Smart Metering and Smarter Metering

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.

A bit of a rant here, but whatever...

Yesterday I got a card from my utility saying that I could buy power from renewable sources for an extra $0.013/kWh - a good enough cause, and I'll probably do it.  However, of more interest was that they had statistics on the average electricity use per household, something like 750 kWh/ month for my area.  My usage is about 300 kWh/ month - pat on the back to me for using compact fluorescents, etc.  

However, I would claim that my conservation efforts are not being adequately rewarded, and wouldn't be even were I operating under some sort of "net metering" system.  My thinking is as follows:  Suppose during a summer spike in electricity usage, 50% of the households reduce their power consumption by 50%, i.e., a reduction of 25% for the whole network.  This reduction would in all likelihood remove the strain from the grid, reducing the need to run peaker generators and/or by power from the grid.  Thus, the conserving households have done a tremendous service, not only to themselves (saved money by conserving plus kept the utility from having to buy expensive power), but for the non-conservers as well (power prices kept lower).  This is sort of a "tragedy of the commons" but in reverse - a group of individuals does an act that saves the commons a good chunk of change.  However, even under a net metering scenario, the consevers would not be rewarded.  Sure their power prices are a bit lower, but so are those for the non-conservers.

How can this be changed to reward the conservers?  By what I would call "Extrapolated Power Pricing."  This doesn't require fancy new meters or anything.  It simply asks the question "what would electricity cost if EVERY household used as much electricity as you did last month?"  My guess is that this would be a pretty strong function of an individual's usage, increasing very rapidly as consumption goes above the average household's usage.   Households would then be charged based upon this extrapolated usage, with extra charges for households above average forming a pool that would be rebated to the conservers proportional to how much below average their  usage was.  At least initially, conservers would actually make money on this scheme, which they should, since they are doing a service to everyone.  

The problem with the current system, and even net metering, is that conservation still remains mainly a virtue with a very small monetary reward.  As such, it will never catch on with even the majority of the public - they simply don't care enough to try to reduce their monthly bills by a few bucks.  Incremental electricity usage has a very real cost, and those who actively seek to reduce their usage should be given real rewards to recognize the service they provide to all customers.

This could of course be done with net metering - start the day with a monetary credit the equivalent of 10 kWh based upon projected demand for that day, which is then eaten up more or less quickly according to the actual overall demand.  However, I don't really think there is that much of a need to get that fancy - smarter billing that truly rewards conservation might well do as much good.

If I'm reading correctly, I think what you are referring to is tiered pricing, where the price for consumption is dependent on how much you consume.  However, in tiered pricing there are no consumers who would actually get paid for using less, they would simply have a lower price per kwh.  Hydro One in Ontario uses a two-tier pricing system, where the summer rate is $0.058 for the first 600kwh and $0.067 for usage above the 600kwh.  I agree that using a tiered pricing scheme would definitely reward people for consuming less.  I'd like to see more tiers as well, perhaps at every 200kwh increment, with a price that increases non-linearly with the amount consumed.
Yeah, that's pretty much it, but  (i) the consumers who conserve should benefit, which certainly is not the case now, and (ii) the tiers have to ultimately penalize high usage pretty steeply, if conservation is ultimately the goal.  
Tiered pricing has some problems, though.  Should two people sharing a house be penalized if they use 50% more than their single-person neighbor (energy-per-person is lower, but energy-per-house is higher)?  Should parents get a higher limit even if they purposly created offspring?
By example, another problem with tiered pricing. I heat with electricity but my neighbour heats with gas. I'm using quite a bit more electricity (90% hydro-generated for BC, where I live) but I'm definitely conserving gas. The utility company can't recognise conservation in this circumstance.
Southern California Edison uses tiered pricing on our electric bill. There's a (low) baseline that varies from month to month, then the rate increases roughly every 20% above baseline. In addition, they give us up to $200 rebate each summer for allowing them to switch off our air conditioner by remote control during periods of peak demand. I think our agreement says no more than 15 times, no more than 4 hours each, and there are alternative agreements, such as no more than 30 minutes off.

