Which Utilties are Leading Smart Grid Development?

September 30, 2009

Rick Nicholson and H. Christine Richards of IDC Energy Insights published an article in the July/August edition of Intelligent Utility detailing their assessment of which utilities are leading the pack towards a Smart Grid.

 Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE), Austin Energy, Edison International (NYSE: EIX), Oncor, PG&E Corporation (NYSE: PCG) and CenterPoint Energy (NYSE: CNP), all of whom are based in either California or Texas, top the list of utilitites leading the way. I personally thinked they missed Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (who is working with Caster client Control4)who aren’t just at the forefront of grid transformation but also leading the charge in consumer Smart Grid education.

Locally, National Grid (LSE:NG;NYSE:NGG), the nation’s second-largest utility, has applied to the U.S. Department of Energy for $200 million in stimulus funding to develop an “end-to-end” smart grid deployment that will include approximately 200,000 customers in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

According to National Grid, the project will demonstrate the benefits of combining “smart” and “green” technologies from end-to-end (transmission to consumer) including demonstrations of clean energy technologies such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and solar and wind power as well as energy storage technology. The result will be one of the most technologically advanced smart grid deployments in the U.S. This initiative will provide an increased understanding of the interface between the next generation of green energy supply and the smart grid to pave the way for the broader roll out of these technologies in the states where National Grid operates.

Regardless of whether they get the grant money or not, I hope National Grid stays in the game; they have a chance to lead this initiative and really make a difference.

posted by KDL | follow me on Twitter: newscaster

Social Media Brings Elite Tweeters and Menu Change to R.I. Restaurant

August 19, 2009

Twitter served as a rallying cry at the Cheeky Monkey restaurant in Narragansett where a “Tweet-up” of Rhode Islanders was held to foster networking and choose the next addition to the appetizer menu. Users came from Westerly and Warren, Providence, Portsmouth and beyond to discuss social media and forge new relationships.

The Tweet-up hatched from several months of pro-bono social media work done by Caster Communications in support of the local restaurant. Only five minutes from our office, the Cheeky Monkey is a favorite dining spot because of the menu and atmosphere but also because the husband and wife ownership team (who were friends of Caster before this started) epitomize the challenges that small, independent businesses owners face. Using basic tools like a Facebook fan page, enewsletter and twitter account, the Cheeky Monkey uses social media in a variety of ways, including to:

  • Announce menu specials
  • Encourage fans to vote for the restaurant in local awards
  • Solicit feedback on advertising or sponsorships
  • Share recipes and culinary knowledge
  • Offer exclusive “Twitter-only” specials
  • Expand communications with other local small businesses

The backbone of the tweet-up were the three appetizers sampled and voted upon for inclusion on the restaurant’s menu. The three options were:  

Whole-wheat thin crust pizza with crispy pancetta, portabella mushrooms, caramelized onions, goat cheese and mozzarella topped with local baby arugala and drizzled with a balsamic glaze

Panko-crusted nori tuna roll     

Shrimp wrapped in phyllo dough with an herb-filled stuffing drizzled with a garlic aioli

After every crumb was devoured, the first option came out victorious securing its place as the first pizza dish to adorn Cheeky Monkey’s menu.

While Cheeky Monkey acted as the host, the event was truly a gathering of elite Rhode Island Twitter users. In a state the size of Houston, TX,  it’s easy to know a friend of a friend or figure out degrees of separation, especially when you’re conversing with Ocean Staters who are active in social media. Because it wasn’t a huge gathering, attendees had an opportunity to connect without  feeling like small fish in a big sea. Here are some interesting tweetbits I found out about some attendees:

@savorthethyme – Organizing a local bloggers event and working to get support of some prominent organic food vendors, she’s helping lead the R.I. Mom/Foodie movement and has a cool USB Flip camera that recorded some of the Cheeky action

@lilrhody – Putting together a panel of social media experts to discuss the benefits to small businesses in her hometown of Warren, RI, would also love a Cheeky-like restaurant to emerge in the East Bay

@GreggPerry – A major PR player in the Ocean State, he hosted a stellar Tweet-up at the beginning of the summer and also enjoyed his first Narragansett Beer in many moons with me. Call me jealous, he also knows Gene Valacenti. 

