Consultant Christine Hertzog suggests that robust home area networks, combining smart thermostats and networked appliance controls, are more important than residential smart meters. And, she says, utilities had better step up their game if they want to influence consumer behavior.
Myriad forces are driving the electric utility and its consumer class of customers into each others arms. But an embrace is far from a sure thing.
As utilities sort out the evolving, smart grid business case, they will seek to maintain ownership of their consumer base even as intermediaries vie for the same position. The utility needs the consumer's attention to, and behavioral changes around, the onset of "smart" technology, including dynamic pricing, peak load shaving and demand response.
Not least, utilities need consumers in their corner for political and financial reasons as they roll out smarter grids and seek rate increases to pay for them.
So, what do utilities have to do to turn a relatively cool relationship into something a bit more enthusiastic?
"The residential sector needs to be engaged for utilities to do smart grid," editor and consultant Christine Hertzog told me earlier this week, recounting her participation on a panel at the Peak Load Management Association's (PLMA) spring conference last Friday.
(Hertzog created The Smart Grid Dictionary  and consults on customer relations insights based on her experience in the electric, water and telecom industries.)
"Demand response, for instance, is a relatively dense topic," Hertzog said. "Consumers must understand the variable costs of electricity. But most consumers don't know that peak electricity is more expensive than nighttime electricity. That's an economics lesson - if the utility pays more for that electricity, then you will, too."
Hertzog cited a Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) program that couples subsidized energy audits and energy efficiency work for residents who agree to participate in a summer demand-response program. The latter includes the installation of smart thermostats and consumer acceptance of critical peak pricing (CPP) signals to help SMUD shift peak load.
One intriguing aspect presented by a SMUD representative at last week's conference, according to Hertzog: the utility's studies revealed that electricity usa