The Science of Sustainability

Reporter's Notes: Smart Grid at Home

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

Hourly energy use data, now online.

I've never paid much attention to my electric meter. For most of us, it's just that box on the side of the house with a small white disk spinning inside, keeping track of our energy use. But over the next three years, all the meters of PG&E customers will be getting a major upgrade to a new, digital SmartMeter.

I met one customer, Ken Kube in Castro Valley, whose meter has already been upgraded. Since the new meters track his home energy use digitally, Kube can log into his PG&E account and see his real-time energy use. On one level, it's really the ultimate tool for parents who like to remind their kids to turn out the lights. But it's also a powerful conservation tool. Kube could see how much energy he uses at night, when his appliances are drawing power in stand-by more (what's known as "vampire" power).

These meters are just a small piece of the puzzle when it comes to a smart grid. Just what the smart grid is depends on whom you ask, but most people agree it comes down to one thing: communication. The energy landscape is changing rapidly. In addition to increasing demand, there's more renewable power like large-scale solar and wind coming online – which are often far from urban areas and are available intermittently. There's also small-scale solar on building rooftops – which means energy consumers are becoming energy producers. There will also be plug-in electric cars, which need to draw power from grid.

To manage all this, utilities and grid operators need more information than they have. And that's where meters come in. But as Kurt Yeager of the Galvin Electricity Initiative describes, it's a huge networking challenge – and a huge market opportunity.

A number of companies have jumped into the smart grid market as a result, from Silicon Valley start ups to international corporations. As Eric Miller, the Chief Solutions Officer for Trilliant describes, managing the information flow in smart grid will be the biggest challenge.

Other smart grid companies are banking on the consumer market. Google is developing the PowerMeter, an online tool that tracks home energy use. They're partnering with GE, who is positioned to work with utilities, with its meter technology, and with consumers, with smart appliances, as Sunil Sharan, the Director of the Smart Grid Initiative explains.

More on the smart grid: check out the Smart Grid at Home radio report and a slideshow of grid technology, old and new.

 

37.79184 -122.3961

Related

Explore: , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: Energy, Engineering, Environment, Radio

  • share this article
  • Facebook
  • Email

About the Author ()

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs - all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer.
  • Rick Boland

    Hi Lauren:

    Not sure you were aware but our company is working with KQED on a form of smart grid communications using the RDS subcarrier frequencies of FM radio. We are currently testing this technology with KQED and other public radio stations across the US in utility pilot programs to communicate with devices such as thermostats, in-home displays and even appliances. The beauty of this system is it leverages existing radio broadcasting infrastructure and can be deployed prior to the installation of a smart meter. In most of the US smart meters are several years from deployment but technologies such as ours that allow utilities to better manage load are available right now.

    Rick Boland
    e-Radio USA

  • David Carrel

    In your article you refer to studies that show energy reductions when consumers see their real-time usage. Can you reference those studies? I would like to see them. Thanks!

    Dave

  • http://automation.liveautomatic.com Insteon

    I'd also be interested in seeing these studies. It makes sense that people being more aware of their energy usage would decrease consumption but I'd be curious how much on average and what other ancillary benefits were discovered during the tests.

  • Lisa Moskow

    This is not science–it is total BS.

    "Smart" meters are dangerous for health, property and
    privacy. And costly!! And installed without permission
    from those victimized by them