The Times They Are A’Changin, and We Better Get Used to It

Technology is easy, change is hard.  It doesn’t matter if it’s individual or systemic change – it is more difficult to modify human attitudes and behaviors than invent disruptive, game-changing technologies or services.  Keep this in mind as we confront hard realities and harder decisions.  Nuclear meltdown in Japan, international military intervention in Libya, and global climate change make it even more important to make the right decisions about Smart Grid technologies that deliver energy security.  Stamping our feet, holding our breath until we turn blue, delaying decisions and denying reality won’t resolve the serious energy issues confronting us. 

Here are two examples of changes that are coming as a result of Smart Grid technologies and services.  And lest you think that change is a one-way street from utilities to consumers, be aware that consumers also trigger changes in utilities.

Here’s one change that can’t come soon enough for improved energy and economic security.  Electric vehicles will eliminate the price fluctuations that Americans have experienced at the gas pump since the 1970s.  We will never worry about lunatic dictators with oil revenues playing havoc with our economy.  We do need systemic change to build out a charging infrastructure, but that work is already underway in a number of cities, and enlightened companies are installing charging stations for employees and customers.  EV and charging infrastructure technologies are there, and rapidly improving.  Google is even adding charging stations to its maps. 

Many consumers have been reluctant to switch to EVs.  One reason is range anxiety – a perception that you’ll run out of charge before getting to your destination.  However, as gasoline soars in price, range anxiety will be replaced with financial anxiety, and that’s a powerful motivator for change.  There are other motivators that will accelerate changes in consumer attitudes, including tax incentives for purchase of EVs, increasing fuel efficiency standards, and corporate and local/state/federal government purchases of EV fleets.   

Not all Smart Grid-sparked changes happen to consumers – some happen because of consumers.  Technology introductions, especially those that are visible or disruptive to consumers, will challenge electric utilities to revise their operations, re-skill their employees, and change their cultures.  Utilities will need different communications practices and service orientations, as well as much better knowledge of their customers to educate them about Smart Grid initiatives such as new pricing or demand response programs.  That will require a series of changes in utilities that involve technology introductions, process re-engineering, and training workforces to think differently about ratepayers to improve their contact center and other interaction practices.  These are complex and time-consuming tasks, but utilities must complete them to successfully engage and enlighten their customers about Smart Grid-related initiatives.  I’ll be hosting a webinar on March 30 on the Smart Grid and the Customer Experience that explores the intersection of Smart Grid technologies and consumer challenges for utilities.  Join us to learn more about tools and tactics for utilities to build support for Smart Grid initiatives across all consumer constituencies.

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