Much has changed in the energy industry in my 10 years as president of the Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative (SECC). Having recently stepped down, I would like to share my experiences of the past decade and what I think the next decade will bring.
When I began my first day in January of 2011, SECC was an unknown entity. Founded in March of 2010, it was less than a year old with a mission to educate consumers on the concepts of grid modernization and understand consumer perspectives and awareness of the changing electric grid through foundational research. In 2011, the U.S. economy was struggling to recover from the Great Recession, and the federal government had passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to help stimulate the U.S. economy. The electricity industry received $4.6 billion, the majority of which was used to accelerate Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) deployments.
Unexpectedly, however, a backlash against smart meters occurred from some consumers who saw digital meters and their wireless transmission of data as threats to their health or privacy, and from consumer advocates who viewed matching AMI investments as too much money for too little benefit. In response, SECC’s first two initiatives were developing a smart meter myth-busting video for consumers and completing research to understand consumer perspectives around grid modernization. I helped SECC develop a residential and SMB segmentation framework that explains different motivations and attitudes consumers have around energy.
Now, 10 years later, SECC’s myth-busting work has mostly eliminated confusion and misinformation consumers had over the risks of wireless data transmission. We learned from our research that consumers embrace grid modernization and want more clean energy on the grid. Today, state regulators routinely require investor-owned utilities to include consumer education and major benefits for consumers before approving costly AMI investments.
What’s next? More changes at hand that are likely to be even bigger than those from the past decade. With the Biden administration’s plans to invest $40 billion in clean energy, U.S. citizens will likely hear more about clean energy in the next four years than in the past 40 years. Renewable energy is cheaper than most fossil fuels, energy innovation is accelerating, and for the first time the federal government will create a coordinated set of policies and investments to address climate change. How will consumers respond? What do they want from these investments? And how can energy stakeholders assist them? These are important areas of focus next for SECC.
Independent of changes coming as a result of a new focus on climate change, the energy industry has seen tremendous growth in the past 10 years for rooftop solar, electric vehicles, battery storage, advanced lighting and the connected home. Decreasing prices and consumer comfort with technology mean these trends will continue.
Societal changes must drive energy industry changes too, including a new focus on racial disparities in energy as a result of the shift in attitudes brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement. The widespread acknowledgement that inequities need to be addressed was seen in several industry studies and webinars, including from NARUC on December 10, 2020 on the intersection of COVID, the recession and race. I helped organize an important contribution to this area too – SECC will publish its first study, “Racial Disparities in Energy”, on February 17 with a briefing webinar the following day.
These are exciting times. I look forward to working with you to facilitate workshops, presentations and programs around how to educate and engage consumers on the topics of climate change, clean energy, and energy technology.