You know a problem has gotten out of hand when there’s a task force created to address it. On Friday utility PG&E, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and the city of San Jose announced the creation of the “Smart Grid Task Force” that will tackle an area that has been sorely needed for the smart grid: public education.
The group, which will focus specifically on California, will start out by creating a research report around the economic impacts of the smart grid and members of the force include Oracle, Cisco, Nanosolar, Control4, Coulomb Technologies, Silver Spring Networks and OPower. The task force isn’t the first group like this, and earlier this year 10 companies including IBM, Control4, the Gridwise Alliance, and General Electric, launched the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), which focuses on consumer education across the U.S.
If you haven’t been following the issue over the consumer backlash and the smart grid in California, here’s a refresher: PG&E didn’t do a very good job of educating consumers on the smart meters being installed at their homes, and there were a lot of complaints, including a lawsuit in Bakersfield, Calif. In (an albeit delayed) response, PG&E publicly apologized for its strategy, which looked at its smart meter roll-out solely as an infrastructure play, and has since then been beefing up its consumer outreach and call centers. This task force is clearly part of that effort.
Will the task force work, and smooth over the smart meter flap? Well, more information for consumers is always better and smarter research can help with better decision-making. I think PG&E has also gotten some pressure from the fledging smart meter industry to expand public education and do it in a group format via well-known consumer brands that score higher on affinity with consumers than a utility brand.
If the backlash over the smart meters in California escalates further it could seriously jeopardize the industry nationally. I think Maryland’s public regulator’s denial of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co’s smart grid project request, which would have deployed 2 million smart meters for all of its customers, was partly influenced by the California backlash. Recently San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera rehashed the issue, and asked California’s energy regulators to stop PG&E from installing any more smart meters until a third party investigation into the accuracy of the meters has been completed. I don’t think that request wil go anywhere.
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