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Smart grid round-up

Lotsa smart grid news these days:

Barack Obama announced $3.4 billion in stimulus funding for smart grid projects. A good chunk of that goes to smart meter deployment and demand response programs. Another huge chunk goes to grid modernization. $3.4 billion isn’t that much in the scheme of things, but cash-for-clunkers haters can feel good that real money is being steered toward energy efficiency.

Meanwhile, smart meters have been provoking a backlash in California. The problem appears to be mainly a case of bad timing: many of the smart meters were installed just before the weather got warmer, corresponding to a general rise in energy use. Worse, the utility enacted a rate hike around the same period. Many customers, assuming that the meters themselves are to blame for their higher bills, are complaining loudly enough to get state legislators involved. Memo to utilities: be mindful when you roll out smart meter programs.

Tyler Hamilton makes the point that pitching smart meters as a boon to ratepayers is probably a dumb idea in general:

> Let’s face it, initially smart meters are about helping utilities manage their networks better — i.e. they can pinpoint problems and do more detailed analysis of individual household, neighbourhood, and community power consumption, improving system planning and maintenance operations and preparing utilities for increased distributed generation in their service territories. By making this seem like some gift to consumers, as has been done, utilities open themselves up to consumers expecting certain results.

This sounds about right. Smart meters should mostly be billed as a necessary infrastructure upgrade, not as some sort of awesome new electronic toys.

Finally, Ecofactor is working on a smart thermostat that not only learns about homeowners temperature preferences, but also dynamically adjusts itself based on constantly updated local weather info. The product is currently on trial in Texas. Among its tricks is the ability to “pre-cool” homes to shift electricity demand away from peak times.

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