Smart Metering and Smarter Metering

This story first appeared on November 2nd, 2006. It can be found with its original comment thread here.

Imagine for a moment that we bought food in the way we currently buy electricity. We might order from a supply list with no prices marked and have whatever we fancied delivered to our door whenever we pleased. A single, un-itemized bill would arrive in the mail once every couple of months covering all the food ordered and delivered during the billing period. How would our food bills probably compare to what they are currently? How would we go about reducing our food bill in order to save money when we know nothing about the cost of each act of consumption? If the 'Ministry of Food Supply' were worried about the amount of food available, reliance on expensive imports or whether the delivery system might not be up to the task, what could they do to encourage a 'food conservation culture'?

What is missing from our hypothetical scenario is real-time price feedback, which would allow consumers to take responsibility for their own consumption. Its absence makes the task of trying to reduce demand much more difficult, both for consumers and for those trying to manage the supply. If we are ever to introduce a conservation culture, the tradition of passive consumption must first be challenged.

A Tradition of Passive Consumption

The traditional AC system has evolved as a natural responsibility of government for reasons of scale and because the stability of such a system requires central control in real time. Its history as a public service has led to political pressure to keep prices low overall and uniform, independent of the cost of supply despite the fact that the cost of supply may vary considerably at different times and in different locations. The resulting low tariffs - sometimes lower than the cost of production - and extensive cross-subsidies have muddied the waters and encouraged passive consumption.

Passive consumers do not give a second thought to the act of consumption, let alone the mammoth tasks of production and delivery. They take supply completely for granted. When supply is stable, prices are low, tariffs are fixed over long periods of time and billing is delayed, this attitude becomes entrenched. It is not surprising that developing a conservation culture under such circumstances is very difficult.

Price Increases as a Blunt Instrument

The more centralized and bureaucratic systems become, the further they are removed from real costs as so many factors are impenetrably bundled together. The price signals which finally feed through to the end user are inevitably weak and distorted, thereby providing little incentive for conservation and efficiency. Under these circumstances, raising prices in an effort to discourage consumption becomes a blunt instrument. It may make consumers angry, but does relatively little to alter their consumption patterns because they do not generally know what options are open to them and cannot make informed choices between them. If price signals can be sharpened, especially in combination with clear information on conservation and efficiency, then usage can be reduced at a far lower price level in absolute terms. The blunt instrument can become a precision instrument.

What consumers require if they are to take responsibility for their own consumption is feedback in real-time. They also need to be able to connect each act of consumption with its immediate price consequence, as they do for food purchases. Payment in advance sharpens price signals and gives a direct incentive to conserve, while feedback gives consumers the information they need to prioritize their various uses of electricity and to target areas where they can cut back if necessary.

The Woodstock Hydro Case-Study

In 1989, Woodstock Hydro instituted a voluntary program intended to reduce bad debt. For a small fee per month, it installed a pre-payment meter in the home of each customer choosing the option. Customers were given a smart card, which they would use to purchase an electricity credit of whatever amount they chose from any one of a number of local retailers. A new meter with a remote display offered real-time feedback in a form comprehensible to all and in a convenient location where the customer could easily check the information as to how quickly the card was being depleted. There was no opportunity to accumulate bad debts, and therefore no need for customers to be disconnected and then reconnected - for a substantial fee - as is common practice under other utilities.

There is a button on the front of the display box, and by pressing it, you can get the following information on your energy usage:

· How much power remains
· Present rate of use (in dollars or kWh)
· Amount of power in dollars used yesterday
· Amount of power in dollars used in the last month
· Date and amount of the last transaction
· Current date and time
· Estimated number of days until card replenishment
· Much more

The utility soon noticed that consumption had fallen for those on the program by an average of 15%. This had not been anticipated as no conservation information had been provided. Indeed initially, the utility thought the reduction must be some sort of technical problem and attempted to solve it. Eventually they realized that the effect must be real and began to study it. The program was opened up to the whole customer base and has become so popular that there is a waiting list to be part of it. Customers typically save more per month from reduced consumption (15-20%) than they pay (as a small daily supplement to actual consumption) to be part of the program. Approximately a quarter of the customer base now participates in the pre-payment initiative.

"It's been a pretty well-kept secret," said Garry Roth, president of Woodstock Hydro in Woodstock, Ont., the only utility in Canada to use the system. "[But] customers love it."

