A National 'Smart Grid' Remains a Vision With Many Gaps In The US  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

Time for a smart grid news roundup - the one area of cleantech that seems to have stepped up to the next level this year .

First up, The New York Times has an article on the state of play with the US grid - A National 'Smart Grid' Remains a Vision With Many Gaps.

Like a complex jigsaw puzzle with lots of missing pieces, the picture of a smart electric power grid is slowly beginning to take shape in the United States, along with predictions of big energy savings and emission reductions that could come with it.

The scattered placement of the pieces is a work in progress, with much of the action controlled by states. Some have embraced a clear vision of this revolution in the way electric power can be delivered, used and priced. In many more states, the picture is cloudy or incomplete, restrained by the historic caution of state regulators and the self-interest of some utilities.

Power companies have begun installing millions of advanced electric meters -- the basic building block of the smart grid. Coupled with communications links between customers and control rooms, information management systems in utility offices, and flexible electricity rate programs, the systems will empower consumers and producers to conserve electricity use, particularly on summer days when temperatures and electricity prices are soaring.

These systems have the potential to affect nearly everyone's life. They could change energy-using habits that have become ingrained over generations. A few examples: They can make it possible for millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles' batteries to be recharged with cheaper, nighttime electricity. They can tie rooftop solar units on homes and businesses into the power grid, making owners energy sellers as well as buyers. And they can give consumers meaningful influence over their electric bills for the first time.

But so far, only a small fraction of these capabilities have been deployed. Less than 5 percent of the nation's 144 million electric meters were being used for smart grid functions in 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) reported. Utilities are using them mainly to control costs by replacing meter readers, pinpointing damage from storm outages and removing or adding customers to the grid remotely.

Reuters has a report (well - press release perhaps) on a smart meter rollout in Victoria - SP AusNet Selects GE for World`s First 4G Communications Smart Grid Solution, Delivering Revolutionary Security and Reliability Benefits.
The Victoria state government has mandated its entire service area be upgraded to smart meters by 2013. In addition to meters, future functionality is an important benefit for Australian utilities. Australia`s Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts expects the country to have 10 million households in 2020, resulting in a 56% increase in energy demand. At the same time, the Australia government aims to reduce carbon emissions by 10% and increase renewable generation to 20% by 2020. The GE smart grid infrastructure being installed today will help meet those goals while improving reliability in the face of increasing demand.

GE`s WiMAX smart grid solution will give SP AusNet the option to provide variable pricing throughout the day-enabling consumers to manage their energy usage and save money by moving energy-intensive activities to lower-cost, off-peak periods. With the right rate structure, SP AusNet could spread demand more evenly throughout the day and offset the need for new power generation.

This solution also will enable utilities to monitor the health and status of smart grid devices in real-time, helping ensure consistent reliability for customers. As one of the industry`s most secure, standards-based, scalable 4G technologies for smart grid, the GE solution will lay the foundation for a host of advanced smart grid applications-from plug-in vehicles, to advanced grid control, to alternative energy sources, such as solar on rooftops.

VentureBeat has an article on a smart meter rollout in Texas - Oncor, Landis+Gyr plunk down 300,000 smart meters in Dallas.
Landis+Gyr, one of the biggest smart meter makers in the business, partnered with Texan energy transmission provider Oncor to quickly deploy 300,000 new advanced meters in the Dallas Metro area — setting new standards for how big and fast other Smart Grid vendors should be thinking. Despite much hand wringing and heehawing in the sector about how long it takes to switch out traditional meters with their slick new cousins, Oncor says the team will have 700,000 meters in place by the end of 2009.

By 2012, the figure should jump to 3 million meters — Oncor’s full coverage area of residences and small businesses. As it stands, Landis+Gyr’s meters, will channel energy consumption data every 15 minutes to local utilities and to consumers via their home energy management dashboards. Ultimately, the hope is to equip utility customers with the usage and pricing information they need to adopt conservationist practices and save money on their energy bills.

The Dubai Chronicle has an article on a smart appliance program in the futuristic city of Masdar - Masdar City and GE partner on a first-of-its-kind smart appliance pilot program.
Masdar City and GE Consumer & Industrial announced today a landmark pilot program that will investigate the reduction of peak power demand through the use of smart home appliances. Involving some of the first residents of Masdar City – the world’s first carbon neutral, zero waste city being built in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi – the program will test how GE smart (or Demand Response enabled) appliances and Home Energy Manager (HEM) can lower power demand in the home and across the city.

