Why A Sociologist Is Part Of Building A Better Power Grid

Apr 12, 2012

PULLMAN, Wash -- Washington State University announced it’s created a new research center. It will look for ways to bring the country’s aging electricity system in line with 21st century power needs. Besides experts in energy and computer science, the assembled team of researchers includes sociologists and psychologists.

The project is called the Energy Systems Innovation Center. Funders include Avista Utilities and the U.S. Department of Energy. The goal is to advance so called “smart grid” technology to make the power system more efficient and responsive.

A key ingredient is a network of “smart meters” that allow consumers to see in real-time things like how much energy they’re using and how much it’s costing them.

And that’s where Christine Horne comes in. She’s a professor of sociology at Washington State University.

Christine Horne: “We want to make sure that it not only is technologically fabulous, but that it also is for normal people," Horne says. "And for the smart grid to really work, we need individuals to be making good decisions.”

Horne will research how the data the smart meter is spitting out can be presented in a way that encourages people to use less energy. That could mean anything from developing an interface that helps people set power reduction goals to designing a smartphone app to monitor usage.

On the Web:

Energy Systems Innovation Center:

Smart grid overview:

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network