US DOE RFI Asks What is Smart Grid?

Promoting and facilitating the deployment of smart grid technology became a policy priority for the Federal Government with the passage of the Energy Independent and Security Act of 2007.

On September 17, 2010, the US Department of Energy (DOE) published a Request for Information (RFI) to help it define smart grid and the benefits it will produce for consumers, the industry and the economy to guide policymakers and their staff in implementing the requirement in Title XIII of the Act.  The RFI specifically seeks comments on the policy and logistical challenges to smart grid implementation and recommendations on how to best overcome them. Comments are due no later than November 1, 2010.

Specifically, US DOE want input on:

1.       How should we define the term “smart grid” for policymaking purposes?

2.       What are the consumer-level benefits and hassle-factors from Smart Grid?

3.       How will utilities benefit from Smart Grid and what are the challenges in doing so?

4.       How can policymakers at all levels stay abreast of Smart Grid progress and issues?

5.       How will Smart Grid benefit the economy and what are the challenges to realize the benefits?

US DOE said it was publishing this third request for information to guide the analysis of policy challenges and options for solving them by the Smart Grid Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology. The Subcommittee was created in mid-2010 as an inter-agency working group among Federal Departments and agencies.  Its purpose is to encourage a consistent, uniform approach to smart grid policy issues and problems across the Federal Government.  The subcommittee wants up-to-date input on lessons being learned by the industry and the public in rolling out smart grid technologies, business models and policies operate.

Two previous RFIs asked for public comments on data access, data usage and privacy issues, and communications requirements for the smart grid.  On October 5, 2010, the USDOE released two reports on policy issues raised by Smart Grid technologies that can promote innovation, cut costs for consumers, and modernize our electrical grid.  These reports implement recommendations made in the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan and completed a public-information-gathering process begun earlier this year by the Department. The public comments received by USDOE that were considered in producing these reports were also published at the same time the reports were released.

Data Access and Privacy Issues Related to Smart Grid Technologies Report focuses on changing legal and regulatory requirements to protect consumer privacy and choice while encouraging Smart Grid deployment along with other technologies that rely on detailed energy-usage data. No surprise—the report found a consensus view that consumer education and flexible, staged implementation plans are critical success factors to successful adoption and deployment of Smart Grid without facing the blowback experienced in Bakersfield and elsewhere.

The Report said consumers should have the option to “opt in” to any non-utility, third-party use of their energy-usage data through a secure and trustworthy process as an affirmative step rather than be forced to “opt-out”. Assuring good customer information and education about the long-term benefits of Smart Grid technologies, like lowering energy bills was key to success. The report also recognized that many different vendors were at work in the Smart Grid market place and no one technology or implementation schedule will meet all consumers’ needs.

The Communications Requirements of Smart Grid Technologies report addresses the rapidly evolving communications needs of utilities and the interconnected grid to make effective use of Smart Grid technologies. The report called for improved coordination between utilities and Smart Grid vendors as well as end-users representative in the work of federal inter-agency committees to address communications- and network-related security and reliability issues.

So What?

This is a useful exercise for US DOE because it gives industries, vendors and consumer advocates an opportunity to frame for policy makers both the benefits and costs from introducing a new order of things such as Smart Grid.  It is also useful to ask what Smart Grid means to people because often it is assumed smart grid is really all about smart meters and how to deploy them.


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