How "Smart Grid" Can Be A Dirty Word, Plus 5 Alternatives

dirtywordEven though the “smart grid” industry is a hot topic these days — with $4 billion in federal stimulus funds set to be doled out in weeks and a potential $210 billion in revenues between 2010 to 2015 — the term can still be a dirty word for some utilities. That’s because some in the utility industry see the moniker as somehow suggesting that the current power grid is dumb, which some find insulting. If your company is looking to pitch utilities on smart grid products, here’s what they’re thinking:

I first heard that sentiment at the Edison Electric Conference in San Francisco, Calif. back in June. Founded in 1933, the Edison Electric Institute is made up of shareholder-owned electric companies that represent about 70 percent of the power industry. To kick off the conference on the first day David Ratcliffe, EEI’s chairman and the CEO of Southern Company, kept focusing on how “transformation is not new” for the utility industry and how the power grid is already smart and how the industry should be proud of the work its done up to this point.

Then last week during a wide-ranging interview with Guido Bartels, General Manager of IBM’s Global Energy & Utilities industry and one of Earth2Tech’s Top 15 Smart Grid Influencers, revisited that sentiment. When I asked him for some tips on how startups and smaller companies could work with utilities, he said tech companies need to recognize and appreciate the unique nature of the utility industry. When a tech company isn’t used to selling into the utility sector and uses the term “smart grid” a dozen times during an initial conversation, it can be off-putting for a utility, explained Bartels. It gives the impression that the current grid is dumb and that could be an insult to a reputable industry, he said.

Even if you think utilities shouldn’t be so sensitive (like I do), if you’re a newcomer trying to sell into that business you should probably take heed of the advice. IBM has been selling its software and consulting services to the utility sector since 2004 and has a large role in many of the large utility smart grid (mind my French) projects. I also do understand the backlash against a sector that many have been working in for years, but has in recent months become very hyped.

So if you want to avoid the overuse of the smart grid term in your utility pitch meetings, here’s five handy alternatives we’ve come up with:

  • digital power grid
  • 2-way electrical grid
  • next-gen energy networking
  • Bob Metcalfe’s coined term: EnerNet
  • Or the long-winded approach: the-not-dumb-but-could-be-much-better grid

Add in your own into the comments!

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

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