Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why you should care about Smart Meters and the Smart Grid

Updated and revised on 6/25/14

In April 2014, New Hampshire customers paid over 15 cents per KWH for electricity versus 12.1 cents paid by Maine customers.  Over half of Maine’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources, while NH gets only 12.2% of its electricity from renewables.  Maine has deployed Smart Meter technology to virtually every customer, while NH covers less than 15%. (Sources: Eia.gov and Innovation Electricity Efficiency)
New Hampshire is behind the curve on adopting smart meters and smart grid technology.  An August 2013 report by Innovation Electricity Efficiency, an Institute of the Edison Foundation, notes that as of 2013, 40% of US Households were served by smart meters.  New Hampshire is expected to reach 15 to 40% deployment by 2015 according to the same report. 
There are two successful projects in New Hampshire to date:
In 2010, New Hampshire Electric Coop (NHEC) deployed smart meters to 83,000 customers in the Plymouth, NH, area. NHEC is now piloting Time of Use (TOU) pricing to encourage customers to reduce power during peak demand in exchange for lower pricing. 
A project by Unitil, which serves the Concord, NH and Fitchburg, MA areas, deployed smart meters to its 104,000 customers..  The April, 2014, New Hampshire DRAFT State Energy Strategy, reports:
"A similar TOU program run by Unitil targeted residential consumers with central air conditioning systems and found highly favorable results. The pilot resulted in a reduction of peak and critical peak usage by 34.0% for simple TOU customers, and up to 69.8% for customers with enhanced technology that allowed them to automate their air conditioner’s response to peak pricing events."
PSNH is scheduled to deploy 550,000 Itron advanced meters by 2015.  
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has a special interest group, IEEE SmartGrid.  In a September 4, 2013 online article, "Smart Grid Consumer Benefits," Dr. Massoud Amin, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Technological Leadership Institute at the University of Minnesota responded to questions about the cost/benefit of the Smart Grid.  Dr. Amin noted that while the total cost of deploying a smarter grid for the US would cost up to $480 billion, the savings would exceed $70 billion per year, reduce CO2 emissions by 12-18%, and increase system efficiency by over 4 percent.
Regarding the issue of exposure to RF from the Smart Meters:
 (Resource:An Investigation of Radiofrequency Fields Associated with the Itron Smart Meter" Electric Power Research Institute, December 2010):
  • RF exposure from a smart meter is far below—and more infrequent—than other common electric devices. In fact, smart meters typically broadcast their signal for less than a minute at a time and usually less than a total of 15 minutes each day. The communication is usually from outside the customer’s home, so exposure to radio waves is minimal. In addition, the electric panel and wall behind the meter actually block much of the radio signal from entering the home.
  • RF is measured in units of microwatts per square centimeter. A microwatt is very small—it’s one-millionth of a watt.
-          Held at your ear, a cell phone’s RF signal would be 1,000 to 5,000 microwatts per square centimeter.
-          Standing two feet from a microwave oven, the RF signal would be 50 to 200 microwatts per square centimeter.
-          Standing 10 feet from a smart meter, the RF signal would be 4 microwatts per square centimeter.
In summary, the RF signal emitted by a smart meter is one order of magnitude less than proximity to the microwave oven, and 1000 fold less than cell phones held to our ears."
Critics complain that smart meters lack UL labels, but fail to mention (or don’t know) that analog meters don't have UL labeling either since UL labels are intended for consumer products; not utility equipment.  Similarly, stories about rare house fires related to smart meter installations also apply to the installation of analog meters.  
Any deployment of new technology warrants a cost benefit analysis.  No one would hold a cellphone to his head if there weren't a compelling reason for it.  A smart grid will allow us to better control and manage our electrical infrastructure with significant savings to the consumer and the utilities.  Smart meters matter because you can't manage what you can't measure.  

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