Future Outlook Smart Meters

November 20, 2008 by  
Filed under News

Inside a white-brick house nestled in Houston’s leafy Montrose neighborhood, a gray handheld video display sits on the living room coffee table. But this is no ordinary remote control. Called the Insight and made by Tendril, a Boulder startup, the device communicates wirelessly with the home’s utility meter,

Tendril’s smart Meters are coming to your home and you may be surprised to know what it will mean for homeowners. Although seen as cutting edge in North America, Smart Meters have been in existence in Europe since 2000 (Italy). They are being installed in California, British Columbia, New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries, states and provinces.

The Smart Meter monitors the electrical energy used every minute of the day and night, reporting back to the utility companies so that electrical power generation planning can be optimized for efficiency with greater knowledge of power-use trends, and the ability to plan electrical loads more in advance than is presently possible. This implies a number of things, firstly, the utility can charge the user more accurately for the cheap and the expensive electricity, rather than charge everyone a blended average as they do right now in some jurisdictions (like British Columbia). Secondly, the electrical energy user can choose to use power hungry electrical items in peak (expensive) periods or off-peak (cheaper) times. Generally, though not always, the peak times correspond to higher greenhouse gas emissions too.

In North America, when Smart Meters are introduced, they will be part of a ‘time-of-use’ pricing structure that will reflect more closely the prices paid by the utility for electricity. The utility company has to fire-up, or ramp-up, power stations when there is peak demand and so the average price of electricity during this period is actually higher than at other times. The utility companies may also buy extra power from across the border in the US or from adjacent provinces, either way the price of electrical energy during peak times costs more.

The price is usually the lowest over night and at the weekend because the demand is lower. Prices will also change dependent upon the season, as the general demand for electricity also changes. In the Canadian province of Ontario, as an example, the summer weekdays have the highest energy prices in the afternoon, largely due to greater air-conditioning use so the on-peak rate is from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. During weekends, holidays and overnight, the prices are lower. Winter weekdays have an electrical energy price peak twice, in the early morning and in the evening, mainly due to space heating, plus increased lighting and appliance use.

The Smart Meters will also show a household how much electricity each appliance is using as you switch them on or off, so the homeowner, and all the rest of the family, can make choices about how much electrical energy they want to use or conserve and at what times. Homeowners will be able to see how much electrical energy is being used by a clothes dryer, air-conditioning unit, electric heating, electric stove, water heater and all the ‘vampire’ appliances.

In some instances, with bi-directional information flow and utility control authorization, your future home may have its air conditioning and other heavy use applications tweaked by the utility company to avoid extreme high peak demand. The utility company could theoretically adjust the temperature set points of your air conditioning for example, or shut off power to some, or all appliances, in an emergency.

Rather than leave it up to the utility company to decide things, why not decide yourself. Tendril Insight is an in-home display that communicates directly with your energy provider so homeowners can see and control their home energy use in real-time. The Insight provides real-time bill information, and can tell you the impact of the various items consuming power in your home from both a financial and environmental perspective.

Smart Meters make sense, as they are the best way to be energy efficient and economical at the same time. Knowing how much energy appliance use is costing, and then knowing the financial cost and finally the green house gas cost might encourage people to be inclined to make some value–based decisions and reduce their overall energy consumption.

The Smart Meter is just the start of the merging of information technology, wireless networking of the home electrical appliances and the efficient use of electrical power, designed to save costs and the environment.