SAN JOSE, Calif. A handful of organizations have formed the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative. The SGCC is a non-profit group that aims to engage consumers in the evolution of the smart grid by conducting consumer research, education and establishing best practices.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is driving smart grid standards, launched a blog in February asking consumers for their views on smart grids.
The consumer outreach comes at a time of debate inside the industry. Some say consumers could drive the evolution of the smart grid by adopting systems and services that let them lower utility bills by managing their energy use. Others argue that only new regulations will motivate utilities to upgrade their systems to digital networks.
A recent surveys showed most consumers don't know what a smart grid is. Some early trials of smart electric meters have faced consumer backlash in California and Texas.
"I live in California, and we see consumer groups concerned about the accuracy of smart meters or whether they radiate or not," said Richard Walker, president of Control4 Energy Systems, a home automation vendor that sparked the formation of the new group. "We want to educate them about how they can embrace these smart meters to reduce their utility bills," he said.
The founding members of the SGCC are Best Buy, Control4, Ember, General Electric, the GridWise Alliance, IBM, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel and Silver Spring Networks. The Demand Response and Smart Grid Coalition and the Future of Privacy Forum have joined as affiliate members.
"The only way we can modernize the grid is in partnership with consumers," said Jesse Berst, acting executive director of the SGCC.
He noted the SGCC is a non-profit and not a lobbying group. That status has opened the door for utilities that will join the group in the near future, he said.
The group hopes to field consumer research as early as April. It will conduct public service campaigns to build consumer awareness about smart grids and organize a symposium in Washington D.C. on September 20.
In the work on the smart grid, "there is one piece that has been missing and that's the consumer," said Katherine Hamilton, president of the GridWise Alliance, a 150-member group promoting smart grids. "What will enable us to change our whole culture around energy is the most important piece because I don't think the smart grid is smart until the consumer is engaged," she added.
In a study commission by GE, 79 percent of American consumers said they are not familiar with the term smart grid. About 69 percent said they didn't know whether they were connected to a smart grid, but 80 percent said they are willing to learn more about the topic.