Old habits die hard, as the saying goes, and for all the talk of saving energy and the planet, modifying people’s behavior may still prove to be the biggest challenge. On the other hand, incremental change is still change nonetheless, and when it comes to widespread transformations, like the kind needed to alter our nation’s power usage, that may prove to be the only way progress is measured.

According to a recent report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), there has been significant movement toward a so-called “smart grid.” This involves various technologies that allow utilities and customers to communicate with each other over the Internet in a way that improves the control and use of electricity.

The report, “2008 Assessment of Demand Response and Advanced Metering,” focuses specifically on advanced metering and demand response, two technologies that can help bring the nation’s electrical grid into the digital telecommunications age. Advanced meters improve communication between utilities and customers about power usage, demand and availability. Among other things, they allow customers to time their usage of electricity when rates are lowest. Demand response is a control technology that allows utilities to adjust customers’ power usage by cycling home appliances on or off depending on peak demands.

FERC report notes progress in greater usage of both technologies. For example, it finds that advanced meters make up about 4.7 percent of installed meters in the United States, a significant jump from less than 1 percent in 2006.

Demand response also is being embraced in greater numbers, with 8 percent of energy consumers in the United States now in some kind of demand-response program. The potential resource contribution from all such U.S. programs is close to 41,000 megawatts, or 5.8 percent of U.S. peak demand. This represents an increase of about 3,400 MW from the 2006 estimate.