I like the $200 rebate, and it has not caused us any discomfort. Sorry, I don't have the actual tier rates at hand, but it rises pretty steeply. At 130%, we pay 26 cents /kwh for our marginal use, compared to about 19cents average, and baseline is less than that.

Now let's compare that with how much energy could be saved if there was a rate hike to a flat 26cents/kWh with all of it being re-invested in PV, wind, geothermal, biomass etc..

First of all, consumers would have a real incentive to replace that 20 year old AC with a new model or a ceiling fan. The utility and state would have plenty of money to invest in renewables. Renewables companies would get plenty of money for research, to hire people etc..

Take that on the background that CA is generating 3GW of renwable capacity with a 1 cent rate hike.

The scheme you mention minimizes peak-load pain. It does not solve the underlying problem. In medicine people are trying very hard to get away from treating the symptoms and towards treating the condition. Why can't we do the same in the energy arena?

The distributional impacts of a 26c/kwhr price would be horrendous-- the politics would kill it.

In additional you would reward perverse behaviour: buying a Honda generator and powering out of that, which would be worse for global warming, peak oil etc.

Active demand management is actually key because one of the major obstacles with renewable energy is its intermittency: the wind doesn't blow all the time, the sun sets, etc.

The electricity system is hugely inefficient because California has a peak demand at 5pm on weekday, which is about 2.5 times its demand at 4am (it might even be 3 times).

Ontario is no different (and, strangely, Ontario's peak is abou 35GW, and California's about 55GW?-- I've found no good explanation, as yet, how a province of 11 million people can consume 60% as much power as a state with over 30 million people and a GDP/head 50% higher (at least)).

Ontario now faces summer peaks (used to be January peak, but there is more air conditioning around, and summers are hotter than they used to be-- a combination of warmer weather and the Toronto heat sink effect).

In the good old days, we sold power in summer to New York City (when it was expensive) and bought it back from Niagara Mohawk in winter (when it was cheap).  Now our terms of trade have almost reversed.

So active demand management can save a lot of money, and a lot of resources.  And since Ontario's baseload is nuclear, but its peak load is coal (Nanticoke was the largest coal-fired station in N. America, over 3000MW), you can save a lot of carbon that way, too.

"The distributional impacts of a 26c/kwhr price would be horrendous-- the politics would kill it."

I have yet to see a proof for that assertion. You may well remember that Europeans are paying twice the price for their gas when compared to the US. We do not see riots in the streets of Europe but a lot of small cars.

If I look at my own utilities bill, the larger portion of it is for natural gas use in winter, not for electricity. My bill will not go up much overall if you doubled the electricity part. I would assert that is true for most people except those who commit the crime against nature of heating with an electric space heater. Those are the folks we are asking to change their ways.

I see Honda generators as a minor problem. Your average survival nut might take up with the nuissance of operating one but the typical 3rd floor apartment dweller will not. It is kind of noisy, smelly and the CO gives you these awful headaches... not to mention the weekly oil change, the repair downtime (so now you need two or large batteries...), the hate crimes of the neighbours... This one definitely falls into the "Some people are crazy some of the time but all people are never crazy all of the time" category.

"The electricity system is hugely inefficient because California has a peak demand at 5pm on weekday, which is about 2.5 times its demand at 4am (it might even be 3 times)."

How is that going to change if I raise the electricity prices? At best I will get people to switch from AC to ceiling fan, thus lowering peak demand. In order to decrease peaks due to AC use, CA is doing the one right thing: invest in PV.

I think we agree about a lot, otherwise.

On demand management, I was answering that question that you raised.

It is the very inefficiency of electricity demand (peak 3X bottom) which necessitates the system that is required to produce it.  Effectively capacity planning has to accomodate peaks, and idle expensive capacity for long periods*.

