Friday, August 19, 2011

"smart" metering: good, bad, other?

Video - Patrick Wood on Smart Grid and Technocracy (Wood's talk begins at ~12 minutes)

TheAge | SMART electricity meters are sometimes being installed without consent and against the wishes of property owners, sparking a surge in consumer complaints and, in extreme cases, attacks on electrical contractors.

Power companies continue to roll out the controversial technology and are increasingly targeting apartment buildings in their installation timetables. This is all despite a government review that could scrap the scheme, although there has been an assurance from Energy Minister Michael O'Brien that meters already installed would be retained regardless of the outcome.

New figures from the Energy and Water Ombudsman reveal complaints about smart meters almost doubled during the first six months of the year, amid growing anger over the tactics used by electricity distributors. There are also claims that up to 15 per cent of the new meters deliver inaccurate readings.

The former Brumby government introduced the technology to encourage Victoria's 2.2 million households and 300,000 businesses to curb energy consumption and reduce carbon emissions by using off-peak tariffs.

But some consumers say that they cannot use power at the times of day when cheaper rates are available, despite having to pay higher charges for new meters.

About 750,000 meters have already been installed, and the Baillieu government is awaiting an independent report before deciding on the future of the scheme. The review by Deloitte followed a $1.2 billion cost blow-out and a consumer backlash.

''We've received a wide variety of customer complaints, from problems with the exchange of meters, high bills and installation issues. While the government made it clear that people could object to having a smart meter installed, we've had complaints from people who left a note on their existing meters, which was not complied with,'' Energy and Water Ombudsman Fiona McLeod said.

Complaints to the ombudsman soared to almost 500 in June; the highest number since the meters were first rolled out in 2009.

Ms McLeod said there was a perception that the meters contributed to higher bills. ''A lot of the old analog meters run slow or are faulty, so some consumers are actually getting an accurate reading with the new meters, but may not be happy with that outcome,'' Ms McLeod said.


brotherbrown said...

Meters were replaced in my neighborhood in the spring, and my year-over-year energy consumption has remained the same.  I suspect these digital meters will make it easier to account for the flow of electrons as more and more homes install solar systems.

CNu said...

And does your local regulated "pressurized" electron supplier have a program in place for buying back any surpluses you might generate brotherbrwn? Got a link _______________?

brotherbrown said...

 Actually, they way Edison wants to go is illustrated at this link.  Here is the Smart Meter I now have installed at my house.

Gbrown1960 said...

I have not tried to log into my meter, but I think I will try this evening. 

CNu said...

Very curious to know brotherbrown what useful and customer-centric functionality you find in that meter portal once you give it a gander.

brotherbrown said...

Right now, I can see hour-by-hour usage, however only as recently as 24 hours ago.  Evidently the ability to see real-time usage is a future feature

CNu said...

Would it be fair to say that the current state is one in which the smart meter exists exclusively for the benefit of SCE? i.e., accurate real-time consumption metering, and, centralized demand management, and, the ability to literally cut you off at the flip of a switch downtown?

brotherbrown said...

They were approved by the California PUC in (I think) 2009 to spend $1.5 billion to change out 5 million meters at no (direct) cost to customers.  At the same time, they were granted a rate increase.  So yes, it was for their benefit, but not exclusively. 

The old meters had no ability to 'spin backwards', so SCE was not willing to accept electricity generated on the rooftop of residential customers, though business customers already had digital meters.  This is a major step to decentralize energy production.

CNu said...

brotherbrown, they had those buyback capabilities for top-tier customers all along. are you telling me that the buyback is already implemented at the lowest ratepayer levels by default? If so, that's an impressive step forward for that tiny minority of early adopters with the discretionary capital and environmental and conservationist enthusiasm to spend a significant amount of money for a photovoltaic, wind, or geothermal system that may never pay for itself even with california's comparatively high $$$/KwH rates.

brotherbrown said...

Two articles to share.  This was one of the (too few) areas where Schwarzenegger was actually an effective leader and advocate as governor.

A Pro Logis warehouse roof project in Fontana, CA, a couple of miles from my home, in 2008.

The state fund to provide incentives was exhausted for commercial buildings at the beginning of this year. 

I personally spend about $1,200 - $1,300 a year for electricity at home, half of which is consumed in July, August and September.  Based on estimates two different vendors have presented me, I could reduce that to about $900.  At current costs, their pitches are best used on homes built earlier than about 1978 (my house was built in 2000), when new construction regulations greatly improved the energy efficiency of homes.  If you spend $3,000 a year on electricity, a 25 - 30% savings might move you to act, especially if there are other incentives in place.

My mindset right now is that I definitely intend to install a solar system, but I'll wait for a lower price point.

arnach said...

"Net metering," it's called, and they've had it here for years.  Subject to state/local agreement between regulators and utilities.
The utility behaves as if it were a 100% efficient "battery" for storing your excess generated energy, and the counting is done at the meter.  Of course, this will only work until a certain threshold of adoption is achieved, then programs/rates will be changed to reflect actual costs (plus the utilities' guaranteed profit, of course).

As with everything in life, there are always caveats.  For example, you cannot get utility program credits for installing more capacity than 120% of your previous 12 months usage, and you must make a one-time choice to either bank any credit energy or get paid for it at the end of the year.  Banking it is the obvious choice, given that the rate you'd be paid is the 12-month average wholesale that they pay (not enough to ever pay off the investment) and the fact that the account is paid (and reset to zero) on Dec 31, just when the sun isn't going to be shining much for a while.
Oh, and you can't take it (equipment or energy credit) with you when you leave, but the new homeowner has to sign the agreement and start the meter at zero.  BTW, what the utility programs are really paying you for is the 20-year right to count your production against their mandated carbon/renewable energy targets.  The federal tax credits are more intended to support early adoption.

