By Elisa Wood
April 4, 2012
The electric industry is good at building things. That’s how it solves problems. Is there a threat of blackouts? Develop a new natural gas-fired plant. Worried about climate change? Build wind and solar power. Does electricity cost too much? Install a transmission line to import cheaper power.
But build-to-solve represents only half of the equation in the new world of smart grid. The other half, the part that stumps the industry, is solve-without-building.
Rather than adding more energy, smart grid tries to wring maximum efficiency out of the system by changing the way we consume electricity. But it turns out, trying to direct human energy behavior makes cat herding look easy. To get people to pay attention to their energy use, utilities and private companies are experimenting with alluring gadgets and social motivators. So far, success has been minimal. Thomas Edison’s light bulb has been such a smashing success for the last 100 years, none of us want to turn it off.
So what will it take?
The Edison Foundation recently looked outside the industry for some answers, inviting Dan Pink, best-selling author of “DRIVE: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” to speak at last month’s Power the People 2.0 conference in Washington D.C.
Consumer motivation has become a common conference topic. But Pink’s talk was different. He stepped back and took a broader view and asked: How do we motivate the people who are trying motivate the consumer? Pink calls this “the science of how people do extraordinary things.”