If you equate marginal cost of consumption to marginal cost of system to provide it, then the consumer will optimise consumption relative to cost of provision.  That's basic economics.

*it's really all a bit more pernicious than that-- wind power in particular is disfavoured because it is intermittent.  To the extent that you can match load to available supply (and avoid starting and running expensive gas and coal-fired reserve capacity) you could have more renewables in the mix, and less CO2 in the emissions.

Electricity is fundamentally less discretionary than driving as a consumer item.  Here in the UK, those who use electricity to heat do so because they do not have gas as an option (either because they cannot afford to switch, they rent, or there is no gas mains connection)-- gas is about half as expensive as a heating/water heating fuel as electricity.

Doubling the domestic electricity bill of the average American (living in California or New York-- those living in places like Georgia pay much less, AFAIK) is going to hit those on small or fixed incomes the hardest.

It's worth remembering that when the Chicago heat wave hit, it killed those who didn't have air conditioning, or didn't feel they could afford to run it.

On the perverse incentives, most Americans don't live in apartments, I don't think.  At that level, it would pay Mr. or Mrs. middle class householder to buy a Honda generator and run it, at that level of electricity prices.

"It is the very inefficiency of electricity demand (peak 3X bottom) which necessitates the system that is required to produce it."

Forgive this physicist for his criticism of this statement. What necessitates production facilities for electricity is the law of energy conservation. If you want to do work somewhere, you need energy from somewhere else. The ratio between minimum and maximum load of the power generation facility has nothing to do with it.

"If you equate marginal cost of consumption to marginal cost of system to provide it, then the consumer will optimise consumption relative to cost of provision.  That's basic economics."

If you try to force people to take a cold shower they will simply kick your butt. That is a simple matter of human psychology.

"wind power in particular is disfavoured because it is intermittent."

Only if all you have is nuclear power plants which don't like to run on anything else than "full steam ahead". For the ultimate goal, to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the loss of cost efficiency in gas and coal fired plants does not matter, unless ALL you are interested in is money. From your line of argument I can only conclude that you are still caught up on decade old "cost/profit" thinking. In which case none of my technical arguments will impress you. Egotism is not impressible by technically sane decisions if they violate its only self interest.

"Here in the UK, those who use electricity to heat do so because they do not have gas as an option"

The first problem in the UK is poor building insulation. Basically every home can be fitted with oil heating, which is at least 2.5 times more energy efficient than electrical heating. It is up to the government to make sure these measures are being implemented.

"Doubling the domestic electricity bill of the average American (living in California or New York-- those living in places like Georgia pay much less, AFAIK) is going to hit those on small or fixed incomes the hardest."

People on small fixed incomes are victims of partisan politics in Congress which has not raised the minimum wage in a decade and a half. You are mistaking a symptom of failed domestic social politics in the US with an energy problem. As such, you are at best, naive, at worst, I would have to accuse you of abusing one problem to delay the solution of another. That would be tactics worthy of Chimp's party.

"It's worth remembering that when the Chicago heat wave hit, it killed those who didn't have air conditioning, or didn't feel they could afford to run it."

One might add that a lot of people could have been saved if US emergency rooms were properly funded and people without health insurance would not be afraid of calling an ambulance at the first sign of trouble. I have been waiting for six hours in an emergency room without seeing any progress at all. Have you? Frequently people with heart attacks are made to wait 12 hours. Needless to say... a lot of them die or suffer irreperable harm.

It looks like you don't have the slightest clue of what is going on in the US.

There was some scandal with a Spanish power company that offered something like what you mention, paying extra to get "clean" electricity. When you enrolled in the program they claimed that you were getting "clean electricity", as if they could route the electrons from their windmills to your house, and the ones from their coal fired turbines to your neighbour's.

It happened that they were already getting about 30% of their electricity production from renewables, and their residential users were less than 30% of their electricity consumption, so even if every residential user enrolled in the program, ¡they would do nothing at all!