@AmyRoPhoto – Donated  her time and energy as a photographer to support a local Preservation Society event, she also enjoys adult conversation after a day of cajoling children into smiling

@davidsaraiva –  Offered fresh perspective on a client initiative I am dealing with. Also, if you’re a fan of Twitter management apps, remember the name Chatterbox

@JaneHCouto – Triathalete who goes for runs at 9p.m., deftly manages a slew of social media and still gets to bed at a decent hour

@JoeCascio – A sharp-witted content expert with a cheeky approach to social media, golf is often not far from his mind

I know I missed some folks so feel free to berate my absent-mindedness if you were ommitted. The first annual @CheekyRI  Tweet-up was a rousing success and we look forward to doing it again in the Fall when the menu needs tweaking again. Thank you to all who came out.

A special thanks goes to Stephanie and Jeff Cruff the co-owners who also act as head server and executive chef. It’s impossible to be more hands-on with a business than they are with the Cheeky Monkey restaurant.

Winners of two $25 gift certificates based on business card drop.

Winners of two $25 gift certificates based on business card drop.









Posted by: Nick B.


End of Summer Tweet Up in Rhode Island

August 11, 2009

 If you are a professional living in the Rhode Island area and are a fan of Twitter and social networking in general – or you want to learn more about how it can help your business – check out our event:

 Join us on August 18, 2009 for Rhode Island’s End of Summer Tweet Up event on the beautiful RI coast in Narragansett.

The event will be hosted by the folks here at Caster and the Cheeky Monkey Restaurant, recently named Best Restaurant of South County by Rhode Island Monthly.

Designed to promote networking and social media discussions among Rhode Island professionals, the event will feature samples from 3 new appetizers from Cheeky Monkey chef Jeff Bryers with the chance to vote one onto their regular menu. A cash bar will be available.

The use of social networking sites like Twitter have exploded in the past year and more and more Rhode Islanders have logged on to take advantage of their benefits.

Come and talk with other professionals on their experience with social media tools, learn new ideas and suggestions for your business and meet face to face with fellow Twitterers.

Space is limited – reserve your space today at http://summertweetupri.eventbrite.com/

Any questions or comments? Contact Ashley Daigneault at Caster Communications – ashley@castercomm.com or (401) 792-7080.

Social Media is a Two-way Street for Restaurants

July 8, 2009

Full Disclosure – Caster started working with the Cheeky Monkey because it’s close by and our entire agency loves the food, ambiance and especially the owners.  The colorful restaurant is an independently owned eatery that relies on local food vendors when possible and treats every patron as if they are a WJAR, channel 10 TV celebrity (who also happens to be a regular).

Cheeky Monkey Logo - high res

Earlier this week, Examiner.com blogger and Rhode Island social media expert Cheryl Phillips wrote an article titled, Social media replaces traditional advertising for The Cheeky Monkey restaurant. In the piece she talked about the benefits of social media for small businesses (especially restaurants) from a cost and outreach perspective.

Phillips states, “An advertisement in a newspaper lasts only until it goes in the recycle bin. Radio is a great advertising medium but it’s costly and the target market has to be just right…Facebook? It’s free. Yes, it takes work to keep up the fan page but it’s interactive and customers like to feel involved. Twitter gives a more immediate message to the public and can also direct people to the Facebook site. The networking possibilities with social media are endless and it’s working in a big way for The Cheeky Monkey Restaurant.”

While everything Cheryl says is right on, the point I’d like to highlight is the two-way communication that exists with social media engines. Because this article has NOTHING to do with a wine dinner, new menu or other tangible restaurant event, one might question how much it can actually help the bottom line. This thinking is outdated and naive.

As a result of the article being spread virally, the Cheeky Monkey saw significant increases in newsletter requests, twitter followers and FB fans over the three-day span since it was posted.  While new Cheeky people may not immediately translate into more seafood paella or grilled Moroccan BBQ Atlantic salmon being sold, their choice to engage and be engaged is as valuable as any coupon or print ad.  The need to be interesting, topical and value-conscious is imperative for the restaurant but there is no better long-term strategy for growth than direct, back-and-forth communication with customers, especially loyal ones. And each new follower who’s never visited has the potential to become a loyal customer.

From a big picture perspective, as the Cheeky Monkey network expands, the restaurant will be able to offer more value to patrons and ultimately cater to their whims whether it is adding new dishes to the menu, giving away coupons/gift certifiates, hosting themed events or throwing a “Loyalty Party” for customers who follow the social media efforts (as they did last week).

