From the NYT (emphasis added):
Giving people the means to closely monitor and adjust their electricity use lowers their monthly bills and could significantly reduce the need to build new power plants…
Over a 20-year period, this could save $70 billion on spending for power plants and infrastructure, and avoid the need to build the equivalent of 30 large coal-fired plants, say scientists at the federal laboratory.
The whole article is pretty short, and worth reading. But in a nutshell, the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (part of the US Energy Department) recruited a little over a hundred homeowners on Washington’s Olympic peninsula, and hooked their thermostats, water heaters, and electric dryers to the internet. Then, through a web interface, homeowners could choose to automatically pare back their power consumption whenever electricity prices rose. In effect, the software let each participant choose their own trade-off between cost and comfort.
At the end of the test, the researchers estimated that giving homeowners better control over the cost-vs.-comfort tradeoff could cut peak power demand by 15 percent—enough to save all ratepayers a bundle of money. And all it took was some good information, personal control, and the right kind of incentives.
As one of the researchers said:
“Each household…doesn’t have to do a lot, but if something like this can be scaled up, the savings in investments you don’t have to make will be huge, and consumers and the environment will benefit.”
True ’nuff. So would somebody please raise my water heater’s IQ?
Matt the Engineer
It seems to me that all the pieces of this would be cheap and easy to make. To measure power, just use a few loops of wire around your power supply and an amp meter (small, cheap). To communicate, use a WiFi chip – wireless networking is becoming very common in homes.The only weak link I can see is having a good sandard way of interfacing with these devices. Perhaps a smart bit of software can find all devices in your network, set up security for them, and record/display data.Why doesn’t this exist?
I think I’ve seen things like that before. But another key need is on the pricing & billing side. You’d have to link your home appliances to real-time electricity prices; until your appliances “know” the marginal cost of electricity production at any moment, there’s no way for them to accurately react to price signals. You’d also have to get your utility to bill you just for what you owe—which is yet another big technical hurdle.I don’t know if the trial used real-time pricing data, or just faked the prices based on historic data. If it was the former—then, gosh, at least one of the upstream technical hurdles is taken care of, right?
Matt the Engineer
Billing can be taken care of with a very similar device. Build it into an energy meter (can even be retrofitted), and not only will the electric company have a way of documenting when you used power (therefore retroactively pricing based on market demand) but they will also be able to start reading your power remotely – either by a truck driving by or by interacting with your wireless router.Your devices would turn on & off based on the piece of software I mentioned earlier, which makes its decisions based on your input and real-time energy market data.
I’ve been thinking about the real-time behavior modification potential of hooking energy sensors up to intuitive displays ever since driving a prius for the first time. Where do you think sales efforts should be targeted to get this concept implemented in the widest area and/or to get the most effective reductions? Households, Businesses, or Utilities? And do you believe the gentleman at the end of the article who says this will never happen on a wide scale until utilities are rewarded for saving power and not making progressively more of it, in which case Government is the biggest leverage point.
Stanley –Government’s probably first. “Decoupling” a utilities sales from its profits—a step that can be done via legislation or regulation—has to be the first order of business. That’ll let utilities earn more by selling less.Matt -Didn’t I read about some Seattle-area utility installing wireless meters? You’re right—how incredibly convenient for everyone! The trick, then, would be to get real-time pricing data to the meters. Obviously, that’s not all *that* tricky to do. But it would require a bunch of installation, and some equipment costs.
Isn’t pricing data fairly consistent? The peak demand periods are well known based on the time of day and the season of the year. So couldn’t pricing be programmed into the smart meters based on historical estimates? Or do the smart meters get a real time connection to the utility via the internet which allows the meters to regulate various appliances/heaters in the home?From the description in the article, it appears that the meters were communicating in real time with the utility and this allowed the utility to send a request to the test homes to reduce energy consumption. That would be a HUGE investment to get that level of smart meters and smart appliances into every home. Basically for this to be widely adopted we would need inexpensive (and simple) kits available for homeowners to retrofit their existing appliances. I am not sure if the technology is at that point yet. I am sure it works, but to get a home configured likely requires an expert on-site and a big investment. This needs to approach the ease of plug and play for this to be widely adopted.
