Smart Meter Learnings

Smart meters and the so-called smart grid are getting a lot of attention--and money--these days. Vermont electric utilities, for example, have recently won a $69 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to roll out smart meters statewide.

Yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran a special energy section, "The Long Road to an Alternative-Energy Future." One of the stories, by reporter Rebecca Smith, "What Utilities Have Learned from Smart Meters...And why they aren't putting those lessons to use" (, suggests that utilities are still trying to figure out how the new smart meters will affect people's electricity-consumption behavior.

A number of smart meter pilots, including one by Pepco Holdings in Washington, D.C., found, not surprisingly, that people cut power consumption the most when faced with higher peak-hour rates. Rebates had less of an impact on consumption. The stick trumps the carrot.

You would think that the greatest challenge of smart meters and the smart grid would be technical. And you would be wrong. Never underestimate the challenge of getting people to change their behavior, especially with something as invisible and taken-for-granted as electricity.

Clearly, there is still much for utilities to learn about how people will react to having more information about their electricity consumption. Stay tuned.