How important is developing a nationwide smart grid to ensuring North America has the capability to reduce its energy usage and create a more sustainable urban environment?
Shibata: First of all, it's probably worth clarifying that we're not going from zero intelligence to 100% intelligence overnight when we talk about the smart grid, although the current attention put on it may seem to suggest that. Every sector continually evolves and upgrades itself technologically – the utility sector is no exception. So a smarter grid is certainly an important part of the sustainability answer. But just as technology is never the full answer in other markets, it's the same here too – the way people use energy is also a major driver of sustainability. What's good here is that a smarter grid allows for faster information flow, so that should help people make better decisions in a more timely manner.
Is the message of sustainability the key to helping drive wider consumer acceptance of the smart grid?
Shibata: I think ultimately it will be about driving consumer value – there has to be consumer benefit at the functional, end-user and emotional levels. Sustainability is a part of that, but user convenience and other "wow" factors that create a better experience will complete the picture. For example, see how far we've come with phones/telecommunications, from the original operator assisted types to the smart phones of today.
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