Monday, March 22, 2010

Post # 6 - The Smart Meter Wars

Smart meters have many prospective benefits for consumers. Smart meters eventually may be able to communicate with “smart” thermostats, appliances and other devices, giving people a much clearer view of their electricity consumption. Customers may be able to access information via read-outs in their homes or web-based portals, through which they will be able to set temperature preferences for their thermostats or opt in or out of programs that let them use cleaner energy sources (such as solar or wind power). People could set appliances in their homes to scale down power consumption in peak times, when electricity is more expensive.

But these consumer benefits remain potential and long-term. Conversely, once smart meters are installed, utilities receive an immediate benefit in the form of automated meter-reading, which will cut their labor costs and facilitate their planning. Accordingly, some consumer groups deem it unfair that consumers will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings to consumers could be years away. In some instances, consumers also complain that, where smart meters have been installed, smart meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than consumers actually are using.

Such consumer concerns already have sparked a backlash in states where smart meter installation is under way, particularly in California and Texas. Largely in response, a number of companies will this week launch the Smart Grid Consumer Coalition, an effort to counter this backlash by promoting the benefits to consumers of modernizing the electricity grid. (For an article on this new group and how it was triggered by events in California and Texas, see here. For more information generally on the consumer backlash against smart meters in California and Texas, see here and here.

Smart meters will be consumers’ principal link to the Smart Grid – and the element of the Smart Grid that will be most visible to consumers. Thus, the outcome of current and future smart meter wars – and not just in California and Texas – will be a major bellwether on the Nation’s ability to create a fully optimal Smart Grid.

No comments:

Post a Comment