iMeter Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars  

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Todd Woody has an article at Grist talking about the benefits of expanding the smart meter / smart grid idea from the electricity grid to the water supply network - Smart meters save energy, water, and dollars.

The other day I came home to find a colorful flyer on my front door proclaiming, “Your meter just got smarter.”

While I was out and about in Berkeley, a worker from my utility, PG&E, slipped in the side gate and gave my old gas and electric meter a digital upgrade. So-called smart meters allow the two-way transmission of electricity data and will eventually let me monitor and alter my energy consumption in near real-time. I’ll be able to fire up an app on my iPhone and see, for instance, a spike in watts because my son has left the lights on in his room and a laptop plugged in.

Now I only learn of my electricity use when I get my monthly utility bill, long after all that carbon has escaped into the atmosphere. The situation is even worse when it comes to water consumption; my bill and details of my water use arrive every other month.

“When you tell people what total bucket of water they used in the past 60 days, the barn door is open and the animals are long gone,” says Richard Harris, water conservation manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, my local water agency.

EBMUD is currently testing smart water meters in 30 households and plans to expand the pilot program to 4,000 homes and businesses later this year.

“It’ll give us better knowledge of where our water is going,” says Harris. “We also thought if we’re going to ask people to use water more efficiently, especially when we’re coming out of a drought and have imposed water restrictions, customers need to have an idea of what their current use is.”

EBMUD’s smart meters take readings every hour and participants in the pilot program will be able to go online to check their consumption and set up an email alert if their water use rises above a certain level. The agency also plans to offer a social networking feature to allow people to compare their water consumption with other households in the area. Nothing like a little peer pressure to get you to turn off the tap.

Given that many states expect to face water shortages in the coming years, one would think we’d be seeing a roll out of smart water meters akin to the national effort being made to smarten up the power grid.

The payoff could be enormous. Water agencies and consumers would be able to detect leaking pipes and toilets in real-time and fix the problem before the water literally goes down the drain.

Smart grids continue to be the one area of the cleantech world that is really booming this year, so I'll do a little roundup of recent articles.

EETimes points to a recent report predicting their will be over 200 million smart meters deployed by 2014 - Report: Smart meters rise to 212 million in 2014.
Deployments of smart electricity meters worldwide will rise from 76 million in 2009 to reach about 212 million in 2014, according to a new report from ABI Research. The report provides forecasts of the wired and wireless communications options used to connect meters as well as profiles of some of many smart meter makers.

The move to smart grids and two-way meters to enable new services to the home got a $3.4 billion boost from economic stimulus grants in the U.S. this year, noted Sam Lucero, a practice director at ABI and author of the report.

For its part, the European Union enacted a so-called Third Energy Package in September which aims to migrate every European electricity meter to a capability for two-way communications by 2022. China is said to be ramping up its own smart grid programs, Lucero added.

Smart Grid News has a look at some possible changes to the energy market configurations as a result of smart grid implementation - Why Today's Utilities May Soon Be Obsolete (and What May Replace Them).
The potential for implementation of a Smart Grid depends upon the paradigm or paradigms that are eventually implemented, as well as on the quantity and quality of information being exchanged. ... Two major questions are paramount across all models:

* Who makes the decisions?
* How is control exercised?

These crucial questions determine who applies the smarts to the grid and how efficiently those smarts realize the promise of Smart Grid technologies.

Attempting to create a taxonomy of market structures risks over-simplification, but the resulting clarity can be insightful. This said, I argue that there are four market models that capture the critical elements of what will emerge when the Smart Grid is fully implemented. While elements of the four can be mixed and matched, at the core they represent extremes that require dramatically different deployment strategies in information and data flow, as well as end user decision and control.

These are:

* Pure Market
* Intermediated
* Microgrid
* Centrally Controlled

Reuters has a look at the smart grid investment landscape - How to make a play in the smart electrical grid: executives.
The privately-held Silver Spring Networks is smart grid networking company and is often cited as a candidate for an initial public offering.

The smart grid will allow two-way communications between utilities and their customers. Analysts have said it will marry clean power, electric vehicles, advanced meters, and power storage into a seamless network, modernizing thousands of miles of outdated power lines and allowing for more efficient energy use.

Increased momentum for smart grid technology helped push power storage and energy efficiency stocks to perform the best on the WilderHill New Energy Global Innovation Index in 2009, which tracks the performance of 86 global clean energy stocks.