What Woodstock Hydro had inadvertently discovered was that they had managed to design a program which tapped into customers' psychological drivers for conservation. With real-time feedback, consumers could immediately see the price consequences of any given act of consumption. By watching the display unit in their kitchen, they could see the balance on their card decrease at different rates depending on their own actions. As a result, they quickly learned for themselves how to keep that decrease as slow as possible. In short, they had been transformed from passive consumers into active consumers.

One lady noted that it helped her realize her fridge needed servicing, since she saw her consumption (electricity, not sandwiches) go up all of a sudden, and started turning off and unplugging things until all was left was the fridge. Another said she is quite well off, thank-you, and that she opted-in to show her teenage daughters the value of loads and loads of laundry, to prepare them for life in the real world. Another's child was in the habit of drying her mittens in the dryer during lunch, then going back out to play. Now Dad makes sure she has a second set of mitts by the door instead.

The effect is comparable to the feedback screen in a hybrid car, which shows the driver vividly how his driving habits affect his fuel consumption. The result in the case of hybrids is that drivers generally drive more slowly and much less aggressively because the feedback system acts as a fuel-economy tutor. In the case of electricity, active consumers turn off lights in unoccupied rooms, alter thermostats in a seasonally appropriate way, dry clothing outside on a clothesline and take other measures to reduce consumption. One might imagine that utility customers would have resented having to take these measures, but in fact Woodstock Hydro noticed that participants in the program complained much less frequently than did other customers. They had begun to treat buying electricity in the same way that they bought food or fuel for their vehicle - as their own responsibility. When their card balance was depleted, they put electricity on the shopping list.

"Woodstock Hydro estimates that if 25% of Ontario's 4.5 million homes went to a pay-as-you-go metering, with an in-home information display unit, the environmental impact would include the shutting down of two of the province's six coal-powered generation plants."

Pre-Payment Metering and Time-of-Use (TOU) Pricing

There is no reason a Woodstock-type metering system should not be combined with TOU pricing. If the original scheme resulted in savings of 15%, combining that with TOU pricing as well an extensive education campaign should be able to achieve both additional conservation and load-shifting. If also combined with incentive programs to encourage the replacement of incandescent lighting and aging appliances, consumption could potentially be reduced by far more, and in a relatively short space of time.

When asked at the 2004 Electrical Power Symposium in Ottawa (IEE/IEEE EPS 2004 - Ontario's Tough Electricity Choices), Ken Quesnelle from Woodstock Hydro indicated that the current Woodstock meters could accommodate both TOU pricing and net metering. The current system would not, however, be able to integrate the two-way communication and critical call features required for smart meters under the current plan. As the Woodstock meters are considerably less expensive than the proposed smart meters, partially due the lack of two-way communication capability, integrating TOU pricing into this existing platform would seem to be a far more cost-effective means of introducing smart-metering. It would not be possible to adjust the peak load periods remotely, but this could be done manually or, alternatively, a blend of summer and winter load periods could be used. Even if a means could be found to integrate two-way communication, it is unclear whether this additional feature would add real value, let alone whether it would do so cost effectively.

Metering and the Utilities

From the utility's point of view, pre-payment metering reduces costs considerably. If such as scheme were universal, there would no longer be a need to physically read meters, as each time a pre-payment customer purchased an electricity credit the supplier would be informed as to the amount of electricity consumed. There would be no need for personnel to disconnect and reconnect customers. There would also be no billing expenses and no accounts receivable losses.

These savings could, and should, be used to reduce the distribution cost element significantly. The effect would be to amplifying the effect of TOU commodity price differentials, thereby sharpening price signals without the need for overall price rises.

In contrast, the current smart-metering initiative would cause the cost and complexity of billing to escalate dramatically. Enormous amounts of data would have to be expensively transferred from each metered property to the utility - data which would have to be secured. That data would then have to be centrally processed in order to generate an amalgamated bill, typically based on two months consumption and delivered a month after the end of the billing period.

The cost of developing such a complex billing system would be out of all proportion to the anticipated benefits - benefits which would be minimized due to the lack of real-time feedback and billing delay. This would represent a extravagant waste of resources given that the viable alternative would eliminate the need for billing entirely.

