Everyone is talking about the Smart Grid. It will prevent global warming, solve all future energy needs and make our lives much better. But what is a Smart Grid? Well, that's the problem.
For energy producers and distributors it is a collection of new technologies installed in their networks to ensure more accurate billing. In other words, it is revenue assurance. This is no hype generating stuff, so secondary goals like load balancing power lines, preventing outages and automatically controlling customers' equipment to save energy are touted.
All this reminds me about the telecommunications standards of the 80s, X.25 and ISDN which were to provide customers everything they needed in the digital age - voice, video, data and so on. Then the Internet happened, and these once heavily government-subsidized networks started to fall into obscurity. Yes, X.25 is still used by some legacy ATMs and ISDN was once the True Broadband with 2x64Kbit/s, but all widespread applications and innovations are happening on top of Internet Protocol.
We should tap on Smart People, not the Grid, in order to rationalize (lower) global energy consumption. When people are provided with accurate and real time measurements on their energy consumption, the market will quickly seize the opportunity and start producing appliances that consume less and less energy. This has already happened in mobile phone industry, as battery lifetime is a critical parameter for the buyer. The next step is to make energy tangible for everyone - and there are easier ways that pedalling a kilowatt-hour with a stationary bike.