Does anyone on this board use a system like the one sold by It is bit of software with a great user interface that lets people track their power consumption and production in real time.
I really do think people would make better decisions about their energy use if they had the information.
It used to be, and maybe still is, the case that utilities made more the more they sold.  Utilities will not get enthusiastic until their profits increase as usage decreases (with profit penalties, of course, should capacity be exceeded).  When this happens we will see rapid rollouts of various devices to help consumers use less.
Another nice writeup Stoneleigh.  I agree that some form of instant feedback mechanism would help people make an association between their consumption and the price they pay.  It is too bad that all the meters that have been installed up to this point were installed outside so that they could be read by the electricity delivery companies.  For the consumer it is out-of-sight and out-of-mind.  If these were simply placed inside in a conspicuous place (like maybe the kitchen), people could see what they were consuming.  I guess the main reason for putting it outside is to eliminate the safety and cost issues of running high power lines inside the house.  Using a remote display like the Woodstock system you write about could have been implemented years ago (without the pre-paid card system), even before there was wireless technology by using a simple wired remote display.

I tend to agree that the smart metering system is more complex than needed.  I would prefer an expansion of the tiered electricity pricing system that they currently use, but introduce more tiers into the system.  This would be a simple way to encourage consuming less in general, which would only require a change to the billing calculations and no change to the metering.  To be most effective though, this could still be combined with a remote meter display that is located inside the house.  This does not address trying to reduce peak power usage but IMO the peak power problem is really just a specific problem associated with everyone consuming too much in general.

Where I live our water consumption is billed under a tiered system.  Instituted under severe draught conditions in the mid-1990's, the conservation effect of that tiered billing system lingers to this day.  This conservation effect is a bit of a mixed blessing from the perspective of the City's public water utility.  Along the lines noted by a previous poster, the utility generates less revenue through the tiered billing scheme so, under the current conditions of "adequate" water supply (likely temporary) and chronic municiple budget constraints (likely permanent), there is considerable pressure to increase revenue by returning to a one price per unit billing schedule.  Not to mention the frequent complaint, by consumers in the highest billing tier, that they are being unfairly treated.  When times are tough, "doing the right thing" gets everyones attention and support.  When times are good (or appear to be) fewer pay attention and it is likely that we'll revert to the old (and unsound) free-consumption days.
Interesting but not convincing. Schemes that rely on people's psychology in conjunction with pricing are inherently unreliable when compared to techical solutions. Putting an energy efficient fluorescent light in place of a light bulb is a safe bet and much easier than the proposed schemes. Glass wool and foam can save 30-50% of the heating bill, not just 15%. Higher efficiency standards for new construction are easy to implement politically (if there is a will) AND revenue positive.

I am not saying new meters are a waste. They are just not anywhere close to the silver and lead bullets we already have but are afraid to fire.

Stoneleigh, good points, but you have missed the most important potential advantage of smart metering.  Smart metering, in combination with other easy measurements, can also enable energy efficiency performance metrics. To illustrate, I'll extend your scenario in another direction:

Imagine managing your operation, with no accounting data other than total monthly expenses - after the fact.  Why did costs spike last month?  Has productivity slipped? Is someone embezzling? Which costs are out of control?  How would you know?  This sounds absurd, but this is exactly how most organizations "manage" their energy use.

Is your equipment working as intended?  Did you know that 10 to 20 % of all buildings have undetected malfunctions that cause excessive energy use?  Are lights and equipment left on needlessly at night?  Is the HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) running efficiently?  Are fans drawing in - and conditioning - fresh air when it isn't needed?  Such details need management attention.  If no one checks, they get out of control.

To measure energy performance, you must measure it.  But utility bills leave you guessing. Are changes in energy due to weather, holiday schedules, equipment breakdowns, or changes you've made?  Utility bills alone don't work as performance metrics.  But time-series energy use data, combined with outside and sampled inside temperature work very well.