Pre-Payment Metering and the Less Fortunate

Part I of this discussion addressed disproportionate impacts of price rises on the less fortunate, explaining how price rises in the absence of the tools needed to tackle demand can cause unnecessary hardship as well as providing only limited load-shifting and little real conservation. Conversely, under the scheme explored here, consumption typically falls without the need for price rises in absolute terms due to the fact that the effect of price signals has been amplified. Because consumers are equipped with feedback as a teaching tool, the conservation they come to practice is likely much less painful than would be the case if they had no real information as to how to reduce their bills. An additional information campaign, perhaps in combination with efficiency incentives, could be even more effective.

Under a pre-payment system, less fortunate individuals are protected from the accumulation of unpayable debt, which typically leads to disconnections and expensive reconnections. This cycle imposes an additional cost upon the poor that needlessly causes hardship, whereas empowering them to make good choices using pre-payment and feedback can help to avoid that additional burden.

An additional possibility, which could be instituted if this scheme were to be copied provincially, would be to provide means-tested electricity credits to the most vulnerable consumers via their smart cards. The impact of prices rises, which are likely to be necessary in the future in order to pay the debts of the old Ontario Hydro and to replace Ontario's aging generation plant, could therefore be muted for those least able to cover higher bills while still having a sufficient impact on over-consumption by the remainder of the population. Electricity pricing and social welfare could be disentangled in order to avoid political balancing acts which end up not satisfying any political objectives due to trying to reconcile mutually exclusive goals. The cost of the credit program would give public authorities - often the owners of the public housing in which the poorest consumers live - a direct incentive to invest in home improvements such as insulation on behalf of their tenants.

As there is good reason to believe that there may be many more people living in reduced circumstances in the future than there are presently (due to the impacts of bursting debt bubbles and peak oil among other factors), consideration of the less fortunate may have much more widespread applicability as time goes by.

Setting a New Gold Standard in Metering

Ontario has already decided to upgrade its existing metering system at considerable expense. This represents an opportunity to define a new Gold Standard in metering, but that opportunity is not being employed to best advantage. A maximum conservation target of only 5% is far lower than could be readily achieved, and would be attained at a far higher cost than necessary if expensive and superfluous metering features are insisted upon. However, it is not too late to alter the technical details of the proposed program. Combining a Woodstock-style metering system based on pre-payment and real-time feedback with TOU pricing could set a new standard in metering technology. It would be smart from both human and technological perspectives and would provide both cost-effective conservation and load-shifting.

Ultimately, no metering initiative, however smart, can save the power system from the effects of exponential growth, but appropriate metering can reduce consumption significantly enough and quickly enough to buy Ontario the time it needs to bring other supply and demand initiatives on stream.

This story first appeared on November 2nd, 2006. It can be found with the original comment thread here.

It is not the meter that needs to be smart, it is your electrical goods. Items like water heaters, freezers, battery chargers etc could all pickup a 'high tarrif' signal and choose to wait, or adjust their daily cycle accordingly.

I have just this week started to run my freezer on a 7 day timer [cos I bought one for £4.99]. I will extend the off period if the freezer performs OK. Apart from the tarrif saving, the freezer is only running at night when its cooler, and should have less on/off transitions for longer life.

Currently it goes off at 20:10 and on at 01:15. [why? first we are currently on summer time for 6 months yr, so +1 hr, second I come in from work at 18:00 and cook stuff, third the low tarrif is 00:00 to 08:00, fourth the +15 min is for clock drift..]

What I'd really like to see is a next generation programable thermostat that has the capability to acquire wireless signals from indoor and outdoor remote digital thermometers, and maybe even forecast info from the weather service, and current rate data from the power utility. It would be able to not only tell you how much it is costing you real time and cumulative to run your heating & cooling, but could also run what-if scenarios for various time & temp settings. Or you could tell it: keep our interior temp at no more than 72F +/- 4 F unless the cost will exceed $X/hr, in which case go to +/- 6F.

You could also have wireless sensors embeded in doors and windows so that if a door or window is open for more than x seconds, the HVAC would shut down until the door or window was closed.

Such a technology could also give electric utilities the capability to initiate wireless remote overrides if they need to reduce loads.

That is asking an awful lot from a thermostat, but I would ask more. I have noticed that sometimes, when the weather changes, the temperature can drop outside faster than the HVAC can bring it down to the set temperature. In this case, it would be most economical to bring in air from outside instead of cooling the hot air that is currently inside.