GE specifically designed and manufactured the appliances and networks for this pilot, which leverages Masdar City’s status as a cleantech cluster and one-of-a-kind “living laboratory” for exciting new sustainability technologies. The equipment will be installed in early 2010 in the first building to be completed at Masdar City, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

SmartMeters.com has an article on Google's efforts to market their powerMeter service directly to consumers in the UK - Google Steps in to give UK customers what they need.
Google announced that it is able to provide energy usage information without involving a customer’s utility company. The search giant has partnered with smart meter manufacturer Energy Inc to provide the new service.

Google’s PowerMeter energy monitoring software, coupled with The Energy Detective (TED) 5000 smart meter device, allows for anyone to reap the benefits of smart metering without any interference from the utility company. Consumers don’t have to wait for a major smart meter installation project to come their way to get a better handle on their energy consumption.

“Today, we’re very excited to announce we have secured our first official device partner,” Google announced in an October blog posting. “For the last several months, a few hundred Google employees have been testing a number of in-home electricity monitoring devices.”

Earth2tech has a screen shot of PowerMeter in action - SCREEN SHOT: Google’s PowerMeter Live in Germany.
This week Google announced its first device partner for its energy management tool PowerMeter, which will enable PowerMeter to bypass the smart meter and the utility. Part of the benefit of cutting out the utility is that the device can use an Internet connection to feed energy data directly to a user’s computer in practically real time, instead of getting delayed via the commonly slow utility network. But in some rare cases utilities aren’t getting in the way and embracing the consumer home broadband connection — such is the case with Germany’s Yello Strom, which this morning announced that its customers can now use the PowerMeter iGoogle gadget online to track their energy consumption.

And finally, TreeHugger has a look at concerns about a smart meter led invasion of privacy - From Smart Grid to Big Brother?. While I don't think models that provide all your smart appliance data to a utility company (or anyone else) are a good idea, in terms of the information being collected about you, what your power usage is - even at a fine grained level - is the least of your worries...
Smarts grids and smart appliances are gaining a lot of mindshare these days. The main stated benefits are: A more efficient use of energy, and a higher capacity to handle intermittent renewable power sources (such as wind and solar). But there is another important issue that gets shoved under the rug: Privacy. These smart meters and appliances will be sending lots of data to power companies. What will happen to it is an important question that needs to be answered.

Bob Sullivan has an interesting piece on it. He writes:
Utility companies, by gathering hundreds of billions of data points about us, could reconstruct much of our daily lives -- when we wake up, when we go home, when we go on vacation, perhaps even when we draw a hot bath. They might sell this information to marketing companies -- perhaps a travel agency will send brochures right when the family vacation is about to arrive. Law enforcement officials might use this information against us ("Where were you last night? Home watching TV? That's not what the power company says ... "). Divorce lawyers could subpoena the data ("You say you're a good parent, but your children are forced to sleep in 61-degree rooms. For shame ..."). A credit bureau or insurance company could penalize you because your energy use patterns are similar to those of other troublesome consumers. Or criminals could spy the data, then plan home burglaries with fine-tuned accuracy. [...]

Privacy expert Alessandro Acquisti, who studies the intersection of economics and privacy at Carnegie Mellon University, said privacy issues routinely arise even when companies that collect data do so with all good intention. Many times, data that collected is harmless in isolation, but becomes troublesome when combined with other data, or examined by a third party for patterns.

The privacy risks - and opportunities for abuse, both from governments and from malicious individuals - are not unique to smart grids of course. It's par for the course with highly networked technologies like the internet.

The difference is that you can still mostly decide what you put online or on your computer. But you have a higher expectation of privacy inside your home, and might not realize that the data gathered about your energy usage could be used to reconstruct part of your life (potentially in erroneous ways).


"A smart grid pilot project in Fayetteville, N.C., has resulted in an initial 20 percent decline in average electricity consumption, according Consert, a Raleigh, N.C. technology company.


Consert attached controllers on hot water heaters, air conditioners and pool pumps and then let customers go online and set targets . their monthly electricity bill. Smart meters and a wireless communications system provide real-time electricity consumption data to allow the utility to cycle appliances on and off to achieve the savings and help it manage peak demand."

Twenty percent across the board would allow us to close half our coal plants immediately.


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