No matter if you’re working for Comcast, Domino’s Pizza or the Cheeky Monkey restaurant, there is some form of social media that can benefit your business. However, unlike traditional media, social media is a two-way street and you can’t expect customers to blindly support without some kind of incentive, whether it’s informational or monetary. 

With that in mind, to keep growing your knowledge of new media, the Cheeky highly recommends you follow Cheryl Phillips on Twitter (@thedailyblonde) and read her social media blog (always looking for RI success stories).

For those looking to jump the Cheeky Monkey bandwagon, your support is welcome:

Twitter: @CheekyRI

Facebook: Cheeky Monkey Fan Page

Posted by: Nick Brown

Rhode Island Beer Report: Newport Storm and Narragansett Creating Buzz

July 1, 2009

Beer is an economic bulwark even with Rhode Island’s increasing unemployment and a legislature’s hostile approach to out-of-state business (ask Amazon). Damn fine beer is associated with the Ocean State,  for value conscious and beer bourgeois alike.

As a moderate locavore, I try to support locally owned and operated companies when possible. As a frequent beer drinker, I like the options of having an affordable, easy drinking brew for light binging and a more complex, robust beer selection to compliment meals. Fortunately, Rhode Island offers both.

Narragansett Beer – “Hey Neighbor, Have a ‘Gansett”


With a rich history dating back to 1890, Narragansett became the largest selling beer in New England with one of the most modern brewing facilities in the country supporting over 850 employees. An unfortunate series of financial and logistical miscues led to the closing of the Cranston, RI factory in 1983. Fortunately, lifelong RI resident Mark Hellendrung bought back the brand in October of 2005 and ‘Gansett is poured from taps in over 750 New England bars.

Despite re-invigorating of the brand, Hellendrung has bigger goals for Narragansett beer, most notably returning the brewery to New England (ideally Rhode Island). With a savvy social media campaign including a blog, twitter feed, Facebook Fan Page and petition, as well as a nostalgic ad campaign, Narragansett is challenging folks in the northeast to drink 1.7 million cases of beer (roughly 1 case per beer drinking New Englander) by the end of the year in order to justify the need for a new brewery.

While beer snobs may turn a sober shoulder to the affordably priced lager, there’s no doubt that bringing the Narragansett brewery back to Rhode Island is the right thing to do. Simultaneously a homecoming and a boon to the state’s economy, (if you’re a beer consumer) please sign the petition, buy a case or ask your local beer vendor to start selling the beer. I bought an 18-pack last weekend and got a sweet free ‘Gansett necktie complimentary, for no cost.

Coastal Extreme Brewing Co. (Newport Storm) – Dedicated to the Craft


A company history of Coastal Extreme Breweing can be found on the website. On a personal note, as a 21 year-old I used to live across the street from the brewery. There was no beer sold, but every Friday evening, a select few dozen were admitted for tours which included, four, and subsequently two bottle caps exchangeable for free beer. The self-made owners have continued their hospitality with daily samplings and weekly/private tours. Newport Storm seasonal drafts drive hardcore loyalty but the flagship Hurricane Amber and a grassroots, events-laden effort led by the founders jockeyed “Storm” into the drinking scene across New England. 

Not surprisingly, the brewery is wrangling with the RI legislature over its right to sell six-packs, cases and spirits to patrons visiting the brewery. The website claims, “Rhode Island is the only such state in New England that prohibits this practice at its breweries and distilleries.” A travesty? Consider protesting or mildy objecting to House bill  6169 and the identical Senate bill 943, you can learn more and send vociferous emails here.

Furthermore, I’ve heard the Coastal Extreme beer factory may be expanding to a new facility, positive news but the Oliphant Ln. home will be missed. 

Drinking beer is not a solution for most, but manufacturing beverages for inevitable consumption is sound economics, especially in the Ocean State.  Just ask Autocrat and Del’s.

Posted by: Nick Brown


Earth hour needs some better advertising

April 11, 2009

I was scrolling through CNET Green Tech and apparently this past Saturday night millions of people turned off all of their lights for one hour. Where was I? How did these millions know about it and I hadn’t heard so much as a fleeting reference to it? I totally would have done that! At 8:30 on March 28th people of all time zones turned off their lights to make a point about global warming and energy usage. They had a goal of one billion for this year and I plan on helping them spread the word for next year, because apparently Lil’ Rhody never got the message. I’ll start now: March 28th 2010 at 8:00! Turn out the lights for Earth hour!