The thermostat should detect this condition and exchange the air.

Also, sometimes it is very humid outside or inside and the set temperature, which is comfortable at 40% humidity is not comfortable at 90% humidity. The thermostat should use a temperature setting that is adjusted for relative humidity.

It would also be nice, especially in the fall or spring, if the thermostat could control the drapes, so that on cold days, the thermostat would open the drapes so that the sun could warm the house, and that on warm days, the drapes would be closed so that the house did not become too hot.
I expect that this would cause quite a few days when HVAC would otherwise be called for to be unnecessary.

A single, un-itemized bill would arrive in the mail once every couple of months covering all the food ordered and delivered during the billing period.

I can't make sense of this statement as an analogy, although I can make some sense of the article as a whole. Electricity is electricity. It's not peaches and cabbages and flour and fish and a bunch of other stuff. It's just an undifferentiated commodity measurable with one number - kilowatt hours (or megajoules if you like.)

If I need flour, I just buy a bag of flour, and am billed a single number. If I need more, I buy a big bag and get billed a larger number. I don't hold up the checkout line by saying, this bit of the bag is for scones, this bit is for cookies, this bit for bread; please, Ms. Grocer, let's waste my time and yours by giving me a bazillion time-consuming little flour bills. Like electricity, flour is just an undifferentiated commodity.

Now, if we're really saying that for the airy philosophical reason that we don't want to put underworked politicians through the trouble of facing down luddites and NIMBYs ("buying Ontario time"), we want to make the purchase of electricity into an artificially complicated, laborious, time-wasting process where we're constantly swiping cards and reading dials - and ruining our day and our frozen food every time the damned card reader breaks - why don't we just say it that succinctly and move on? Or, instead of yet again "buying time", why not just kick those lazy politicians off their plush bottoms and get it done? Or, if the goal is really a steady state in place of exponential growth, put an end to immigration and population growth?

I can't make sense of this statement as an analogy, although I can make some sense of the article as a whole. Electricity is electricity. It's not peaches and cabbages and flour and fish and a bunch of other stuff. It's just an undifferentiated commodity measurable with one number - kilowatt hours (or megajoules if you like.)

I assume that it's the fact that the undifferentiated commodity can do many different things (costing very different amounts of kwH) that Stoneleigh is alluding to,


'we want to make the purchase of electricity into an artificially complicated, laborious, time-wasting process where we're constantly swiping cards and reading dials - and ruining our day and our frozen food every time the damned card reader breaks -'

This program was designed for low-income people. I would assume that for more affluent customers that one would be able to prepay the desired amount via a bank account bill pay transaction much like you can pay your utilities currently. By putting a sufficient amount into your account at the start of each month you would not have to worry about having your electricity shut off.

I sort of do this with my water bill anyway. Our rates here are so low that it isn't worth it to me to worry about forgetting to pay and having my water shut off, that I usually have a credit balance. The minimum charge is $8 and I rarely go over, so everytime my credit balance goes below $8 I send them $30 and then don't need to worry about it for 3-4 months.

I can't make sense of this statement as an analogy, although I can make some sense of the article as a whole. Electricity is electricity. It's not peaches and cabbages and flour and fish and a bunch of other stuff. It's just an undifferentiated commodity measurable with one number - kilowatt hours (or megajoules if you like.)

There is a difference between off peak times and peak demand times when all the simple-cycle gas-fired combustion turbines are buring expensive fuel inefficently. Much of the degradation of transformers occurs during the brief periods of maximum temperature on those hot, high-demand days. Investment in more generation and transission capacity is driven by growth in peak demand.

That's what the analogy is about.

(1) Time of day effects can be taken care of in a simple manner with a (logically) simple time-of-day meter. During the 'rush hours', charges can be higher, as on some subway systems. Of course, if one wants to split hairs by having a continuous consumer-level auction, then dials and bleepers and lights and mindless complexity are probably needed - but

(2) I see little harm in some, or even considerable, imprecision, for the sake of simplicity, in time of day billing, because electricity has become a life-support system, a highly inappropriate place for the goal of a continuous auction, which is merely to save a few pennies by time-shifting. Anything that tends to require moderate overcapacity in generators, transformers, transmission lines, etc., will save lives by improving robustness. Reliable service at peak times will have but little effect on total consumption, and total consumption is not best addressed by killing people randomly on the coldest or hottest day of the year anyhow. And neither shiftless power-hungry NIMBY-obsessed politicians, nor quarterly-statement-driven business people, nor feckless consumers, will invest in robustness on their own - but when they are caught out, feckless consumers (or their heirs) will waste not a microsecond in filing huge lawsuits paid for by all.

