Lessons from Smart Grid Pilot in Canada Can Be Applied to New England

3/31/11

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opportunity for individual consumers, whether commercial, industrial, or residential, to participate and make an impact on the local energy market. No longer will energy management be only about reducing the amount of energy that is consumed. These consumers can become real players in the regional energy system and, as a group, will have a significant impact in the way energy is consumed, and, to a lesser amount, produced. It will also give consumers insight into the impact that their energy hub will have on greenhouse gas emissions and a carbon footprint, and have the opportunity to optimize their hub to match their goals of lowering energy cost, consumption, or reducing carbon footprint.

Smart grid pilot programs of various scope are being designed, or are under way, in nearly every New England state. Fueled in part by federal stimulus funding, these pilots are just beginning to engage customers in Boston, Hartford, and Portland. As a major pilot program is rolling out in Milton, Ontario, there are lessons to be learned that apply to New England. Three examples are highlighted below.

First, to improve the chances that these residential systems will be successful, the communication within the home network must be seamless and reliable, and then communication from the grid to the home must contain relevant information that can positively influence user decisions. Combining these types of information in an easy-to-read format, whether on a portal or other display options, is critical to making real changes. Massachusetts has an advantage, as compared to other regions, with its history of developing state-of-the-art technology in the wireless space. This has allowed the Boston area to move far ahead of other regions in the U.S.

Secondly, the partnership formed in Ontario to support this initiative is truly a private-public partnership. Massachusetts has a similar opportunity as the relationship between higher education, government, and the private sector provide great incentives to invest in new technology. Intellectual property developed by private organizations stays with those organizations to give sustainable value. The university connection provides opportunities for graduate students to conduct work in an emerging field, and transfer these skills to jobs after this program is complete.

Finally, the public utility companies and government organizations have leading-edge technology developed locally and designed to address challenges such as energy conservation, which are important to all residents. With access to higher education facilities in Massachusetts and progressive government incentives, New England has an opportunity to develop and capitalize on the smart grid movement. It is important to make the energy consumers players in the energy system and to provide incentives and rewards to change behavior. The technology must be user-friendly to improve the chance of adoption for all consumers, not just those on the leading edge. The technology must also be secure, and companies that understand the importance of data security will most likely gain public trust. The smart grid needs public and private sector engagement and collaboration to ensure widespread adoption among consumers.

Chris Reid is President and CEO of Energent, Inc. of Waterloo, Ontario. Follow @

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