Posted by: Ashley (intern)

Rhode Island, More than just Understaffed Strip Clubs

March 24, 2009

If you managed to avoid reading or hearing about the job fair at Rhode Island’s Foxy Lady gentleman’s club in Providence this past weekend,  you must’ve been hiding in a champagne room somewhere. Aside from local saturation, news outlets including Yahoo, the Boston Herald, and even CNN  decided the human interest angle of strippers at a job fair was too much to ignore, thus “making it rain” with millions of dollars in free promotion for the strip joint.

The overused joke, “No need to buy a new wardrobe.” Guffaw!

Don’t get me wrong, Rhode Island needs the Foxy Lady. Legs and Eggs (every Friday starting at 6 a.m.) is an Ocean State institution on par with political corruption, quahogs and complaining about tourists who support our economy. Myself and nearly every one of my friends has patronized “The Foxy” for a bachelor party or just to whittle away the doldrums of winter one lapdance at a time. Truth be told, I appreciate the moxie of the Foxy co-owner, Thomas Tsoumas, I think he has a little P.T. Barnum in him.  

As “proud” as we are of our lascivious landmark, I feel as though Rhode Island gets pigeon-holed with some of the mainstream stories the national media presents. Forget the fact that we’re the smallest state in the country battling with Michigan for the highest unemployment rate while besieged by some the highest taxes in the nation. Considering our whole state is the size of Houston, Texas, I don’t expect sympathy for our economic plight, but how about some love for our diverse regional foibles and various pop culture contributions?

Included below are a mishmash of Rhody-related morsels to masticate on and broaden your view of the state officially known as Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. If you have visited or live in the state, we welcome your additions in the Comments section.

The Incomplete Guide to why Rhode Island is Wicked Awesome:

1.) Our lexicon embraces “wicked” as an adjective.

2.) My hometown, Portsmouth, laid claim to “Birthplace of American Democracy” and even erected a welcome sign to assert it. Too bad Williamsburg, I guess Virginia is just for lovers in denial.   

3.) Convicted ex-capital city mayors are not only embraced when they get out of jail, they are given a public forum to call out the injustices of others.

4.) Two drinks: Del’s Frozen Lemonade and an Awful Awful from Newport Creamery. Go with Oreo and a choclate base and you might need a change of underclothes.

5.) Ever heard of a little band called Smashmouth? Yeah, my friend’s sister dated the driver of their tour bus.

6.) The first ever Black Regiment, a group of slaves-turned-soldiers from R.I. joined the Continental Army in battling the lecherous redcoats. Battle of Rhode Island, 1778, that’s right.

7.) We have a Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Galilee, Little Compton, and a Wyoming all within our borders. 

8.) One of the funniest shows on TV, Fox’s Family Guy, is set in a made-up town called Quahog, RI. Yes, all of our children speak eloquently with British accents and our dogs talk, drink martinis and smoke cigarettes. 

9.) The Tennis Hall of Fame is located in Newport. We get at least one Martina Navratilova sighting a year.

10.) New England Pest Control’s Big Blue Bug.

11.) Newport’s White Horse Tavern was built in 1673 and is the oldest operating tavern in the United States.

12.) Bristol, RI has the longest running 4th of July Parade in the history of the world, we’ve been flipping the bird to the Brits with fireworks and binge drinking since 1785.  

13.) In Scituate, Rhode Island it is illegal to keep a flock of chickens in your motorhome if you live in a trailer park. No link, but it’s in the town charter, ask Cletus at the town administration shed.

14.) The Cheeky Monkey restaurant in Narragansett, where the cuisine, service and ambiance are so ambrosial that sometimes I question whether chewing the food is doing it an injustice. They’re on Facebook you know.

15.) Waterfire in Providence. It’s summer, visual art, music, food, nightime and a swell date or romance destination. Go when they have a contingency of Brazilian samba dancers, musicians and chuhascaria and you will not be dissapointed.

16.) The Great Chowder Cook-off and St. Patty’s Day in Newport.

 17.) Autocrat – maker of Coffee Syrup. Since 1920, our state has loyally supported the Lincoln, RI based company by drinking coffee milk made with a dark amber-hued, satiny syrup mixed with 2% or whole. The state legislature even named it the Official State Drink of Rhode Island in 1997.  All this despite the fact that virtually no consumers outside our state drink it and we chug to the tune of 31 million glasses a year.

Thanks Rhode Island!

Posted by: Nick