In Oklahoma, a Utility's Smart Grid Leads the Way In Oklahoma, a Utility's Smart Grid Leads the Way

In Oklahoma, a Utility's Smart Grid Leads the Way

by Erica Grieder

January 7, 2012

Millions of Americans are about to change their electricity consumption as power companies build the smart grid projects they’ve been talking about for the past few years. One place to look for inspiration is Oklahoma, and its leading power producer.

Oklahoma is not known for being a particularly green state. It’s among the worst in the country for energy efficiency [PDF]. Its wind industry is growing, but its natural gas industry is booming so quickly that some of those executives are getting mutinous about the wind. Yet Oklahoma’s largest electric utility, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, is a national leader in smart-grid technology.

Unfortunately, most existing smart-meter projects haven’t made an effort to give customers such access. It adds additional administrative costs, and it’s not clear whether customers would bother to check the website anyway. A more cynical explanation would be that it’s not actually in a company’s interests to give the customer this data. The utilities are, after all, in the business of selling electricity, and many of them, being in regulated markets, don’t even have to compete for customers.

Regardless, this is something consumers should demand. We’re going to spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money over the next decade building out smart-grid infrastructure, and it might as well be as smart as possible.

The plainspoken Grant acknowledges that the potential impact on revenue was an concern, but he offers two considerations. The first is that the point of OG&E’s smart grid is to smooth demand rather than to reduce consumption across the board. A lot of environmentalists are going for the broader goal—according to studies, Americans could reduce their residential consumption considerably just by setting tougher energy-efficiency standards—but even the demand smoothing represents a major net benefit if it postpones the need to build additional fossil-fuel capacity.

Grant’s second point is that an electric utility operates in a broader economic context. If OG&E can provide reliable service at reasonable rates, that boosts the Oklahoma economy more generally, and growth in Oklahoma is good for OG&E’s business. “It’s kind of simple logic,” he says. “As a business we want to grow over the long term.”

Simple, and successful. Other utilities should be looking to smarten up like OG&E.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user nayukim; Screenshot courtesy of OG&E

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In Oklahoma, a Utility's Smart Grid Leads the Way