Green Tech PR: Here Comes Smart Grid. Again.


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When I first read about smart grid, I was all saucer-eyes and enthusiasm. This heretofore mysterious utility service with unpredictable bills and a whirling meter the main function of which seems to be upping my blood pressure could actually become a high tech information feedback loop? With real-time billing data? And target periods with lower rates if I feel up to running my dryer at 3AM? What’s not to love? It may turn out that the answer is, “plenty.”

As the White House gears up to promote smart grid at an event this morning, my initial interest has become tinged over the months with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’m all for energy efficiency, alternative sources, and anything that lowers my electric bill. But something about smart grid is starting to strike me as more resistance than revolution. Am I suffering from green fatigue? Could be. Or just a bad case of the logics.

  1. Private green investment isn’t going to the grid. As of early May, only 2% of VCs’ $3 billion greentech investment had gone into smart grid. This while the feds have pushed for roll-out, and consumers have clamored for anything that helps us spend less. Where’s the money going instead? Solar, automotive, and fuel cells — read, not to the sector with PUC-set rates, gnarly approval processes, and, traditionally speaking, the agility of Jabba the Hutt. I’m going to reveal some political bias here, but in technology, I’d say private investment is a better indicator of quality than bureaucrat support. Which leads me to:
  2. It’s, um, still a grid. Maybe this is my personal bugaboo, but doesn’t it seem like the march of technological process included a physical network stage that we’re now moving away from? Postal routes, railroads, highways, telephone, electricity… become email, drop-shipping, Skype, cell phones, and what exactly? Maybe smart grid has a place on this trajectory, but it seems a little bit like putting a usage meter on my wireline. If I still had one.
  3. And the classic legal query: cui bono? That’s “who benefits?” Always an important question, and one worth asking when you consider that the consumer-side promise of smart grid seems to be greater knowledge leading to lower bills — brought to you by… the people who bill you? Perhaps the incentives are there, but they sound a little perverse to me.

To put my skepticism neatly: Is the physical smart grid an investment in the future of energy? Or a backstop for government-connected utility companies who’ve sunk a lot of money into poles and lines, and aren’t wild about the vision of a grid-free future? The European “smart grid” market is more focused on alternative sources than metering minutiae; bigwig private investors are dumping money into wind farms and electric cars; and nimble startups like OPOWER are attacking the energy efficiency angle with software solutions that are, well, already working. Incremental progress is worth celebrating, but let’s remember as we assess that not all progress is forward.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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