BTW Kill-a-Watt type devices have become fairly cheap and are useful in learning the effects of specific (and not hard-wired) appliances, which may be obscured when they are aggregated on the main meter. IIRC somebody on Drumbeat may even have mentioned lending those out at public libraries.

The difference between electricity and conventional food shopping is this: If you are trying to save money on your food bill you can substitute less expensive foods for more expensive ones (broccoli instead of asparagus, salmon instead of lobster, store brand products instead of major brand, fruits/veggies that are in season instead of ones flown half way around the world, etc); with electricity, the average consumer doesn't have any idea between the relative costs of running two different televisions, various different lights, using the toaster oven verses a microwave verses the regular oven, etc.

One thing consumers really need is a Kill-A-Watt power usage monitor. It's basically a power strip that measures the power and energy going through it. You can learn very quickly where your power is going. One surprising example for me: my Mac Mini Duo + external hard disk + 23-inch LCD monitor + laser printer + digital TV tuner + powered TV ariel all together draw LESS power when in standby than my cell-phone charger even when the cell phone isn't present! So, instead of carefully shutting down all my computer equipment every night I spend less time and gain more by unplugging the cell phone charger. As for the toaster oven verses microwave verses regular oven: the microwave is the most efficient by far; the toaster oven is better for small/short tasks, but the regular oven eventually gains ground due to its insulation.

Where can I get a Kill-A-Watt power useage monitor and what is the approximate cost?

Just type Kill A Watt into Google. I see several on Amazon for about $25.

I've heard 'kill-a-watt' is good but I use a 'Watt's Up'. It will connect to a PC and give recorded data over a long period, pricing, voltage & piles of other stuff but costs 5 times as much.

Thanks for the links !!

I was just in to a local tool house asking if anyone was making a watt recording device with a RS232 interface.

Of course USB is better as it is
the updated serial interface.

Where IS that 'Theory of Everything' ?
it is !

Not all forms of electricity generation are the same. Sometimes it is water or wind flow through a turbine, sometimes coal in a boiler, sometimes uranium in a reactor, and sometimes natural gas in a turboshaft engine. A few places it is oil in a diesel engine. Usually it is a mix of all of these sources. The cost of electricity is the amortized cost of capital equipment, the cost of fuel, and taxes. A really smart meter would give me the percentages of each fuel source be used at a particular time in my area allowing me to turn off loads when high carbon sources dominate and turning on loads when clean sources are dominate.

Our local electric supplier which does suscribe to TVA's 'green power' program and gives some incentives for 'energy star' appliances, recently did the opposite in billing by establishing a 'level cost' program where the customer pays each month an average cost determined by the previous year's usage. As one of my friends who had just signed up for the program glowingly told me, 'Now we can use all the power we want without having to worry about getting hit with a huge bill at the end of the month! You should sign up.' Of course that means that next year's average bill will be correspondingly higher. If this should happen to trigger a conservation response, the customer would see no benefit from it until the following year. I told her it was one of the worst ideas I had heard of in electric billing.

I agree, one year for feedback is simply not enough. A weekly feedback mechanism, or even daily as indicated in this posting will do the best. (I say daily because purchasing more on the cards and a rough output of days remaining gives a strong incentive to alter habits)

Smart meters help with load leveling and consumer consciouness of the problem. They are one part of the larger solution, which firstly can be attributted to negawatts(using current best efficiencies) for the short term solution (Probably yielding 10 years respite from increasing energy prices), a midterm solution of ramping up coal/nuclear/wind/solar, and a longterm solution of closing the output loop and doing full lifecycle analysis upon which time we will have reached a renewable society.


A couple months ago, I was asked about a problem that these people had.
Their electric bill was much higher then they thought it should be.
With a brief check, they had only one baseboard heater, which they said was on sometimes.
I explained with a brief calculation, that one heater made the difference in the higher electricity bill. I would guess that there still are many people who just do not understand what devices use a lot of electricity.

