Smart Grid Utilities

This is my 39th year working for or calling on electric utilities. I have not seen any ulterior motives. Many of my utilities have electively chosen not to add smart meters due to cost, and due to competition.

The excitement of smart grid, seems to be driven more by media and the "sexiness" of the idea that everything from generation of all kinds to loads in a home can be matched w/o human intervention. Practically speaking utility engineers have been "automating for decades, constrained only by budgets. Never called it "smart grid".

Automatic fault location, isolation and restoration is "smart grid". Who would not like this when power is lost in a storm? Controlling your HVAC, water heater, etc., is an entirely different matter. That is the intent of the smart meter. This is voluntary, and many homeowners have signed on. Many have not. The competition to the smart meter is wifi/broadband/Internet. The same loads can be monitored and controlled by homeowners through their smartphones. Ex-Apple engineers have a very fast growing company selling company making/selling smart thermostats that take about a week to "learn" your routine and then it "learns" and automatically adjusts your HVAC to save 12-15% they claim from field monitoring.

One major purpose is demand response. When utilities approach peaks they could use the smart meters to turn off loads in your home, preferably, in a way the homeowner would never notice...... Such as electric water heaters, HVAC, and draw from electric vehicle batteries. However, even this has competition as utilities are partnering with battery companies to install about 10mw's in substations. Then utilities do not have to "guess/hope" that enough EV owners will allow the utility to draw down their batteries. Would EV manufacturer's honor the battery warranty if you let the utility cycle you battery? Batteries have a finite # of charge/discharge cycles and then you have to buy a new set. So will EV owners really allow utilities to use their batteries? The idea in demand response is trying not to build that next generating station that is only needed to meet the growing peak demand that may happen only 2-4 hours every 24 hours.

Utilities are only trying to minimize their costs and minimize the need for rate increases. The general public is just caught up in the emotion of the possibilities of a perfectly automated electrical system w/o realizing there may be less costly alternatives. Some utilities are caught up in this frenzy, though.

Also, one needs to understand that for-profit utilities primarily serve the large cities, where economies of scale help to increase profits. Approximately 70% of the geographic square miles of the USA are served by non-profit electric utilities.

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