Thanksgiving weekend is a time for a turkey, family, and football. After you've gotten your fill of all three - is it really possible? - maybe there is time for a little reflection too.
In that spirit, we're reflecting on the responses to our public notice and from our ongoing conversations with the American public about the Smart Grid - the modernization of the electrical grid. We're also reflecting on the recent presentation to the Commission about critical gaps in the path to future universal broadband.
I'm often asked, why focus on the Smart Grid in the energy section of the broadband plan? The answer is simple-we have a climate crisis on our hands, and broadband and IT need to be part of the solution. In fact, smart electric grids, smart homes, and smart buildings-sometimes collectively called the smart grid-are the greatest opportunity for broadband and IT to reduce carbon emissions. One study recently concluded that smart grids, homes, and buildings could reduce over 800 million tons of annual carbon emissions by 2020. That's the equivalent of taking more than 100 million gasoline-fueled cars off the road.
The responses to the public notice on Smart Grid issues have also made it clear that there are two issues that we need to address in a comprehensive plan to Congress.
First, it's clear from the record that our electrical system-really a collection of systems-will require greater data connectivity across the entire grid, from generation to transmission to distribution to the meter, and within the home and building. As we have more distributed generation, plug-in electric vehicles, and retail prices that better reflect costs, we'll need to modernize the grid, with greater communications and IT throughout.
It's also clear from the record that each Smart Grid application has different networking requirements, from meters that must be read once per day, to advanced sensors called synchrophasors that must report power quality data in a continuous stream.
As a result, there are a variety of networks already being used to support the Smart Grid, including private and commercial, wired and wireless, narrowband and broadband. What is less clear is how these requirements will change as the Smart Grid continues to develop, and as greater intelligence and control is pushed deeper into the network.
Second, a lot of the expected benefits of the Smart Grid are really benefits we'll gain from smarter homes and smarter buildings. Consumers and building owners will be expected to interact with the grid in new ways, including the "Prius Effect", which refers to the way Toyota Prius drivers responded to the prominent display on the car's dashboard of real-time fuel economy by changing their driving behavior to get even better mileage. Similarly, exposure to better energy consumption information can help encourage energy savings behavior. But a lot of the benefits will be the automation of home or building systems to manage energy better - you won't have to lift a finger!
The wealth of consumption and pricing data that will be created by the smart grid can enable a variety of innovative products and services. But who will control access to this data? If third parties develop products and services, how should consumers connect them to this data? Can the Smart Grid do for energy what the Internet did for communications and media?
It's clear the Smart Grid holds enormous promise to help tackle our national goals in energy and the environment. In order to do so, it will be important to address the communications and energy information questions. We're intently focusing on these issues as we consider the final shape of the National Broadband Plan.
In order to add to the record, and gather additional input, we're also holding a Commissioner-led field hearing on Energy and the Environment on Monday, Nov. 30th, at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., at 1 p.m. The entire event is open to the public and available online at http://www.fcc.gov/live/. Video of the hearing will also be archived on the field hearing site. [Ed. update: video from yesterday's field hearing is available here]
Enough reflecting for now. Back to the leftover turkey!