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Smart Meters Get Mixed Reviews

smartmeterAs smart electricity meter programs start to roll out globally, there are some grumblings about a lack of standards and government regulation, as well as the use of low-tech meters, in some cases, that don’t incorporate the needed functionality to help reduce energy consumption and costs.

In New Zealand, for example, the environment commissioner is calling on the government to take a more hands-on approach to the roll-out of smart meters, reports 3News. Nearly 1.3 million households in New Zealand are expected to have “smart” electricity meters installed by 2012 but the nation’s top environment officer warns that most of those meters will not be smart enough, according to the 3news network.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, said in the article that electricity-generator retailers are currently deploying most of the smart meters and are not incorporating the functions crucial to delivering environmental and consumer benefits. She also said the meters should at least have home area network (HAN) communication capability and real-time in-home displays, which will allow for load shedding and shifting.

Wright told 3News that regulatory intervention is needed to ensure environmental and consumer benefits can be delivered.

So far, there have been three smart meter rollouts in New Zealand. According to 3News, electricity distributor Vector has signed a contract with Genesis Energy for the roll-out of advanced metering to 500,000 homes and businesses, using a joint venture with Siemens (NZ), Advanced Metering Services (AMS); power metering and supply company Pulse Utilities is launching its consumer retail brand, with the target of 25,000 installations within two years and 65,000 within four years, and Meridian Energy has installed 50,000 smart meters in more than 112,000 households.

A new smart meter initiative in Texas may be one of the most comprehensive deployments in the U.S., with the goal to replace 3.4 million standard meters with smart meters by 2012. Electric distributor Oncor and IBM are working on the system, which should help reduce overall electricity use through smarter use of the grid. IBM, along with Cisco, also is involved in a smart meter project in Amsterdam, working with energy firm Nuon.

Yet, some utilities are waiting for an industry standard interface before jumping on the smart-meter bandwagon. As an example, Pacific Gas and Electric of California is holding off on signing up with one of the many smart grid start-ups such as Google’s PowerMeter and Microsoft’s Hohm until a standardized interface is approved by the Open Smart Grid group, reports Treeehugger.com.

Holding out means not getting locked in with a particular vendor, and therefore the utility maintains flexibility to choose the best services later on for their customers, says Jaymi Heimich, Science & Technology writer for Tree Hugger in his blog.

What’s happening instead is that companies are rolling out their own goods and services and working to sign on utilities, says Heimich, but the industry needs standardized platforms so that infrastructure put into place now won’t need to be replaced every other year.

There are also problems on the customer side. Any roll-out of demand response programs that doesn’t take customer concerns into account is almost certain to run into serious difficulties, according to a blog written by Tom Raftery at The Energy Collective. He thinks unless utilities start listening to their customers, they will fail when they roll-out their smart grids.

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2 thoughts on “Smart Meters Get Mixed Reviews

  1. Smart Meters focus on the supply side of the equation but do not actively tackle the demand side of the energy equation with the exception of providing signals for time-of-use pricing. The real key is for consumer to change their energy consumption patterns within the home based either on changes in price or from signals from their electric utility. This will drive real reductions in peak electric demand and lower consumer’s electricity bills.

    To faciliate this shift in behavior, appliances within the home will need to modify their use of electricity over time to better match the supply side of the grid i.e. demand responsive or “Smart” appliances. At Whirlpool Corporation, we are working on improving our smart appliance technology which was first piloted way back in 2006-07 as a part of the Grid FriendlyTM Appliance Project. More details can be found at http://www.gridwise.pnl.gov/docs/gfa_project_final_report_pnnl17079.pdf The next generation of appliances will be even more sophisticated while still allowing consumers to maintain control to match their lifestyle and budget needs.

    The article also raises an interesting concern about interoperable standards. Whether it was the recent war of Blu-Ray v/s HD-DVD, or the old “Battle of Currents” between Westinghouse and Edison, evolution of standards has never been easy. However, one hopes that we have learned our lessons and can work with each other instead of against, in the process of defining standards for the Smart Grid.
    Warwick Stirling – Global Director of Energy and Sustainability, Whirlpool Corporation

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