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We Need Better Tools for Smart Grid to Take Off

2/18/2011 12:03:21 PM

Tags: smart grid, Xcel Energy, Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnail 

Consumers are intrigued by “smart grid” technology, but most have no idea how it can help them lower their energy bills, Derek Walker, director of the California Climate Initiative and deputy director of the States Climate Program, reports this week.

The 2011 State of the Consumer Report, released by the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), looks at more than 80 studies and white papers to analyze what consumers want from new energy technologies and the “smart grid.” “The report concludes that to generate more widespread enthusiasm for the ‘smart grid,’ it is important to emphasize how the increasing costs of energy can be cut through a ‘smart grid’ and how simple and user-friendly new clean energy technologies can be,” Walker states.  

Consumers want tangible benefits such as energy and cost savings, reliability, and the ability to pick and choose technologies and pricing schemes—and their options are increasing. Alex Brousseau reports this month in JWTIntelligence on a number of new energy-management systems, including the “modlet” from ThinkEco, which monitors and manages the power consumption of appliances plugged into it, limiting the constant energy pull of toasters and coffee pots not in use. He also reports on digital devices from utilities  PG&E and Landis+Gyr that provide consumers with real-time energy consumption data and pricing information.

Sadly, in my home town of Boulder, Colorado, we’re having issues with our attempts at creating a smart grid. Laura Snider reports in the Boulder Daily Camera this week that Xcel Energy sent thousands of randomly selected Boulder residents a flier that appears to force them to sign up for a SmartGridCity pilot pricing program, which would charge them more during peak power-use periods and less during the rest of the day. Boulder City Councilman Matt Appelbaum told the Camera that the pricing pilot is flawed and that Xcel hasn't given customers the tools they need to actually track their own energy use, shift away from peak hours and program appliances accordingly. Customers with smart meters can see only what they used the day before.

Boulder sustainable energy consultant Ken Regelson told the Camera that consumers face risks in paying less during peak times and much more during peak hours. "It looks really risky in terms of the downside," he said. "And it looks really hard to make the upside happen." Even if customers do manage to save the $37 to $47 per year that Xcel predicts they would, Regelsen says the incentive isn’t large enough.  "Who in their right mind is going to change their behavior for 10 cents a day?" he asked.



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