About a year ago our neighborhood was notified that PG&E was going to be replacing our existing meters with Smart Meters. I didn’t think much of it, but I did notice that I was beginning to hear a lot of sound bites on the news – discussion of controlling air conditioners from remote locations, being able to gauge our energy price as we use it – all tied to these Smart Meters. The only shift in my personal experience had been that one day I saw my meter replaced, and what had once been a monthly visit from the meter man abruptly stopped. My bill was not significantly altered so I didn’t think much about it.
Then a few weeks ago, I received an email from Matt Schuierer, at Mom Central, asking if I wanted to attend a discussion with Silver Spring Networks, at one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants, Greens, while dining with fellow Bay Area bloggers,and learning more about the Smart Grid. How could I resist? Good food, good company, information on this transformational technology that I knew I was already personally affected by –
Of course I said, “Yes.”
Silver Springs Network, is a Bay Area based company that has partnered with energy companies around the country to create energy efficient solutions to our currently aging infrastructure.
Our current electrical grid is aging, with most substation transformers being about 42 years old, 2 years older than their expected life span. Not only are they aging, but they are less effective than what our current technology allows for. In the next ten years, approximately 60% of the current electrical will need to be replaced.
We learned that when electricity was first invented, use was determined by the number of light sockets the building contained. It didn’t matter whether all of those sockets had light bulbs, the tenants were charged by the socket regardless. That might seem ridiculous by todays standards, but our current structure is nearly as ridiculous. Our current metering and payment system, is equivalent to that of doing our grocery shopping without knowing the price of the items or what’s on sale, and waiting to be billed at the end of the month.
The Smart Grid is an overlay to our current system that makes our energy consumption interactive. We will have the ability to make intelligent choices about how we use energy by checking time-based rates on our computers to find out the most cost effective times of day to do laundry, run our dishwashers, etc. We will be able to set our appliances to timers to automatically run during the most energy efficient times (energy prices vary throughout the day based on demand) and we will be able to turn off appliances from remote locations through our phones and computers if we realize that we’ve forgotten to turn them off before leaving the house. Eventually, we will be able to control energy use of our appliances with chips the size of a magnet that will be tied to our home area network. In studies so far, consumers have been shown to reduce their energy consumption by 10-15%.
As we already know, power grids get overwhelmed during high use times and this leads to power outages. In the late 1990’s, there were 41% more outages, affecting 50,000 or more people, which was more interruptions than in the entire first half of the the decade alone. These interruptions comes at a high cost to everyone, averaging out to $500 for every American per year. $36 billion a year could be saved by using more energy efficient systems and renewable sources of energy.
Currently, when we experience a power outage in our neighborhood, it takes calls from several neighbors to get a truck to come out and a repair tech to look at the outage. With the smart grid, the electrical company will immediately be notified of the outage allowing them to repair the situation more quickly.
By understanding, and having more control over our energy use, we will be able to reduce our energy consumption signifcantly.By using the Smart Grid, it is estimated we will reduce our carbon from electrical power by 25%, the equivalent of removing 140 million cars from the road.
I found all of this interesting from an environmental standpoint, and as a penny pincher, I can’t wait to get started. Now when you get your Smart Meter, you’ll know what it’s all about.
“I wrote this post after attending an informational luncheon on behalf of Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate.”