensure that open, global standards are implemented, enabling utilities to choose among competitively priced, quality vendors. Government should stop short of actually selecting a standard, letting utilities decide which standard meets the needs of customers and can be successfully implemented.
Government can provide high-quality cyber security in conjunction with industry. Hackers and terrorists may attempt to cause grid blackouts to steal service or leak data. The government has the wherewithal to combat threats that the private sector just doesn't have, so it can play an important role in reviewing and bolstering security measures using its resources to protect consumers.
Risk assessment is an excellent area for government involvement. The North American Energy Standards Board has been tackling security and privacy for several years and has a great deal to offer regulators and lawmakers in this area.
The federal government should continue putting the consumer first in the equation, pushing utilities and grid operators to support policies and market mechanisms that allow greater choice by consumers. Specifically, it can press for continued progress in time-of-use pricing, dynamic demand response programs, and other initiatives supported and advocated by groups like the Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid.
In privacy, the government has every reason to step in and protect individual liberty by keeping data ownership where it belongs -- with the consumer. Consumers have a right to control their data, and utilities have the right to use and warehouse the data for billing, operations, and quality of service.
The Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue stated this position well in a recent whitepaper. Of all aspects of the smart grid, this is where the government must be involved -- to protect and guarantee the rights of citizens.
The government truly can benefit the smart grid by exercising restraint, intervening primarily in matters of data security, privacy, and ownership. In this way, the government will play a crucial role, allowing utilities to adopt the smart grid while carefully monitoring the safety and rights of consumers.
— Tobin J.M. Richardson is Chief Executive of the ZigBee Alliance. He has also worked for utilities such as PG&E and with numerous US federal agencies.