Smart Grid – Let’s not create an Energy Divide
Earlier this week I attended a joint GE/Google event in DC, Plug into the Smart Grid. The event had over 500 attendees and was literally standing room only. Just yesterday I received an invite to a Climate Group teleconference on Smart Grid. With the infrastructure spend and green spend in the stimulus package, a hot topic has become even hotter.
There are many great articles to read on Smart Grid across the Internet and Marc Gunther has written an excellent overview of the GE/Google event.
The focus on green energy, energy efficiency and consumer empowerment was invigorating. I did, however, believe that there was a sustainability angle missing. This was ensuring we do not create an energy divide. There was one question on the topic of protecting consumers and only one of the panelists responded.
The key social/economic sustainability issue in the ICT sector is the digital divide. There are ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in the ICT world, influenced by such things as prosperity, education, geography and age. Being on the ‘have not’ side of that divide (not having good access to a computer, broadband line and knowledge of how to use it all) is a self-reinforcing economic and social disadvantage.
As the intelligence of the smart grid is being designed all the participants need to ensure that we do not create an energy divide. And we cannot leave all the responsibility to the regulator. The corporations involved must take a leading role too. As much as we highlight the economic and green benefits of a smart grid, we need to pay corresponding attention to social sustainability matters to ensure we do not inadvertently widen existing social divides by adding an energy divide.