The sector also has seen a boost from the Obama administration, which announced a $3.4 billion package in 2009 to help build a smart electric grid meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power generated by solar and wind energy.

"The scale is even bigger than the Internet ... but the speed of adoption is still going to be slow," said Adrian Tuck, chief executive at Tendril, a Boulder, Colorado-based smart grid company that GE recently acquired a stake in. ...

"Demand response is the killer application in this market, at least the first killer app," said Robert W Baird analyst Michael Horowitz. "These guys already have built fairly good business momentum over the last couple of years, as consumers and utilities alike are looking for better ways to manage delivering electrons," he added.

While bigger players are moving into the sector, they may not be the fastest way to profit from the smart grid. Google has invested in smart grid player Silver Spring Networks while Cisco and Microsoft are seeking to leverage their existing networking and software expertise in the emerging sector.

"Our view is the pure play companies are going to give a lot more bang. This is going to be very small to incremental for a company like Cisco and Microsoft," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Stuart Bush.

Back at Smart grid News, a look at some of the issues that are cropping up as utilities try to phase out jobs like meter reading as smart meters are rolled out - Is the Smart Grid Inducing Labor Pains?.
It seems that there is a bit of wire crossing happening amid the hardworking folks who are actually many of the hands and feet creating and managing the Smart Grid. In spite of very positive initial reactions to the federal investment of billions into the creation of the Smart Grid, the law of unintended consequences is introducing some consternation among the ranks of organized labor as Smart Grid programs move from philosophy to reality.

While the introduction of the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program was applauded by many in the labor community as the beginnings of a new market for skilled technicians, such as in this AFL-CIO blog post, or this IBEW promotional video, some actual deployments are not being greeted as positive changes.

Most recently, on Jan. 19 the Kennebec Journal reported that IBEW Local 1837 was "speaking out against" a new smart meter installation project by Central Maine Power (CMP) that had been funded to the tune of $96M through the SGIG, and which had a total cost of roughly $190M. Seems that the project would likely eliminate, over time, some 141 positions, and that did not sit well with the union.

The tension at CMP, however, is not unique. In October, a plan by the board of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division (MLGW) received similar criticism from the IBEW, which noted that roughly 400 meter reading jobs would be lost in that plan.

The Smart Grid is comprised of much more than just smart metering. It involves redundancy, and resiliency, and quality of power, and ease of integrating renewables, and storage, and on and on and on. Today's unfortunate reality, however, is that investment has been increasingly targeted to smart metering. Smart meters, and the improvements in automating, and "remotifying" the reading, turn-on, and cut-off of power, are seen as early wins. They do not appear to jeopardize the delivery of power, and can very quickly demonstrate cost efficiency by decreasing truck rolls. This is both a reaction to the government's emphasis of "shovel-ready" projects to fund, and to the ease with which a utility can justify the project to regulators as a cost-saver, paying off the capital cost in short order through a reduction in labor costs. As a result, the union teams, originally anxious to generate skilled labor to drive the construction of the next generation of transmission and distribution, is left, instead with a short-term need for installers that will be wiring up the elimination of hundreds of jobs for their meter reading brethren.

Greentech media has a look at the top 10 smart grid news stories from 2009 - The Past and Future of Smart Grid.
8. Distribution and Transmission Up Next: Not all smart grid systems are visible to the untrained eye. Upgrading distribution and transmission grids with communications and controls could help utilities squeeze up to 10 percent more efficiency out of their existing generation capacity, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. Those savings can come from preventative maintenance and replacement, shortening outage times, and optimizing grid voltages, among other sources.

At the same time, managing the massive growth in renewable solar, wind and geothermal energy that will be needed to cut the nation's carbon emissions will put new pressures on the grid. Hundreds of billions of dollars will need to be spent on new transmission lines to carry Midwest wind power and Southwest solar power to load centers, according to studies - which opens up new business models for startups.

And at the neighborhood level, distribution grids will need a whole host of new technologies to manage the increase in rooftop solar panels, demand response-enabled homes, and future plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles that will soon place unprecedented new pressures on utilities built on the model of delivering power from central generation stations to millions of customers.

9. Smart Grid 2.0: All of these emerging smart grid technologies will be a lot more useful if they can be linked together. That's the idea for the next surge in the industry – a whole ecosystem of smart architectures, stretching from generations sources and transmission lines to the wireless and wired networks in utility customers' homes and businesses.

