Does it make you Nervous when Machines Talk to Each Other?
Helping Consumers Face Smart Grid Fears in a Brave New Energy World
By Patty Durand, Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative "The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the vision that in the next twenty years, a revolution in device-to-device communication will take place that will be comparable to the revolution in person-to-person communi cation that erupted in the last two decades with the Internet and World Wide Web. We believe the vision is credible - that the second revolution will in fact occur and is already beginning before our eyes." - Robert Saracco IEEE Time Machine (May 2011) If you are an engineer, the vision described above may excite you, although it will likely not surprise you. You are familiar with (may have even helped develop) advanced technologies in automation and communications that support our ever-smartening electric grid. However, if you are a layperson, the vision of an increasingly computerized future may startle and even frighten you. Smart grid characteristics like increasing automation and centralization of supervisory capacity - or alternatively, the distribution of intelligent controls making them ubiquitous - can provoke a variety of fears among consumers. Some concerns are quite reasonable; some may be rooted in ignorance or misconceptions; others are almost primal. Consumer Engagement 101 To address consumer concerns, smart grid stakeholders of all kinds will need to: 1. recognize and sort through concerns consumers may have; 2. acknowledge and explain the risks; and 3. communicate the benefits of smart grid technologies. If we want consumer support, we must give them the tools - including the information to put the whole picture into perspective - to play the role of energy partners that the 21 st century grid demands. In many cases, this is 32 ElectricEnergy T&D MAGAZINE I OCTOBER 2011 Issue going to mean allowing greater transparency into utility infrastructure investments and exploring new ways to expand consumer access to information - increasing consumer touch points and human interaction to balance increased automation. Acknowledge Reasonable Concerns It is not alarmist, but prudent, to examine the potential for increased vulnerability that smart grid innovation could bring. It's not a bad start to simply acknowledge that consumers deserve answers to items they anticipate could expose them or the grid to risk. What used to be a 'poles, wires and power' business, is about to become a 'customer relations-energy communications' industry. These issues, along with the duty to provide safe and reliable power, are intrinsic to this work. While it is sometimes not acknowledged as often as deserved, electric utilities across the United States do a spectacular job routinely meeting demand and making affordable power widely available. Now we need to stay humble and learn how to talk about what we do and about the challenges we face that we cannot address without consumer support. Privacy A prime example of a reasonable concern - but one that can also provoke significant controversy - is privacy. As a baseline, every utility must provide a communications plan that includes (1) listening to the local community's values regarding who will own and share personal data and (2) outlining what additional safeguards the utility has embraced or enabled along with their smart grid programs and (3) conveying any options consumers may avail themselves of to manage their energy information. Security Inherent in the American character (and written into our founding documents) is a healthy dose of distrust of a toopowerful government. In the modern era, these misgivings extend to the potential for too-powerful commercial entities as well. No smart grid vision can fail to examine and take into account the widespread consumer impulse to safeguard ourselves as much as possible from security scenarios that could be exploited.