Deployment of smart meters also allow TODU (time of day usage) and other conservation-enhancing tariff approaches, but there are privacy concerns that are being addressed.

CNu said...

Ok, so please help me out here magne. Other than a surefire mechanism by which the local regulated monopoly can unilaterally;

1. implement bulletproof demand management
2. ensure the quality of its receivables (because they can cut your ass off for non-payment/slow payment on a dime)
3. cut overhead related to brick and mortar meter reading

Where exactly in all of that net metering haze is the tangible incentive for a real world consumer to lift a finger to go to the trouble of doing ANY OF THIS?


CNu said...

What happens to these local regulated monopolies(their profits)  if a genuine, grass-roots and market democratic program of serious energy efficiency takes off like wild-fire in the community/communities which the monopoly "serves"?

GusB said...

Ironically, all the water conservation measures brought us were higher rates when demand dropped below the breakeven point for the Water Companies. 

brotherbrown said...

I want to be able to control being on the grid, but I have the feeling, as arnach referenced, that you won't get a permit to install a solar system unless you are permanently attached to the grid and sign an iron-clad agreement.

There has been some discussion of what happens to meter readers.  Edison is working to retrain them for other jobs in the company.  Meter reader is/was an entry-level job.  I'll post a link when I find it.

CNu said...

so bottom-line brotherbrown, and please correct me if I'm mistaken, SCE has afforded you no incentive whatsoever to conserve, and has basically implemented the means by which it can manage peak utilization levels across its network so as to stay comfortably within the bounds of what the regulators will require of it in terms of generation capacity, downsize its workforce, and centrally enforce receivables quality by having the means to cut off your power with a mouse-click - did I miss anything?

arnach said...

This is how all regulated monopolies work.  Services are provided to the community in exchange for sufficient funding to cover capital and operating costs, as well as utility profit.

The city of Boulder Colorado is currently considering NOT renewing their franchise agreement with the investor-owned Xcel energy and instead forming their own civic power utility so that they can better control and manage the transition to efficiency and renewable energy.  They are also the pilot city for the smart metering, etc. test program for Xcel.

arnach said...

In a nutshell, because you won't be allowed to participate in net metering or other conservation-related rate tariff programs if you don't have a smart meter.

CNu said...

One wonders had Xcel engaged the community more expansively - would the city currently be considering kicking the parasites (oops "investors") to the curb and redemocratizing their commons? The asshats in Kansas City have made it abundantly clear that the 14,400 residents of the so-called Green Impact Zone are third class constituents of the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus when compared with the handful of parasites who run the (also extraordinarily segregated and exclusive) regulated monopoly hereabouts.

This is all MOST INTERESTING grist for the SMART Community mill..., (pun intended) THANKS are owed brotherbrown and arnach for engaging this topic most informatively. 

CNu said...

Boulder and Iceland have me thinking that may not necessarily be true....,

brotherbrown said...

 Supposedly they are sparing me the future expense of power plants they don't have to build, but I'd much rather use all I make and buy some from them when I need it.

Downsizing the workforce is but one trick in the CEO toolbox as the last bit of juice is squeezed from the economic lemon.

CNu said... It might be interesting to see what their current peak generation capacity is vs. current peak demand. Hereabouts, KCP&L is required to maintain generation capacity at 150% of measured peak demand, meaning they're looking at $500Million in capital investments unless they can obtain 300-500 megawatts of demand reduction capability. 

Smart metering in 14,400 homes gives them ~14.4 of these..., quite a few more to go.

brotherbrown said...

This is the California Independent System Operator site that shows the usage and generation.  This is actually a real time graph.  I predict tomorrow's demand to be higher; a heatwave started today. 

During the energy crisis of 2000-01, when Enron was raping the state and initiating the state's budget crisis and debt downgrading, you could predict by looking at this chart when there would be rolling  blackouts. announced.

CNu said...

Enron makes me chuckle..., the sheer audacity of a parasite that hyperaggressively went in on the established parasites (oops, I mean't to say "investor-owned" regulated monopolies) 

We suffered an outbreak of that metaparasitic phenomenon hereabouts in comparatively recent memory. The fever for metaparasitic purchase went momentarily haywire with properly tragicomic results everywhere it took hold.

brotherbrown said...

P.S.  Solyndra declares bankruptcy.   Some reasons for the failure are cited in this article.

CNu said...

Yikes, I may have a Technology Review article detailing some of the particulars of the chinese competitors..., I'll see if I can put my hand to it.

CNu said...

Evergreen Solar Inc. (ESLR)
announced that it had voluntarily filed a petition for relief under
Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The company has been on a
slippery slope over the past two years.

Evergreen Solar faced with a market flooded with cheap Asian
competition, continued to register losses. The company tried to stem the
tide by relocating its manufacturing base from its high cost
Massachusetts factory to Wuhan, China.

The USP for Evergreen Solar has always been its proprietary crystalline
silicon technology known as String Ribbon, which uses approximately
half the silicon for manufacturing wafers, compared to peers using the
conventional sawing method. However, with the steep decline in silicon
prices, the advantage gradually lost its shine. Lastly, the pain became
worse for the company in recent times as key markets like Germany and
Italy were gradually winding down their subsidy programs. 

Evergreen Solar filed the petition in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the
District of Delaware. In conjunction with the Chapter 11 filing,
Evergreen Solar stated that it entered into a restructuring support
agreement with certain holders of more than 70% of the outstanding
principal amount of its 13% Convertible Senior Secured Notes.

CNu said...

GM’s Volt not exactly lighting up sales

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