Stoneleigh, Thanks !

Smart metering sounds like a win all the way around! The consumers save by watching their useage, the utility saves by having no bad debts, by cutting the need for new generating capacity and the capital costs involved, and society saves by cutting CO2 and pollution from particulates and stretching our limited fossil fuel resources.

I bought an old house (1895) about a year ago in Galveston, Texas. I'm trying to make the home as efficent as practical, but some of my choices are a little different because of my single lifestyle and work patterns. For example, I have installed new window units instead of a central air unit. That way I can cool only the room I am in, and leave the rest of the house off. Cooling a 400 square ft. room is a lot cheaper than cooling the whole house. This makes sense for me, but a family might do better with an efficent central unit. Smart metering would help me figure out even more ways to save!

removed accidental double post

I think any type of real time feedback would be very helpful for conservation. I try to explain the concept of using power in off-hours to my wife (we live in the American SW where energy usage is very high during the day in summer) but she works from home. She does't think twice about running the dishwasher or washing machine at 3:00 PM. Of course our power company only charges a flat rate for power so there is no financial incentive, only respect for the load on the grid.

My wife purchased a Toyota Prius this year. While I've been driving for years as conservatively as possible (gentle acceleration, observing all speed limits, maximizing coasting) the real-time feedback that the Prius provides incentivizes maximizing efficency. It's become a challege to squeeze the most mileage out of tank of gas. I've read several articles where Prius owners take mileage to rediculous extremes (parking at the high end of the lot to maximize coast, drafting behing trucks at very close distances etc.) It is the real-time feedback which alerts drivers to good or bad driving habits.

... for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative. -- Kurt Vonnegut

Grid-friendly appliances
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is working on Smart Appliances - controllers that can, for a few seconds or minutes, power down appliances when the grid is stressed - see
Grid Friendly Appliances

Recently I've been researching utility meters in an effort to convert my condo building from one meter for everyone to individual meters. The electricity is already individually metered but natural gas and water are not. I haven't had that much luck finding companies that will sell in consumer quantities or even want to talk to individuals. What I'd really like to find is a company that specializes in such conversions that can both make the bulk meter purchase and install them and perhaps offer billing service too. If anyone knows of a company that provides this type of service, I'd love the link.

Back on topic, there are some interesting home electrical metering systems out there but it would help if there was some standardization in this area. Two way communication between devices and the power metering equipment would be helpful but the few items that do this are using proprietary systems. Just like x10, smarthouse, shell at home, and the twenty other home automation "standards", the desire of each company to corner the market and lock consumers into their technology has resulted in the market sector never really taking off. It's a question of being able to see that a small slice of a huge pie can be better than half of a tiny pie. Given that a large company like Sony has never learned this lesson despite the failure of betamax, minidisc, and a dozen other proprietary standards doesn't make me very hopeful.

What's out there right now appears to mostly monitor individual circuits. I would be better if they could get it down to the appliance level and wall socket level for selected outlets for those devices that aren't plugged in all the time and would have their costs increase too much if the required monitoring hardware was included in the device. Things like cell phone chargers (which incidentally currently are poorly designed and suck up electricity even when they're not charging the phone) don't need monitoring equipment installed but ceiling fans, dishwashers, tvs, and computers would all be good to have hardware in them that identifies themselves to the electrical monitoring system and can take commands for powering up and down.

To ramble on further :) when a device is powered down, it should truly power down. Many devices now use quite a bit of electricity when powered down because they're more in standby mode than off. Perhaps correctly designed devices could still offer remote power up service by having only the power monitoring hardware inside them to draw very minimal power while the device is "off" instead of the whole device sucking down power.

Much of this is probably easily done and wouldn't take that much effort to engineer (at least in my mind, though I must admit my EE knowledge is limited to about half a dozen classes in college). But it isn't likely in our current cheap energy environment, at least not without some sort of external entity pushing for it.

Honestly how complicated could those devices be. A simple signal sent down the power line once per min could let the meter know what the current price is. Even once every 15 mins should be enough to keep people on track.

People do not need real-time monitoring, but a close approximation would de well.

The signal could be as simple as sending a initiator pulse of 1/2 volts followed by a signal encoding the most up tp date price as a bunch of much smaller voltage pulses at a known distance, repeated 3-5 times in a couple seconds. The device then only needs to be hooked up to the power line and it is unlikely the small variations would cause much harm to plugged in applications. Or use phone lines, or wireless, or radio, or the internet.