GridPoint, one of the more prominent – and well-funded – of the smart grid startups out there, is centered on delivering this kind of integrated offering to utility customers. Its approach has included buying up a host of startups offering vehicle charging, home energy monitoring and industrial and commercial energy management, indicating the breadth of functions it hopes to provide.

What will the smart grid of the future look like? Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers speaks of a utility-managed system that orchestrates smart meters, solar panels, batteries, demand response systems and plug-in vehicle chargers to serve as "virtual power plants" scattered throughout a utility service territory.

CNet has an article on a in-house energy usage display that is combined with a thermostat (I suspect we'll see a trend for convergence in home based control devices over time which mirrors that of hand held devices) - CES: To save energy, thermostat becomes mini computer.
There are dozens of companies making in-home displays designed to help consumers shave energy use at home. But SilverPac is packing many of those features into a high-tech thermostat. SilverPac, which makes digital picture frames and other media electronics, on Monday introduced the SilverStat 7, a sleek device that combines the heating and cooling controls of a programmable thermostat with a real-time energy display. ...

The thermostat is built around a 7-inch touch-screen display that runs Windows CE on Intel's Atom processor. It has a Wi-Fi interface that will allow it to get electricity usage information from smart meters and talk to network-aware appliances on a home wireless network. It has built-in speakers to play FM radio or music streamed from a home network. People can also use the device as a calendar.

According to the company, SilverPac's in-home energy display will rely on getting information from a smart meter, which means that it won't be accessible to everyone. Even with millions of smart meters expected to be installed over the next three years, many utilities will not be making meter information available over home wireless networks, in part because of security concerns.

Smart meter programs in Australia are still in their infancy - Western Australia recently announced the first step in a local smart meter rollout - IBM nabs WA smart meter deal .
RESIDENTS in parts of Western Australia will soon be able to tell exactly how much power each electrical appliance consumes.

Western Power hopes to roll out 10,500 smart meters as part of its smart grid project, aimed at helping customers identify consumption patterns. As a result, households and businesses could lower their power bills as smart meters make usage monitoring more transparent.

IBM bagged a key contract with energy supplier Western Power to provide systems integration and project management services for the smart grid trial, due for completion in June 2012. ...

IBM is involved in almost 50 smart grid projects worldwide, including local utilities Energy Australia and Country Energy.

The federal government has pledged up to $100m towards the nation's first national smart grid. A government-backed smart infrastructure conference, ThinkFuture, will be held at Parliament House in Canberra on March 12. has an article on some turbulence being encountered by a smart meter rollout in New Zealand - Second thoughts about smart meters in New Zealand.
A question has been raised in New Zealand whether the primary motivation for smart meter installations is so power companies can recoup funds from customers where were undercharged previously.

Three major utilities – Contact, Genesis, & Meridian – are all installing smart meters throughout New Zealand claiming the devices will conserve energy and save money for customers. The devices allow for remote meter reads so human meter readers don’t have to be sent out. The smart meters also use information technology to record and display power usage.

The New York Times has a look at consumer unhappiness with smart meter rollouts in the US as well - ‘Smart’ Electric Utility Meters, Intended to Create Savings, Instead Prompt Revolt.
Millions of households across America are taking a first step into the world of the “smart grid,” as their power companies install meters that can tell them how much electricity they are using hour by hour — and sometimes, appliance by appliance. But not everyone is happy about it. Leo Margosian of Fresno, Calif., said his meter put July use at three times as much as last July's.

Customers in California are in open revolt, and officials in Connecticut and Texas are questioning whether the rush to install meters benefits the public.

Some consumers argue that the meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than they believe they are using. And many find it unfair that they will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings could be years away.

Power companies say the meters will allow utilities to vary the price charged to their customers by the hour to correspond to what those utilities are paying for energy in the wholesale market. This can help consumers save money, they say.

They also say the meters will be crucial to remaking the electric system to handle intermittent power sources like wind turbines and solar cells while continuously meeting customers’ needs. ...

In response to a wave of complaints from the Bakersfield area in the Central Valley, Pacific Gas & Electric has been placing full-page advertisements in newspapers in the area promising benefits from the new meters. It says customers will save money not only by paying rates based on hourly fluctuations in the wholesale market, but also eventually by displaying real-time rates.

To reduce their bills, customers could cut back at pricey peak times and shift some activities, like running a clothes dryer or a vacuum cleaner, to off-peak periods. Utilities will then have lower costs, the argument goes, because the grid will need fewer power plants as demand levels out.

