Although smart grid technologies are now front and center when it comes to debates on how to fix antiquated energy infrastructure, there’s still confusion over how they’ll actually impact people’s lives. In a post just published on greenbiz.com, Bob Gilligan, vice president of digital energy for GE Energy Services, observes: “Perhaps not unexpectedly, many business, government, academic and consumer stakeholders still question its credibility as the answer to our current and anticipated energy challenges. ... [Consumers] need to understand that smart grid encompasses more than just ‘visible’ technologies such as meters and appliances. Most people don’t realize that smart grid is about making decades-old transformers more intelligent in order to minimize outages in their homes. And many don’t realize that without investment in our infrastructure today, we won’t be able to support the electric car tomorrow.”

What do you think? GE’s ecomagination blog currently has a snap survey asking the question, “Would you support a Smart Grid if it stopped outages?” Click here to answer and see how your opinion stacks up. On the same blog, you can check out a post by Rick Thompson, president of Greentech Media, entitled: “Can We Make Power Outages a Thing of the Past?” Photo: World Bank.

“This past year has shown some acceptance and progress, as well as lessons to move ahead with,” Bob writes. “Many utilities unveiled their smart grid plans — and even broke ground — over the past year, and we’ve started to see headlines move beyond smart meters to encompass more game-changing smart grid efforts such as renewables integration, grid automation, system optimization and electric vehicle preparation. In addition, we’ve become smarter about how to increase energy efficiencies and utilize cleaner energy sources more effectively thanks to new R&D efforts and market trials.” There’s also been progress, he notes, on critically needed, collaborative efforts to standardize grid modernization goals and to set standards for smart grid technologies.

“We’ve been pushing ahead at a very aggressive pace for months, but not without our share of speed bumps and lessons learned along the way,” says Bob, stressing that one of the most challenging obstacles is consumer education. “Public opinion will ultimately drive decisions by industry and government leaders, which is why I stress the need to focus on consumer education now. We know we must modernize our energy system, and policy, regulatory, and pricing models that go with it, but we have to do a better job of convincing consumers – the real smart grid decision-makers — of this need.”

* Read Bob’s full essay, “How to Drive the Smart Grid Forward: Connect with Consumers

Echoing that theme, Oxford Analytica, an independent, Oxford-based international research and consultancy firm, recently published “The Smart Grid’s Struggle.” (It’s the same firm that works with GE to review progress being made on our healthymagination initiative and see whether the standards we set are met.) Citing the defeat of a rate increase in Maryland that would have partially gone toward the installation of smart meters, their report notes:“All stakeholders agree that improvements to the grid are urgently needed, but there is considerable controversy” over whether, and how, the plans benefit consumers.

Elsewhere on the smart grid front, GE just announced that it’s working with electricity distributor Central Networks on a proposal to help transform the city of Milton Keynes — located about 45 miles northwest of London — into Europe’s lowest carbon-producing city. GE’s expertise would focus on smart grid initiatives for the city of about 200,000 people that would improve the efficiency, reliability and understanding of energy throughout the power grid — from generation to consumption. At the same time, Central Networks would work toward integrating renewable energy from wind farms, switching from oil-fired boilers to heat pumps, and facilitating use of electric vehicles and mini-wind turbines in homes. The goal is to use the lessons learned from Milton Keynes as a roadmap for other end-to-end smart city deployments throughout Europe.

* Read the Milton Keynes proposal
* Read GE’s announcement

GE also recently launched its “ecomagination Challenge: Powering the Grid,” which is a $200 million venture capital commitment to find the best ideas from researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups to develop smart grid technologies and accelerate their adoption. The 10-week challenge has already received more than 2,100 entries from around the globe.

* Read more Smart Grid stories on GE Reports
* Learn more at ItsYourSmartGrid.com
* Visit the ecomagination Challenge website and enter or vote

Learn more in these GE Reports stories:
* “This sizzling summer, the grid wants heat relief, too
* “Powering Bella Coola, B.C. with smart grid hydrogen
* “A historic 1st: Smart grid tech links Turkey to Europe
* “From Idaho’s largest wind farm to ‘self-healing’ grids