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"If it were up to me, I wouldn't have a meter."

— M.L., Toronto, Canada

Dead Wrong or Dead On?

There’s nothing like attending a major news event like the announcement for the Green Button initiative, only to have the CTO of the United States, tell you in front of the whole world that you’re “dead wrong” during the Q&A.  As someone who likes to ask tough questions, it does go with the territory. This time I asked why DOE was only funding support for GB promotion and had pulled their previous FOA for community engagement activities that reached broader audiences?

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the Green Button concept and agree it will lead to exciting and innovative applications. I just happen to believe that the evidence shows that not everyone in the world who can be encouraged to be a responsible energy consumer will be glued to an electronic device so they can track their energy consumption or compete with their neighbors on social networks over who can use less.

 

Remember Google Power Meter?  Its creators and fans—as the good techies they are—were utterly convinced that everyone was dying to track their usage in real time.  That’s why I refer to the dominant motivational segments as “Energy Worldviews.”  It’s incredibly common for people to project their own perspective onto everyone else.

 

Those who see cost savings as the dominant motivator imagine everyone will be willing to jump through hoops to save $25 a month on their utility bill. (Ironically, industry stakeholders with this worldview sometimes fail to support dynamic pricing to provide the necessary financial incentives and benefits for the frugal.)  For those viewing the world though a green prism, it seems obvious we need to invest in renewables and enabling technology to save our planet. Making personal adjustments to behavior are important for the larger good and lowering their personal bills are not as critical.

 

And of course there are millions of people who simply don’t want to think about energy use at all but who might take advantage of automation if it’s easy enough.

There are also small, impassioned, distinct subgroups of people who for extremely sincere reasons believe that smart grid technology will:
A) hurt those with sensitive nervous systems,
B) entice utility workers to follow customers’ every movement in their homes,
C) bankrupt the country and individual homeowners if digital meters replace analog ones,
D) violate the Constitution and turn our country into a communist state.

 

In my opinion, the best way to reach and address those who are fearful is to have respectful and on-going conversations.  Energy literacy education to the broader public cannot be done with door hangers, TV spots, or even crackerjack customer service teams on their own.  To be effective with the range of energy worldviews, Energy Advisors and peer influencers need to come from trusted community-based organizations as well as the utility.  And I still would encourage DOE to make their investments in technology more valuable by also investing in enlightened community collaborations.

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