Something that would help would be a gasoline tax tied to the MPG of the vehicle. Let the Hummer drivers pay 50 cents more per gallon at the pump than someone driving a 30 MPG auto. That would require chipping the filler tubes on cars and new pump nozzles. I used to work on cars a lot many moons ago. My experience then was most people didn't like to mess around with their gas tanks, so I think people would be reluctant to tamper with their chipped fill tubes.

Why not a simple gasoline tax? (a percentage of the per-gallon price) The hummer uses more...

Has everyone forgotten the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle? We've had TOU metering for over 20 years from Pacific Gas and Electiric (northern California). It is pretty straight forward. Summer rates are shown below (winter rates are lower.) Peak is noon to 6PM weekdays. Weekend hours are all off-peak.

Peak - Baseline-130% of baseline - $0.29372/kWh
131-200% of baseline - $0.34008

Off Peak - Baseline-130% of baseline - $0.08664
131-200% of baseline - $0.13300

We sometimes run over 200% of baseline if we irrigate a lot. And, yes, the cost per kWh is even higher.

The bill notes how electricity was used, i.e., on/off peak.
It also notes the average kWh used per day and compares it to the previous year.

I mean, how much information does a person really need? In our case, I switch from the gird to our PV system (usually by 9:30-10AM) and then go back to the grid around 6-7PM. I KNOW that I will be dinged if I use juice during peak. Isn't that enough?


Todd, I agree 100% with KISS.
I will never voluntarily sign up for the proposed "smart" meters in Ontario. They are a financial load dumping onto consumers and, as the article points out, will create an administrative nightmare. In Canada most civil servants push programmes that give them job security, promotions or other perks instead of thinking they actually serve the public. I think the real time feedback meters are the highest level of complexity we should aim for. Communicating with Hydro 1 central or with appliances just adds cost and complexity but has a "gee wiz" attraction in this economy of built on selling toys loaded with bells and whistles. Pay as you go is the best feed back forcing us to live within our cash flow. Wood heat is a good example of feed back that forces efficiency. It is a lot of work to heat with wood. The less you have to cut and carry the better your life. I don't advocate using wood except where necessary due to local air quality issues, even if it is carbon neutral (please don't re-post all the stuff about neat new efficient wood stoves). If we had to carry electricity, natural gas or oil in our arms when we wanted to use it we would use less.
In any event, an economic recession or depression will solve our peak usage issues. Saving money will become the core of most of our lives.
I wish we could afford the life we are living.

Here's an analogous thought: A meter in the center of your car dashboard, much like the one on the Prius, showing your present fuel consumption in dollars per hour. Make it an animated graphic of dollar bills burning one by one that flames/speeds up as you press the accelerator. Who wouldn't slow down?

Waitor, Reality Check please!

1) Watts Up? meters are not very accurate at low power levels esp. when using switching power supplies. Draws can easily be 3 or 4W and the meter will read 0W! I've even aggrevated 10 such loads (small black blobs for electronic equipment) and the Watts Up? meter was still wrong by a factor of 10.

2) Background is missing. Where is the energy wasted; where can we make possible savings?
In my case, even washing cloth diapers every 2 days, using an inefficient top loading washer, our electricity bill didn't crack $30/month. GET A LIFE! MY PHONE COSTS MORE!

Yes here in southern Ontario electricity is cheap at $0.10/kWh but my guess is that we've got to hit the brainless gits who leave their A/C on even though it's 20C or cooler outside. They're so bloody isolated from reality that they never open up a window in the home!

3) Time of Day pricing is the way to go as far as I can see.

Note - I believe that putting your freezer/fridge on a timer ranks right up there with drilling holes in your head!
3.1) PROOF PLEASE - Someone show me how the efficiency of a compressor system changes when you massive wack it's duty cycle like that. My fridge coils (inside) frost up heavily when we start getting 30C inside the home. At a ballbark, from my engineering courses I'd dead certain that the efficiency of the fridge is dropping. Similarily with the freezer because the heat dissipating coils are actually right in the freezer walls - so cycling will allow the walls to be cooler and allow the freezer to work better.

