Thursday, October 1, 2015

Consumers and Standards: A Crucial Relationship

Having listened to three knowledgeable panelists on our recent webinar, “The Importance of Consumer Standards,” I would like to share a few thoughts on the topic and weave in key points from the panel.

Consumers and standards are a necessary pairing, but – like much in the smart grid domain – consumers should not have to know much about standards to enjoy their benefits. My primary takeaway from our panel is that consumers will need affordable, easy-to-use, secure and reliable devices and services to manage their energy use and achieve their expressed goal of supporting clean, affordable energy.

Technical standards, of course, form the foundation for attractive devices and services. And if energy stakeholders collaborate on technical standards, then consumers need not know much about the minutiae of how standards are developed and incorporated into products and services, as long as they create value for the consumer.

In that sense, consumers need only know that a) standards should be supported because they create economies of scale and, thus, affordability, b) standards create interoperability and, thus, compatibility among devices, and c) standards ensure safety and reliability.

In turn, standards “need” consumers to ensure that the technologies being developed really serve a need for end-users. Typically, product manufacturers represent consumers in this scenario. If this is accomplished in a way that creates consumer value, that will accelerate consumer engagement, to everyone’s benefit.

All of this requires heavy lifting in the standards arena. And “getting it right” is crucial to the success of smart grid and transactive energy markets. Readers will recall that two of the world’s most advanced technology companies rolled out home energy management software offerings about five years ago and those offerings soon vanished. Many stakeholders are rightfully concerned that false starts could dampen general consumer interest in a smarter energy future. We’ve all got a stake in getting it right. And standards are the foundation.

That’s a long introduction to our panelists and their points, but I wanted to connect a few dots in my own mind after hearing them speak. Our three panelists presented different angles on the role of standards in the smart grid domain.

Bill Ash, Strategic Technology Program Director at the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA), defined standards and the open process in which they are developed.

“Standards are published documents that establish specifications and procedures designed to maximize the reliability of the materials, products, methods, and/or services people use every day,” he said. “Standards address a range of issues, including but not limited to various protocols to help maximize product functionality and compatibility, facilitate interoperability and support consumer safety and public health.”

Ash had an enlightening infographic – see slide 16 in the webinar slide deck – that showed how standards underlie home energy management networks, how they connect a smart home or building with smart grid and support other purposes, such as electric vehicle charging.

Jeff Gooding, IT Enterprise Architecture Manager, Southern California Edison (SCE), pointed out that standards are required to integrate customer energy systems with a smart grid in a way that ensures the security of data exchanges and safe, reliable interconnections with distributed energy resources.

Gooding added another point consumers need to know about standards: they form the platform for innovation around attractive consumer products and services, which will promote engagement and mutual success between energy providers and consumers.

In terms of lessons learned by SCE, Gooding said that the timeframe for a utility rollout of advanced infrastructure unfortunately often does not match up with the rapid cycle of consumer adoption of related technology in the home. These two value streams need to be better aligned for mutual value creation, Gooding said. Thus, utilities need to be flexible and adopt standards that will support multiple consumer technologies to enable customer choice and demand.

Erich Gunther, Chairman, Chief Technical Officer and co-founder of EnerNex, spoke in his role as Vice-Chairman of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel (SGIP), whose mission is to “securely accelerate and advance grid modernization through interoperability.”

Gunther gave numerous examples of how standards support, for instance, utility-consumer energy data exchanges. The most telling example was his description of the diversity of participating offices and organizations involved in the creation of the Green Button initiative. As you know, Green Button provides consumers with access to their own energy use data and the opt-in ability to provide that data to third parties for value creation. The White House, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and myriad legislators, regulators and innovators worked to make Green Button “an overnight success, years in the making,” Gunther said.

Gunther’s phrase really captures the painstaking standards process so crucial for the value that consumers must have to participate in an interactive energy ecosystem. That is, if we do a good job working together on standards so that consumers find it easy and attractive to engage with our collective energy future.

SGCC will continue to work to engage and inform industry stakeholders on consumer standards. Please let us know what else you think we can do. Beyond our recent webinar on the topic, please visit our standards webpage, where you will find a list of consumer standards as well as the first of three blogs on the topic, not counting this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment