I like ice hockey, but I rarely watch a televised game.  There’s too much living going on to spend it plunked in front of a TV.   That said, I did watch the two Olympics games between the US and Canadian men’s hockey teams because I figured they would be well-played games that would be an enjoyable diversion (and they were). 

What does this have to do with smart meters?  Everything.  NBC didn’t just broadcast the Olympics, they promoted the schedule of events to build interest and excitement about these games.   Newspapers and web sites also identified the dates and times and provided those “human interest” angles in stories.  If I had to work to get the information about the dates and times the US/Canada games were playing, well, I probably would have missed two great games.  But NBC knew that to get its’ message to the widest possible audience, it had to repeat the game schedule (multiple times), tell me where to find more information (multiple times), and continue to advertise the game right up to the moment the puck hit the ice.

Those of us in the Smart Grid business spend a considerable amount of time thinking, talking, and prognosticating about utilities, new technologies, the changing relationship that consumers will have with electricity.  We understand the benefits, the motivators, and the complex, phased deployments of smart meters.  However, the vast majority of the American population doesn’t know, and doesn’t care about anything to do with the Smart Grid.  There are too many other things going on in their lives to pay attention to it. 

Their attention will shift to smart meters only when they get that utility bill insert or letter that tells them they are going to get one soon.  At that point in time, utilities have the opportunity to really educate their residential ratepayers about the benefits that smart meters will deliver.  Some utilities deliver a reasonable amount of education even before this interaction opportunity.  However, many do not, to the collective detriment of future Smart Grid rollouts. 

Now imagine if utilities acted more like NBC competing for consumer attention.  The messages have to be repeated multiple times using different communication channels and social media to get to the demographic groups that are least likely to pay attention to Smart Grid topics.  To educate ratepayers about smart meters, rather than just sending a billing insert, they would reach out to communities and deliver educational talks about smart meters and their ties to energy efficiency and conservation.   Utilities would create tools that offer interactive discussion of smart meters, the new information that consumers can obtain from them, and some examples of how other ratepayers have learned to manage their energy usage to lower their bills.  Add a plan to educate utility resources that interact with the public, and you have the start of a Consumer Enlightenment Model in action. 

Utilities need to understand that the mission to keep the lights on is not enough these days.  The safety and reliability mission must also include education about the consumer benefits of smart meters and other Smart Grid technologies.   The focus on the consumer is a real game-changer, and it is critical to the success of Smart Grid rollouts.

The Metering, Billing/MDM America conference begins next week in San Diego.  The latest technologies will be here, but I’ll be seeking interesting discussions about how utilities and their vendors will communicate the value of smart meters to consumers.