Judith Schwartz: Energy Literacy Essential to Maximizing Smart Grid Adoption, Benefits

In part one of our series on smart grid marketing expert Judith Schwartz‘s recent Scaling Green Communicating Energy Lecture Series talk, we focused on the importance of effectively introducing the smart grid to specific consumer market segments and individuals.  In part two, we turned to the benefits of the smart grid for business and the general public. Today, we focus on the importance of energy literacy in mazimizing the benefits, as well as the adoption rate, of the smart grid.

In Judith Schwartz’s view, energy literacy is actually a two-way street when it comes to the smart grid.  Thus, the smart grid is a tool that helps us to better understand our energy usage patterns.  At the same time, increased energy literacy is essential in getting the most out of the smart grid, including rapid adoption by the public.  Here’s how Schwartz explains it:

I think that we have to look at energy literacy in the same way we used to look at computer literacy. When we were starting to introduce personal computers no one knew why they wanted these things. We had to go out and make connections with people so they understood. And it needs to be a series of conversations – it’s not a commercial. You can’t make someone fluent in a new language with a TV commercial. This is something that was learned by the PowerCents DC pilot, it’s something that’s come up and so we’ve been doing a lot of work in this area. When you give people multiple conversations to learn about energy from their perspective, they really get into it and they like it and all of a sudden it becomes something that they care about.

One example of energy illiteracy vis-a-vis the smart grid is how many people perceive smart meters as the entirety of what the smart grid is all about.  In reality, the smart meter is only one part – albeit an important part – of the smart grid; a tool that gives access to something much bigger and of immense value.  As Judith Schwartz explains:

It’s like saying the whole value of the internet is your router. All the meters are the end-point device, just like your router. You have a router in your house and that’s how you get internet service. The importance isn’t the meter, the importance is the electricity that is coming through and the information that you can get from it. That’s what makes it smart. So I think that when people want to use the internet they focus on the benefits of the internet, they don’t focus on the router. It’s just something you have. I think that’s where we have to get to in this discussion, is the benefits of smart grid are all the things that you can do as a result and the benefits that we can get, societal and personal. And the meter is just the incidental device that it goes through.

Clearly, a lot of people haven’t yet focused on the benefits of the smart grid, or what the difference between a smart meter and the grid as a whole might be.  That’s not unusual, though; as Judith Schwartz astutely explains, when the internet first came along, people hadn’t really focused on its benefits either. Nor, Schwartz points out, did people know what a router did exactly when the digital tech revolution first started gathering steam. Yet, just a decade or so later, just about everyone understands why they want and need the internet, and why the internet is not the same thing as a router. Assuming that Judith Schwartz is correct – and we believe that she is – the same learning curve is likely to take place with the smart grid as well.

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