Customers will become “structural winners,” said Andy Tang, senior director of the company’s Smart Energy Web program.

Someday utilities hope to use the meter to control consumption by major appliances like air conditioners. But experts are still debating what technical standards the meters and appliances should use to communicate.

The Energy Collective has an article on the need to educate consumers about the long term benefit of smart meter rollouts (though I think the fact that some smart meters just aren't that smart, or they help utilities adopt a utility centric model rather than a customer centric one - like the horrible example above of utilities controlling customer air conditioners rather than customers configuring their own response to high power prices, needs to be addressed - many of these programs are far from perfect) - Connecting the Smart Grid Dots One Meter at a Time.
There are more signs that the brouhaha over PG&E’s smart meter rollout may do damage to other utilities’ plans for similar deployments. News reports indicate that utilities and regulatory agencies in other states are closely watching the legal tangle devolve in California. Consumer advocacy groups in California are concerned that smart meters are expensive, inaccurate and increase their bills, and only benefit utilities by eliminating meter reading jobs. This clearly demonstrates that they and the consumers they represent see the immediate impacts of the rollout of smart meters – a highly visible and disruptive new technology – as negatives. To them, the smart meter is an unwelcome revolutionary technology with no benefits to average ratepayers. They don’t know about its evolutionary role in the Smart Grid and how it will help ratepayers save money AND the environment.

And why should they? It’s the responsibility of utilities, and maybe the Department of Energy (DOE) as well to educate consumers better about what Smart Grid technologies can do today and in the future. The DOE has developed a series of booklets that explain the benefits of the Smart Grid to various groups, including consumers, but clearly there need to be much more aggressive and coordinated campaigns to enlighten consumers.

Does Joe Ratepayer understand that smart meters enrolled in utility programs will reduce or eliminate the need to build more power plants to address peak electricity load requirements? Does Jane Ratepayer understand that new power plant construction translates into higher electricity bills to recover costs? Could Joe or Jane intuitively understand how a smart meter saves them money and saves the environment too?

Those of us in the business understand that smart meters will save consumers money on their utility bills as the grid evolves to residential Time of Use (TOU) electricity rates and Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) are deployed. (Note: The Smart Grid Dictionary defines TOU as “A rate structure with different unit prices for electricity use in a 24-hour timeframe, generally to encourage use during periods of lower demand. This price applies to a time-of-use price, rate, or tariff and is a dynamic price scheme typically used with non-dispatchable demand response programs. It is also known as time-of-day pricing.”)

Analogies can help explain the Smart Grid rollout process and the role that smart meters play. For instance, let’s say that I am building a new house with the kitchen of my dreams. I won’t get the benefits of that kitchen’s output until foundations to fixtures are installed.

The smart meter is like my house’s foundation. There’s no home without a foundation. There’s no Smart Grid without smart meters. In building my new home, I understand that there is a start and a finish to the project. I have a blueprint to visualize the goal. I have a project plan to understand the process of achieving that goal.

It is vital for utilities to connect the dots between current smart meter rollout activities and long term Smart Grid objectives. Ratepayers and consumer advocacy groups need equivalent blueprints and project plans to understand the long-term objectives in terms of what it means to their bills and the environment.

The New York Times also has a look at experiments investigating the psychology of electricity consumption - Will 'Smart' Electric Meters Lead to Smarter Consumers ?.
In conjunction with utilities, tech companies and state and federal agencies, Stanford University is doing a number of experiments to see how psychology affects people's energy consumption.

Researchers say that when it comes to demand-side management, the field of psychology has been lying fallow for far too long, particularly in the residential sector.

"California has huge amounts of money to put toward marketing campaigns, and they spend it all on media marketing campaigns that we know don't work," said Carrie Armel, a research associate at Stanford University's Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency. "Tens, hundreds of billions of dollars are going to be spent on installing smart meter technology. How much is being spent on behavioral research? Nothing. That's mind-blowing."

Economists and policymakers have long advocated real-time pricing as a way to reduce consumption and smooth demand at peak times. California's 2001 energy crisis might have been avoided had customers had a direct incentive to conserve power; the state Public Utilities Commission has experimented with at least three different pricing mechanisms since 2003, and is currently aiming to install smart meters in the majority of consumers' homes by 2011.

Stanford researchers are working on a dozen different studies on how behavioral patterns can create barriers to adopting new technologies and practices. The projects target four categories -- policy, technology, community and media -- with the aim of creating tools to tap into people's natural proclivities.


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