This week’s guest author is Juliet Shavit, President and CEO of SmartMark Communications and SmartEnergy IP™. There’s an important link between Smart Grid technologies and customers, and more utilities are catching on to its value as a long-term, sustainable model.

What role does the customer play in a technology deployment? That is the question the utilities industry has been tackling over the last decade as the crusade to upgrade the country’s electrical infrastructure has developed into a reality.

Early AMI deployments had utilities focused largely on technology installations. If they could get the meters installed and create an optimized two-way communications network that included smart meters, sensors, etc., there was seemingly no room or need to think about the customer …

Until the first unexpectedly high bills began to hit customers after the initial smart meter deployment.

Until the first deployment caused such an uproar in the industry that the need arose to re-examine a utility’s strategy around AMI customer engagement.

Until regulators started requiring a customer education plan to be filed with the business case for Smart Grid investments before utilities could start installing a single meter.

Then the major shift in the industry occurred. I call it the “point of no return” when the customer became an integral part of the industry conversation.

But the role of the customer around education and communication is not just to get meters in homes and avoid backlash against the utility around AMI. The real need to invite the customer into the conversation is around behavior change. Unless customers do their part to reduce energy use, balancing the load on the grid will not be a sustainable reality. Knowledge is power, they say. An educated customer is more effective than any digital device. When customers understand the benefits of AMI and are exposed to customer-facing tools that help them manage their energy use, the control shifts to them and the message is then about customer empowerment.

The Smart Grid Customer Education Symposium on June 11 in Chicago invites utilities across the country to talk about their experiences in communicating and engaging with customers about the benefits of the Smart Grid. But, equally important, the event invites regulators and stakeholders to share their perspectives on the benefits of Smart Grid customer education.

The only way to achieve lasting success of the Smart Grid is to bridge the gap between technology and education, and talk about how advanced analytics and usage behavior will help change the way customers understand and manage their energy use.

This is the long-term sustainable model for utilities. The advanced technology is already in place to revolutionize the delivery of energy into every home and business in the country. For the continued successful transformation of the electrical grid of the past to the Smart Grid, educating customers must be as primary of an objective as the technology installation.

This is the real goal of Smart Grid customer education.