Developing a smarter energy grid offers tremendous opportunities and benefits. As presented during class, energy resources can be generated and transmitted more intelligently and efficiently, such as routing those resources to where they are needed most. Consumers and businesses can better understand how they use energy in their everyday activities.Variable pricing models can shape users’ energy consumption, particularly during peak load times during extreme weather. Grid operators will have access to improved intelligence for detecting, preventing, and recovering grid failures.

To date smart grid efforts have encountered numerous challenges, often focusing on cost. As presented in the Boulder, Colorado case study – who will pay for converting the existing grid? Consumers, energy providers, utilities, and government agencies agree that a smart grid is beneficial for all, however it is unclear who will bear the financial burden. Should those who benefit most pay a larger share? Should all consumers pay an equal amount, or should those who use more energy pay a larger share? Often these conversion costs are foisted onto consumers, who often have few energy provider choices given existing federal regulations. Utilities are regulated regarding the specific rates they may charge, limiting their ability to generate additional revenue  for needed conversion costs. These challenges highlight the complex power dynamics between users, providers, utilities, and the government.

Towards the end of the presentation Monday we briefly discussed the privacy implications of smart grid technologies. As posed in class, a utility could remotely turn off your air conditioner during peak usage. Or see which appliances you own. Perhaps utilities could limit when you could wash and dry your clothes, watch television, or use a blow dryer. While such control is likely far off, it raises question of whose energy could be controlled. Would it be all users, or could some users pay to use energy whenever they choose? Could such measures adversely affect low-income users, who may not be able to afford the latest energy efficient appliances? We must foster conversations among users, providers, utilities, and the government to resolve these questions.

Throughout the presentations this semester we should stay mindful of such privacy impacts. For smart transit, what are the privacy implications of gathering and using individuals’ data to plan and route buses, trains, and traffic? For smart governance, how might gathering such data from marginalized communities impact the perception of those communities? Does smart (grid|transportation|governance|etc.) data accurately reflect individuals and their activities? If not, what can we do to ensure that it does?

Do planners need to be aware of contemporary privacy laws and regulations?^ If so, how do we integrate this topic  into curriculum?

^ I have some experience in this space, and would be happy to present a half-class later this semester. – Andy