I know the province of Ontario has been working on installing SmartMeters – according to this site there are 250,312 as of the end of 2007. These meters simply allow you to read your hourly useage information and hopefully reduce your consumption (or move it to off-peak times)when you see the number. [link] BC has been looking at a similiar program, I think. They ran a pilot of 1850 homes in the province in 2006 and energy savings were between 10% and 16%.[link]
All is not so well in Smart Grid land. There’s a little problem that’s come to light- the disappearing act of birds and yes, bees around these so-called “Smart” meters. The RF waves are disturbing the wildlife and are not just benign yuppie tools. Not a Green way to go, after all.
Jay – Agreed—it’s a huge investment. If we’re lucky, it’d be $200 per home, x millions of homes. Then again, I suppose power plants are huge investments, too. And using historic peak data as a proxy’s a great idea—but it wouldn’t help for unexpected peaks, e.g., the power crisis of 2000/2001.Lisa – thanks for the links!!
Not only power plants, but transmission lines are a huge investment. IIRC, for the Puget Sound area the biggest problem is not so much generating capacity as transmission capacity across various bottlenecks south and east of Seattle. The biggest capacity surplus is East of the Cascades, and building additional lines across the mountains would be hugely expensive – this sort of thing ought to appeal to utilities as a way not to have to do that.
The transmission lines have to be built over the mountains. There is no other way to move all of the wind energy that is being built East of the Cascades. Something like 6,000+ MW of wind turbines are at various stages of planning.But that raises another issue. Wind is intermittent and not always reliable. This type of demand monitoring technology could help balance the grid with the variable nature of wind energy. With current technology it is difficult for wind to go above 20% of the total electric grid supply. Perhaps this type of technology could enable solar and wind to cover a large percentage.
Two companies that are the forefront of this technology are Comverge (COMV) and EnerNOC (ENOC).Disclosure, I own shares of both.They provide the smart meters and equipment to help utilities and their customers manage demand.EnerNOC is managing something like 900 MW of power. If their utility customers need power, EnerNOC can remotely reduce power consumption at this customers and “deliver” this savings to the utility. EnerNOC is paid for this savings as if they delivered electricity. EnerNOC then splits the revenue with their customers. It even has a name. NegaWatts.http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=ENOChttp://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=COMV
Matt the Engineer
Clark,I’m not sure meters need market data. All they need is to record energy use as a function of time. After this data is collected it can be correlated to what market prices were.Seperately, people can buy equipment to monitor their energy use (likely subsidized by power companies). People already have a great way of getting data – over the Internet. The same would hold true for their energy management devices, which could use a person’s Internet connection to look up energy rates throughout the day.These systems don’t need to interact at all. At most, the meter can wirelessly inform the energy system of its current use – but even that isn’t terribly useful to the consumer. It doesn’t do much good to know that you are using a lot of energy – it does matter that you know where you’re using a lot of energy (except under certain energy pricing schemes). Therefore device-side metering is much more useful than whole-house metering in influencing energy use behavior.
Here is an article about Duke Energy rolling out this system to about 5,000 customers in Charlotte NC and 2,500 in Greenvile SC. Their goal is to have all 4 million customers on smart meters within 5 years. This article explains the system and how it saves energy.http://www.charlotte.com/business/story/448133.html
Pity those folks in SC. Where are the native birds, out of the area, now? These systems are not cheap to install either.
Friday, Jan 18, 2008.There is a device called TED: http://www.theenergydetective.com for about $130 that works fairly well. It requires an electrician to install a sender in your main electric panel and the display plugs into an outlet. It’s a task to program, but it does give real time usage and cost per KWH. It’s incredible the the EPA Energy Star program doesn’t require this type of device to be improved and installed like a wall thermostat in all new ES certified homes. There are also several “home dashboards” that send data to your PC, but it’s not clear how complicated the metering devices on water, gas and electric lines is to install. It would be interesting if some of the readers were to buy and install a TED. Jim
Invite Big Brother right on into your home, and be sure to serve croissants with that Brie. Us nature-loving peasants need not apply. I detest and vow to resist the Automatic Meter Reading technology that sacrifices birds for corporate profits. Those EMF waves are toxic, but who among you is going to give up your cherished cellphones either?