Energy industry hopes to renew interest in smart grid

May 23, 2011 8:05:23 PM PDT
SmartMeters were supposed to be the first step toward a new kind of interconnected power network, called the smart grid. However, concerns over health risks have stalled progress. Now there's an effort under way to get the smart grid moving again.

SmartMeters have generated more opposition than PG&E ever expected.

"We never realized at the time that they would become so front and center to peoples' primary focus of concern," said PG&E Sr. Vice President Tom Bottorf.

They were designed to be an information gateway linking consumers to the power grid. Instead, health concerns surfaced, while talk of an interconnected smart grid faded.

"The critical thing is to bring them together and to have a different kind of dialogue under one roof," said Connectivity Week organizer Anto Budiardjo.

That's the goal of a conference this week at the Santa Clara Convention Center. Called "Connectivity Week," consumer advocates, environmental watchdogs, and utility companies hope to find common ground.

"We do need to bring this conversation out to the public and to the people who are going to be impacted, one, with the ability to manage their bills and look at that sort of thing, and with cleaner energy," said Lauren Navarro of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Proponents of the smart grid say SmartMeters connected to the power sources will help to monitor consumption on a real-time basis and reduce the chances of a shocking bill.

"Perhaps some of the services can do a lot to reduce those types of surprises and reduce the amount of worry that customers have," said utility management consultant Peter Honebein, Ph.D.

In the meantime, companies like San Mateo's eMeter believe such services are on the near horizon. eMeter makes the software that links SmartMeters with the grid.

"I really think you're going to see a big shift over the next six to 12, to maybe 18 months, but over this period from this early birthing stage, almost, if you will, of getting the technology out there, to finally seeing the services," said eMeter Chief Regulator Officer Chris King.

However, a new survey points out that two-thirds of all consumers still don't know what the smart grid is.

Despite some early objections about health concerns and SmartMeters, the smart grid is moving forward, and with it, new opportunities to create jobs and for consumers to manage their bills.


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