Changes Impact All Stakeholders in the Smart Grid

Last week I wrote about how the Smart Grid will introduce changes at every point in the electricity value chain – from generation to consumption.  The TV show, Star Trek Next Generation, characterized unwelcome change as a nemesis in the form of the Borg.  Fans of the show will recall the Borg declaration about change through assimilation (“resistance is futile”).   There were no explanations of the benefits of these changes, and no attempts to educate or persuade.  Forced change and resistance made for a good plot line, but we don’t want to repeat it with Smart Grid initiatives.  

Change, whether it’s in the form of new technologies, new processes, or new services, should not be assumed to be a foregone conclusion.  You can count on unmanaged or poorly managed change to instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt – the FUD factor – into those who are impacted, and that leads to resistance.  Therefore, it’s critical that policy makers, utilities, regulators, and vendors focus on change management as a core strategy to rollout Smart Grid-related technologies and programs to reduce the risks of resistance to change. 

Up until now, most of the industry discussions have focused on residential consumers and the tactical “how” and “what” to communicate.  But we shouldn’t overlook the changes that must occur within utilities – meaning utilities should also plan to assimilate new ways of thinking, operating, planning, and interacting with their customers to successfully transition to Smart utilities.      

For instance, Information and Communication Technologies or ICT will play a prominent role as grid assets are enabled with sensors and actuators for remote monitoring and management.    The networks that connect these devices, whether they are digital relays like Phasor Measurement Units (PMUs) or Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) must be designed to handle different prioritizations, latency tolerances, and redundancy requirements.   The convergence of ICT and power engineering – Moore’s Law, Metcalfe’s Law, and Ohm’s Law – will mean cultural and political shifts within utilities as power engineering and telecommunications must define new ways to work together. 

Resistance to change will also be evident in utilities as employees are expected to develop different orientations to consumers, and develop mindsets that are modeled on competing for customer walletshare and energy awareness mindshare.  The convergence of a customer service orientation with a focus on reducing consumption would be a fabulous change in utilities.  And don’t be surprised if there’s resistance to change in regulatory agencies too.  There’s always comfort in continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done, and Smart Grid technologies will definitely reshape regulatory relationships and introduce pressures from unexpected quarters. 

And yes, there will be resistance to change from consumers.  And why not?  Imagine the revolution that took place in a cave thousands of years ago about the convergence of fire and food.  We can imagine some of the arguments about how raw food was good enough and this new-fangled idea of cooking should be ignored.  A few demonstrations with barbecued ribs probably convinced most of the nay-sayers and overcame resistance.  Change challenges human nature, which embraces the known and fears the unknown.  Everyone involved in promoting the Smart Grid should forget the technology for a moment and concentrate on human nature.  We must identify and explain the benefits of the changes that need to be made to eliminate FUD factors and avoid resistance from all impacted populations – utilities, regulators, vendors, and consumers.