The residential sector represents about one-third of end-user electric consumption, depending on the service area. But compared to commercial and industrial sectors, residential usage patterns and customer attitudes are fairly unpredictable. Attempts at managing residential demand are like herding cats. For several years now, smart grid technologies, particularly smart meters, have been seen as the holy grail of demand management. The smart meter is the open door to customer participation. Or is it?

Suppose that we get past the sporadic but increasingly organized push-back from some customers who see little benefit and some potential dangers and privacy issues from wireless smart meters. Suppose we reach the predicted 60 million or so installed smart meters. How do we support the necessary evolving software applications that create the right partnership between utility and end user?

Almost certainly, cloud computing will be the key enabling technology. IBM’s Smarter Electricity Pilot Study in Dubuque, Iowa, (see the article under "Late Breaking") provides a web portal for residential customers to access their usage data. The same portal could be used to run energy management applications that reside on IBM’s (or other provider) servers.

The Dubuque pilot is one of the first to offer cloud technology for home energy management but we can expect others to quickly jump in the game.

No need for distributed CDs, DVDs or massive downloads. Updates and fixes are all done in the cloud. All the customer needs is a way to connect to the internet - computer, smart phone, whatever. And, of course, after some of the loud ratepayer concerns over smart meter costs, state regulators should welcome the potential economies of scale that cloud computing offers.