Saturday, March 26, 2011

Post # 61 - PG&E Files Smart Meter "Opt-Out" Proposal

In response to consumer concerns about health risks from exposure to radio frequencies and radiation from wireless smart meter devices – and under heavy pressure from California regulators, see here and here – Pacific Gas & Electric Company last Thursday submitted a smart meter “opt-out” proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission. The PG&E proposal would allow the utility’s gas and electric customers to have the device's communications system turned off – but it will cost them more money for their power.

Under PG&E’s plan, which still needs CPUC approval prior to implementation, the utility is proposing upfront and monthly charges to offset the cost of disabling the meters, employing meter readers and changing its information technology system. The utility would charge customers a $270 upfront fee, plus a $14 monthly charge or an increase in gas and electric rates, or a $135 upfront charge and a $20 monthly fee or increase in rates. The fees would be discounted for low-income customers who qualify for PG&E's CARE program.

In a prepared statement, Greg Kiraly, PG&E’s Vice President for smart meter operations, said:

We believe this proposal addresses concerns some customers have about [smart meters] while still delivering the many benefits of [smart meter] technology to the majority of customers. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence assures us that the low-level Radio Frequency signals from our [smart meters] are safe – in fact, even safer than many household products, including cell phones and microwave ovens. But we know some customers nevertheless have concerns about the meters and we take those concerns seriously.

But many PG&E customers remain convinced that smart meters are hazardous to their health. They are not likely to be happy with covering any PG&E smart meter costs – particularly (and ironically) “opting out” costs.

In any event, PG&E remains at ground zero in the smart grid wars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Post # 60 - Some Validation for D.C. Pilot Program

The National Action Plan Coalition (NAPC), a coalition of non-profit organizations in the utility, smart grid, regulatory, energy efficiency, environmental, and consumer advocacy areas, has issued a case study examining the PowerCentsDC pilot program in the District of Columbia. As I’ve previously posted, PowerCentsDC involves smart meters and a number of different demand response options.

The NAPC was formed to formed to implement the National Action Plan on Demand Response issued last year by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy. The new NAPC report, PowerCentsDC: A Model for Stakeholder Collaboration, states that the DC pilot was unique because “various stakeholders—including consumer advocates, regulators and the local utility—joined together from the beginning to design, plan and implement it. Early education and involvement of stakeholders has become a high-priority issue in the [Demand Response] and Smart Grid sector according to most experts in the field.”

NAPC also states that the case study represents an alternate way to interpret specific a demand response or smart grid activity after it has taken place. Instead of focusing on the quantified results, the NAPC focused a narrative version of how the effort went from start to finish. In addition, the case study enables readers to identify best practices.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Post # 59 - Austin (Smart Grid) City Limits

The Pecan Street Project, a smart grid and clean energy research and development organization headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin, last month completed systems installation and has gone live with the first phase of its smart grid demonstration project in Austin’s Mueller community. The project seeks to expand and develop smart grid system's in the Texas capital though a customer-oriented approach that often has been missing in utility smart grid roll outs.

Pecan Street's board includes representatives from UT Austin, Austin Energy (the local utility, which already deployed 400,000 smart meters), the Environmental Defense Fund, the Austin Technology Incubator, the City of Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The new project itself has been deployed by Incenergy LLC, Austin-based Smart Grid software company.

Pecan Street's new home smart grid systems, which capture minute-to-minute energy usage for the whole home and six major appliances or systems, are deployed in 100 homes at Mueller, all of which are green built and 11 of which have rooftop solar PV systems (photovoltaics (PV) is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity).

This spring, Pecan Street Project will deploy Incenergy systems in a second group of 100 homes outside Mueller that are at least 10 years old. All participants in both groups are volunteers. The project achieved an installed cost per home of $341 ($241 for equipment plus $100 for installation).

During the 12-month first phase, project researchers will learn about how homeowners use electricity, gas and specific appliances during the course of the day. This will mark only the second publicly-reported research on the daily energy profiles of Sunbelt homes (the other is a 1999 University of Central Florida study) and the first to incorporate data on output from rooftop solar panels and on the homes’ energy efficiency attributes.

In Pecan Street's announcement for the the rollout, executive director Brewster McCracken noted:

The customer will have final say about whether the smart grid is a smart idea. The truth is that we – those working on and advocating for the smart grid – need to learn a lot more from customers than they need to learn from us. Before anyone starts prescribing solutions, we must develop a much better understanding of what customers value and how they’re using energy now.

Together with selected companies, project researchers will use the information gathered from these homes to structure next generation home smart grid systems. These systems, which selected companies will deploy in the project’s second phase (beginning March 2012), will provide customers with the ability to manage – even over mobile phones – individual appliances and systems as well as electric vehicle charging and rooftop PV systems.

The installation and testing of these next generation technologies will take place in a larger group of up to 1,000 residential and 75 commercial customers. As with the first phase, all participants will be volunteers. Pecan Street Project will issue a Request for Information on February 15, 2011 for companies to deploy home energy management systems and to supply electric vehicles, in-home charging and rooftop PV systems.

This looks like a promising project. And it can provide a real test of utilities' ability to integrate consumer preferences into the smart grid.