ALSO - EVERY TIMER I'VE SEEN USES TONS OF ELECTRICITY! I thought about a timer for starting the lights for my garden plants in the winter; but it's easier to flick the light on myself and the timer used more electricity than a CF lightbulb (note timers are about 5W draw - a good fridge or freezer is around 50W average - they run for about 30 minutes every hour and draw aprox 100W when running).

A water heater I can image putting a timer on as in our case we only need hot water at night (shower, wash dishes, possibly wash clothes and hang on a clothes line in the morning) - and I'm thinking about this with a 10, or less, gallon water tank as the natural gas heater we have sucks $100/year in gas just for the pilot light (keeps the tank warm).

NOTE: - We can't consume our way to sustainability! Techo-fixes of advanced gadgets sounds like more of the same-old same old that got us into this. Tons more gadets talking to each other via WiFi or Bluetooth or whatever will not rescue us.


Anyways - my twins are now awake and life calls. My gadget (this infernal thing call a computer) must have it's power bar shut off and the @#$#@$ thing sucks around 15W when "off" and my average home draw is just under 200W average.

To be honest I think, that here in Ontario we need higher electricity (and water and gas and gasoline) prices and Time-of-day pricing is a must. Of course Ontario Hydro wants us to PAY for the new smart meters; and my estimates are that with the proposed Time-of-day pricing and with their estimated cost of the meter; we'll break even. There is NOTHING that we can do to save energy as we're not willing to cook or wash clothes (energy use is virtually negligable!) after bedtime.

Right now the insanity of our low water prices is unreal. Every summer has water restrictions; and it's so cheap that our water/sewage bill isn't even $10/month. Much of my life the utility minimum billed me because of my low use; now with a wife and kids were just above the minimum billing.

LIFESTYLE is the key. We used little electricity and water thru our lifestyle and not consuming things. More gadgets would use more energy; make our life more complex and not save us anything.

But I'll be the first to propose that we are not an "average" family :) :)

Careful there, check that blood pressure.

My timer uses 2 button cells, time will tell how long they last. You can buy mechanical set timers over here but only 24 hr cycle, not 7 days. I dont know what the solenoid current draw for the relay is. I suppose I could measure it..5 watts would be a shagged relay though.

Who said it was efficient? The point I could have made clearer - tho I did mention the tarrif - is that electricity is 7 times cheaper between 0000 and 0800. I know because my bill says it is.

If the fridge thermostat relay lasts longer because it doesn't run for 5 hours, then runs for 1 hour to catch up, I see that as a bonus.

The reason the electric is cheaper from 0000 to 0800 is because demand is less. I have therefore timeshifted my load to off peak which is better for everybody.

Thanks for the timer correction - I've never seen one like that (battery powered)!
I've actually already been contacted about someone who wants to use electric heating; store the heat in tanks, and then use it during the daytime. Year under ToD pricing it'll be cheaper to heat the house; but less efficient.

I disagree with your method as not many people could do it. For instance take Ontario where I live. Here is the electrical demand:
We're around 14GW nighttime low and 22 GW daytime high.
If any signif. number of people start moving daytime draw to the nighttime (aka plugin cars) we're not going to see cheap nighttime rates.

In the end it's pissing into the wind. We need to solve the problem (sustainability) not find ways to play the game where the rules are dynamically changed by governments or whatever in attempt to out-think us or drive us into doing what is good.

What is needed first is education.

I moved in with my girlfriend and her 10 and 14 year old daughters. The kids had really no idea that turning on a light, or an electric oven cost money.

The women just paid the electric bill every month. About $250 a month during summer and winter peak. Everything in the house is electric.

We are no down to about 50 bucks a month spring and fall, and around 100 a month peak summer/winter. Electric is 10 cent a kwh for now, and is due to radically increase when deregulation goes into effect this year in Virginia.

Smart meters may be nice, but common sense is much more useful. A little forward planning and effort goes a long way to conservation and saving.

The list of changes is rather long. A Kill-a-watt meter helped.

The biggest changes that reaped the greatest savings were:

- Air dry clothes year round.
- Energy Star washer
- Use EPA wood stove for heat.
- Energy Star through the wall 9k BTU A/C unit.
- CFL bulbs.
- Getting the kids to turn stuff off when they are not using it.

A solar water heater, to be installed this fall, will be the last of the low hanging fruit.

All this being said, the culture in the USA is about one's self. Changes will not come until the lights start going out.