Smart Grid: It's A Matter of Perspective

Smart Grid is an international phenomenon that is mostly about upgrading the energy infrastructure—from how energy is produced, transmitted, and distributed to how it's used. The "smart" part is the use of intelligent devices that allow utilities to manage the grid more efficiently.

From a societal perspective, Smart Grid is an effort to bring sanity to the use of energy. Governments around the world are beginning to create energy policies and laws to control energy consumption—the U.S. is no different ( HVAC-industry manufacturers are mostly all aboard, as they’ve been building smart electronics and communications capabilities into their equipment for years. In recent months, they've been marketing and promoting this fact to their customers. Then there is the consumer perspective: The buzz is all about environmental sustainability, energy conservation, and carbon footprint.

However, do building owners and managers see a need for it? Retrofitting a building to meet Smart Grid criteria isn’t cheap or necessarily easy. The question about who owns data gathered by these smart devices is something that everyone is wondering about (

I suppose the real question is what's the commercial-building owner's perspective. Some answers can be gleaned from a study commissioned by Danfoss and completed by the Ivanovich Group of Oak Park, Ill. (the executive summary can be downloaded at The study, which asked 30 commercial-building owners, engineers, and manufacturers for their perspective on the Smart Grid, revealed three key findings:

  • A need for more and better communications between utilities and their commercial-building customers.
  • A need for a clearer definition of the "value proposition" for building owners.
  • Solving technology issues between building-automation and energy-management systems and the Grid.

One question the survey asked concerned barriers to becoming involved with Smart Grid technology. Interestingly enough, the biggest overall perceived barrier is organizational in nature, and that revolves around a lack of knowledge about the Smart Grid itself.

Sure, costs and lack of perceived benefits were close second and thirds, but it seems to me the uncertainty of what "the Grid is and what it means " is an educational issue that must be addressed. As stated in the executive summary of the Danfoss study: "Owners require more information on what the Smart Grid is or will be. As part of the instruction, owners need specific information on first costs and operating costs and an accounting of what the benefits will be so they can make decisions based on ROI, payback, or whatever criteria they use."

But education doesn't stop with owners. We need to attract an entire generation of young people who understand this technology and are comfortable working with it.

For example, the Illinois Institute of Technology has established educational programming aimed at mobilizing energy companies, labor unions, pre-college educators, community colleges, and universities to arouse interest among young people in the smart grid and recruit some of them for advanced training (

The idea here is fabulous—as a first step— but it leaves out one important component: commercial-building owners. It's from their perspective that Smart Grid implementation either flourishes or fails because they ultimately have to pay for it. We have to work hard to prove its value to them.

As they say, perspective is reality.

Send comments and suggestions to [email protected].

TAGS: Mike Weil
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