People Power: Smart Grid is About More Than Just Smart Technology
*Posted by Rob Aldrich for Jenny Carless, contributor to News@Cisco*
The smart grid is not just about smart technology – it’s also about how people use that technology to be smarter about their own behavior.
Business and municipal leaders have figured this out, and they’re addressing a critical piece of the climate change puzzle: empowering consumers to help reduce global warming by being smarter about their own behavior.
As part of my research for a recent article about Smart Grid Strategies for a Global Marketplace on News@Cisco, I interviewed Kjartan Skaugvoll, vice president and general manager of Sales at Nuon, a Dutch utility company. He feels strongly that consumers can play a big part in addressing climate change, and he’s really enthusiastic about how smart meters in people’s homes, connected to an intelligent electric grid, can help educate people about their energy consumption, so they can make changes in their behavior accordingly.
Cisco, IBM and Nuon are working together on a pilot study in the Netherlands in which 500 households have an easy-to-read, touch-screen digital display in their living rooms, so they have access to real-time information about their energy consumption. A preliminary Nuon pilot – smaller-scale (just 18 homes), but with the same smart meters – provided impressive results: an average reduction in electricity and gas consumption of 9 and 14 percent, respectively.
Kjartan described how participants really engaged with learning how to reduce their use – setting their own goals, competing with themselves and exploring different ways to cut their consumption even more. (“A ha! That coffee maker is sucking up power if I leave it plugged in during the day…”)
“Investing in energy efficiency programs is a required – and important – step, but it will take a long time,” he told me. “Working with our customers to reduce consumption can make the biggest impact – quickly.”
Google Goes for Energy Savings
Behavior changes are happening at the enterprise level, too. Guido Jouret, chief technology officer for Emerging Technologies at Cisco, described to me how Internet search engine giant Google has chalked up some amazing results.
“Google uses Cisco Network Building Mediator to help monitor energy use throughout its corporate IT environment; the company managed to reduce the energy bill at its Mountain View, California campus by 25 percent in 18 months,” Guido pointed out.
Interestingly, I heard these same messages about empowering consumers by giving them actionable information when I talked to San Francisco leaders about the Urban EcoMap project in San Francisco earlier this year.
Urban EcoMap is an Internet-based tool (developed by the City of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group and others) with which cities can provide smarter climate-change information for their citizens – giving residents and businesses the tools they need to start reducing their carbon footprint.
“We will only get residents to change their behaviors in ways that reduce greenhouse gas emissions when they can visualize the difference they’re making,” Jared Blumenfeld, director of San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, told me. Jared and his colleagues are excited about the Urban EcoMap because they believe it will help motivate San Franciscans to start doing more to reduce their footprint.
The smart meters, Cisco Network Building Mediator and the Urban EcoMap are all addressing a major challenge in getting people to help tackle climate change: that is, we haven’t had information that lets us really understand our impact – and how much our changes in behavior make a difference.
They are helping us be much smarter about our energy use. That’s what I call people power.