The place to look for the real gold in the evolution of Smart grid is in T&D Performance—not smart meters!
Smart Grid is a catchy concept and in two simple words the makers of digital metering devices and the networking technologies to read them remotely with great frequency have built a fast growing market for their products. Much of the hype about smart grid is the result of very good marketing and lobbying efforts to make smart meter deployment seem like the holy grail of the clean energy economy.
They won and from that victory has flowed manna from Washington and orders from State PUCs directing utilities to get with the smart grid program.
Smart grid is indeed a new way of imagining and delivering on the potential for digitizing the power grid and connecting the communications and network devices, applications for use of the data collected from their use and turning them into products and services that make us all better, more efficient consumers of energy.
It sounds very ‘apple pie’ doesn’t it? As Americans we love new gadgets. And indeed end users will find opportunities for energy efficiency and other benefits from smart meter installation.
But we’ve learned from difficult experience that the devil is in the details of such things. So the comments in a recent US DOE request for information proceeding from the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates were instructive. These are the people our utility rate money directly or indirectly hires to be our proxy ‘whiners, gripers and hell raisers’ in official proceedings like rate cases and rulemakings and they were present in these RFIs earning their keep and looking out for our interests.
NASUCA’s comments are like throwing cold water in the face of smart meter advocates. They reminded us smart meters were never going to produce more energy and while they might encourage end users to increase their energy efficiency that according to US DOE more than 67% of all energy produced is wasted in transmission and distribution system inefficiencies between the generator and the consumer.
“While the primary thrust of the US DOE request for information concerns issues surrounding smart meters, NASUCA also takes note that the smart grid concepts extend throughout the generation, transmission and distribution grid, well beyond the meter. There is a growing body of evidence that conservation voltage reduction programs within the grid itself have the potential to conserve power output and produce savings for customers. NASUCA would be remiss to fail to take note of the potential for such saving and we encourage DOE to pursue these issues separately and expeditiously.”
So all this money we are spending on smart meters means we are only gaining access to about one-third of the potential energy savings from efficiency. Or conversely, if installing smart meters is all we do we are wasting two-thirds of the savings potential that could be realized if utilities and grid operators improved their own performance.
Maybe FERC and the State PUCs need to work on T&D performance standards while the rest of us sweat the smart meter deployment and the Bakersfield Effect.