The Smart Grid is Coming! What’s a Smart Grid?

Several hundred utility executives, government regulators, and engineers have gathered in downtown San Diego this week for a three-day conference that is focused on what may be the utility industry’s biggest paradigm shift since the Tennessee Valley Authority electrified the Southeastern United States.

The only problem is that it’s the biggest paradigm shift that people have never heard of.  A Harris Poll recently highlighted the fact that U.S. utilities have committed billions of dollars to upgrade the electric grid by installing new “smart meters” in homes and businesses. But the Harris Poll shows about two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) have never heard the term “smart grid” and 63 percent don’t know what a smart meter is.

So for at least some people, you got it here first: Instead of merely tracking how much total electricity (or gas, or water) a customer uses each month, a smart meter tracks a customer’s usage continuously throughout the day and uses wireless technology to automatically transmit the data in real time to the utility. This automated meter reading technology makes it possible for regulators to set prices that vary at different times of day—and which encourage or discourage consumption—based on the relative cost of power production and periods of peak energy demand. As the Harris Poll shows, if the price of electricity changes according to how much it actually costs to produce, three out of four people want to be able to see and control how much electricity they are using.

So why are smart meters a big deal? And why should technology innovators care? A few highlights from the “Metering America” conference are in order:

—In California, the big three investor-owned utilities are in the process of deploying 12 million smart meters, covering about 80 percent of the state’s population at an estimated cost of $4.5 billion, according to Commissioner Nancy Ryan of the California Public Utilities Commission. Ryan told the “Metering America” conference that utility rates based on time-of-day pricing related to the cost of producing electricity must be coupled … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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7 responses to “The Smart Grid is Coming! What’s a Smart Grid?”

  1. It is good to hear that there are some trainings about the smart grid technology for the professionals. But the most important part of this technology is the gap between the consumers and the technology. There must be some informative sessions for the users to make them benefit from the technology. I really liked the article and bookmark it.


  2. Ted in NorCal says:

    Bruce Bigelow’s synopsis of “smart meters” is excellent and clears up most of the misconceptions I had about them. PG & E should have him write their next brochure. As a recent recipient of a new smart meter, I had a ton of questions to the fellow installing my meter. He knew less than I did. The installer suggested I call PG&E and they will give me a more detailed explanation. That person knew less than the installer! Bruce, thanks for clearing the air about the new meters.
    Ted R

  3. Bruce you make a great point about consumer demand for smart grid technology. If you do a search on YouTube for smart meter videos you will see a lot of distraught customers in the trials you mentioned. I would go as far to say mass paranoia is the state of the average consumer.

    In an interview with Andrew Heath, a utilities expert at Esource, we found that there is a long road ahead for communicating the benefits and dispelling the fears of consumers. The interview is available on our blog for those who are interested:

  4. Roxan says:

    No, I am already frugual and turn off or unplug whatever I’m not using. This smacks of control and rationing to come soon and I don’t like the idea of someone constantly monitoring me.

    I’ve also learned about AGENDA 21 (“Sustainability” and the U.N. and the CLUB of ROME (Rockefellers) and the upcoming global government. They want to make sure we’re heavily controlled and rationed and I don’t like that idea at all.

    This is technology both Hitler and Stalin would have loved to have had.