Guest Interview with Colin Smart of Consolidated Edison (Con Edison)

  How long have you worked at Con Edison?
  I have worked at Con Edison for five years in roles covering demand response, environment, health
  and safety (EH&S), and customer operations.

  What is your role at Con Edison?
   I am the Section Manager for Demand Response. This makes me responsible for the operation and
   development of all of Con Edison’s commercial and residential demand response programs. I also
   take great pleasure in acting as a mentor for the Environmental Committee run by participants in
   our graduate in-take program. Everyday these folks remind me what intelligent, enthusiastic, and innovative young people we have entering our industry. The future is in good hands.

How long have you been involved in demand side activities?
Prior to joining Con Edison I spent over a decade consulting to Fortune 500 companies on opportunities to reduce energy and telecommunication costs in Australia, New Zealand, and North America. I was particularly focused on helping customers deal with the challenges of uncertainty during the stages of market deregulation. My customers have been as diverse as mines in Western Australia, rendering plants in Los Angeles, cinemas in Texas, and jewelry stores in Manhattan. Working with this diverse range of customers is what got me hooked on our industry, which is so important to so many people.

What challenges have you faced as a DR professional within your organization and within the industry?
As Con Edison is a pure T&D utility and does not own generation, our DR programs are focused on the electric distribution system. DR is a relatively new concept to many internal and external folks, and even if they are aware of DR, they tend to think of it as an upstream bulk supply solution. Educating folks on the economic benefits closer to the customer has been an important focus.

As we have begun the process of introducing DR into our long range forecasts, it has become clear that the issue of certainty of the resource is in question for many. We continue to work to develop confidence in this area so the true value of this resource may be recognized.

What changes have you seen in the industry as it relates to DR and EE over the last few years?
Our customers are becoming more proactive, and the building controls folks are working harder to help customers better understand and control their load. This is giving our customers more options, and whether they are motivated by economics or a desire to reduce their environmental impact, customers are taking advantage of these options.

Certainly the connection between the smart grid and demand response has become stronger. There is talk of demand response as being the smart grid “in action.” This is an important part of presenting the smart grid as more than just a metering solution. The smart grid as an enabler of diverse solutions, and a dynamically evolving one at that, is an important development for us all.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge with implementing DR in the next decade?
While larger customers are educated as to the potential benefits of DR and know how they can manage their load, DR is still very much a “push” market. DR has high negatives on surveys of energy related terminology, and the language used by industry insiders remains a barrier to customer participation. We need to improve the terminology, and focus on giving customers greater comfort and control. While improved building systems will likely enable greater participation, the concept of a utility controlling specific assets on a customer’s site will require the utility to form a customer relationship based on trust. Achieving this trust will not be driven by one DR person but will need to be the result of each utility lineman, meter reader, and customer service representative as they deal with the customer.  

What advice or guidance would you give to young professionals who are considering a career in demand response and smart grid?
Be excited. Be very excited. But…don’t let the technology distract you from remembering the needs and concerns of the customers. DR is not the same as a generator; it is a customer choosing to modify their operations and behavior in some way. The more you understand the customer, the more successful you will be. Forget the customer at your own peril!

To learn more about ConEd, please visit their website.

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