Smart Grid Scarecrow lookin’ for a Brain?

By Don McDonnell

SAN DIEGO – February 4, 2009- It’s hard to miss GE’s Smart Grid scarecrow ad here at DistribuTECH 2009.  On a huge screen at the exhibit hall entrance, the scarecrow dances jauntily on the power lines, singing:  “If I only had a brain.”  It’s creating quite a buzz on the floor. I've heard people, even competitors, giving kudos to GE staff. The ad, which debuted at the Super Bowl broadcast to more than 98.7 million viewers, is a source of pride to everyone out here that works in the utility technology community.

But it’s more than a moment of recognition.  When smart grid has become so vital that it merits a $3 million investment in a single ad; when the words “electric grid” are spoken in a presidential inaugural address; there’s been a sea change in the utility world. The time has come to take the message to the consumer.

When the scarecrow sings “If I only had a brain,” he’s speaking on behalf of the grid, which needs the application of IT intelligence.   But we in the utility industry would be wise to adapt our thinking, too.  Not so long ago, many spoke of consumers as the “rate base” or “end user.”  Today, they are central to the future of energy.

To make smart grid dreams a reality, utility marketers need to actively educate the public to the benefits – to the consumer, to their local economies, to the national financial scene – of investing in this technology.  Just this week, The McDonnell Group released our findings from a study for Ventyx, indicating the top perceived benefit among executives considering smart grid strategy is to enable consumers to participate in energy efficient choices, including use of demand response technologies.

We in the industry recognize the need to upgrade -- for security, for efficiency and cost control, and to comply with new “greener” expectations and regulations.  But we can’t do it alone.  It’s going to take the consumer to run this one into the end zone.  As GE kicks off a new drive to mobilize popular support around the wisdom of investing in America’s electric infrastructure, all of us in the industry must get in the game as well.  Using our brains means working aggressively to win consumer support for smart grid technology investments.

Seeking a Balanced Definition of Sustainability: Observations from DNV KEMA 2012 Utility of the Future Forum

by Don McDonnell

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The word sustainability is derived from the Latin word sustinere, meaning “to hold up.” To any utility executive who has experienced the frustration of seeing proposed power plants and transmission lines delayed  by environmental impact reviews, it’s tempting to translate sustainability more as a “hold up” to energy plans than an “up holding” of them.   During the 5th Annual DNV KEMA Utility of the Future conference, this traditionally adversarial view of sustainability was set aside in favor of a holistic re-examination of what sustainability means for all utility stakeholders and society.

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