Smart Grid Feedback (1)

Readers' comments provide some early warning signs

2 min read

In a posting two weeks ago I raised the question of whether the much vaunted smart grid will produce actual energy and carbon savings . . . and save customers money. My prediction was that we will not know until next year at the earliest.

That posting elicited a lively response from readers. Though it isn't normally my practice to respond directly to comments or repeat them in follow-on posts, in this case such wide and intense interest attends smart grid prospects, it's worth culling some of the more telling reports.

To be clear: I'm going to ignore the more opinionated postings that complain, for example, about the smart grid's just being another excuse for the government to control our lives and violate our privacy, the "global warming hoax"; the undue influence of the U.S. military-industrial complex, "Stalinist regulations issued by Washington," and the need for technical project leaders with "dictatorial powers."

The question of why so many engineers believe they want more liberty but at the same time betray a yearning for authoritarian leadership--that is a whole other topic, and not one that will ever be addressed in this space.

So let's turn instead to the more factual reports:

--Aggravated risk of network failure. AW worries about recent research suggesting that networked networks are "prone to epic failures."

--Higher electricity bills in Canada. Daniel Fingas reports that in Toronto, smart metering with time-of-day pricing seems to be yielding higher average electricity costs.  "If your water heater (retrofitted with the appropriate control system) or heating/AC is electric you might see some savings, but other than that your only reasonable adjustable consumers are your clothes dryer and dishwasher."

--Radio interference and erroneous data gathering in California. Tom Kirkpatrick, reporting from PG&E country, says that in his home, he could no longer get AM radio after his smart meter was installed, because of RF interference. Further, he says that there have been local news reports of supposedly smarter meters delivering wrong information about power usage and communications failures.

--Texas turmoil. Lyel Upshaw says that a smart grid installation program "has been temporarily suspended while investigations are ongoing regarding consumers' electric bills doubling, tripling, and even more on their first billing after installation." Problems with calibration are probably involved, and Staples is confident that they will be promptly solved, but "the new digital meters [have] not made a good impression on consumers." TMCC says that in Dallas, "tests have had to be run to prove the smart meters are actually set and running correctly in the field since the test program end users found much higher energy bills after installation."

Permit me, since readers so often complain about my alleged biases and obsessions, to express gratitude to IEEE Life Fellow  Jim Crescenzi, who says he considers my reports "especially informative and helpful" and me to be "unusually objective."


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