All you need is to know when and for what your energy is used, plus simple tools to understand that information, so  you are empowered to be in charge.



for a concept that extends smart metering to encompass not only demand reduction, but increased energy effiency.

This is definitely the way to go if it can be done affordably. I think savings of perhaps 20% in household electricity use are possible if people get into the right habits.  Examples; short lukewarm showers and making sure you have solar dried socks that don't need last minute tumble drying. It would be good if each plug or outlet could be monitored so that appliances could be assessed individually, such as the wall plug that powers the George Foreman fryer. If the smart box had software and memory it could be patched through to the computer. The homeowner could log on and declare 'Holy Hell the hot water service uses a lot of energy..I think I'll turn the thermostat down'. Before you know that new power station gets cancelled.  
May I say that this sounds a bit like the "anal retentive" version of conservation? No offense...

Conservation is mostly a physics problem. Appliances and heating/cooling systems, home insulation etc. are designed to be cheap and just barely scrape by the current efficiency regulations. They could be better if they had to be and still achieve exactly the same function.

By suggesting to people that they have to take lukewarm showers or else... all you will achieve politically is to turn people off the idea of conservation in general.

And it does not have to be that way. We do not have to save pennies but trillions of dollars. The way we do that is by giving people the same luxuries without the same waste.

I don't think there is any mileage in asking people to be less comfortable.

Long run, they won't.  British living rooms are 10 degrees warmer than they were in the 1950s (when most houses didn't have central heating).

What you can do is ask people to think eg the wet mittens in the dryer.  It's illegal in Switzerland to use an electric dryer, except at night, for example.

Changes of behaviour that have low, or no, cost in terms of comfort, can be made, and will be permanent (I grew up in the energy crisis, so I reflexively shut off lights when I leave the room).

The political problem of time of day pricing is that businesses would see their power bills skyrocket and consumers would see their power bills crash. That's because businesses use most of their power during the day when demand peaks, and consumers use most of their power during the evening, weekends, the early mornings, and at night. That's when they are at home.
For those who are unaware of the difference, the power cost during the day is around ten times as much as during the night, the morning, the evening, and the weekend. This is because the peaking power price is controlled by the peak power source, which is by definition the most expensive power that is used only when all other power generators are already in service. Further, the distribution systems are also maxed out at that time. This can also be important.
This is not always true. In the US northeast it can be reversed. Sometimes max power demands are during very cold, clear winter nights. Businesses aren't using much power at 2AM in upstate New York.
Business and industry in most places already pay different rates. Everyone needs to find out how to use less energy, you can still subsidize business, in the US it's all we've ever done, despite all the free market rhetoric.
IP I think that appliance designs may have nearly hit practical limits to efficiency. To get major savings from where we are at now will need less speed, weight, distance, temperature change, luminosity and so on.  In other words conservation will come from behaviour change not technology. I'd argue this is why the supersonic airliner experiment failed. If consumers want to cut their water heating bill 50% they'd better change themselves because I don't know of any inbuilt technology improvement that will do it. Smart metering could help the consumer weigh their priorities. This applies across the board and I think it is  mistake to wait for a technofix.
I can assure you that your assumptions are not correct.

I am a physicist who used to work with superconducting magnets and cryostats for years. The insulation of these devices is absolutely amazing. They can keep 4K interior temperature for weeks with one filling of liquid helium. They way they do that is by using evacuated walls and so called super-insulation, stacks of dozens to hundreds of layers of very thin metalized layers of plastic foil. The vacuum reduces heat conduction to almost nothing and the super-insulation makes thermal photons from the hot outside environment bounce forth and back between the reflecting layers hundreds of times before they can get in, thus reducing radiation thermal heat transfer into the device.

I have yet to see any of these techniques applied to a household refrigerator, stove or cooking pot.

I think people believe that good looking modern appliances mean well built appliances. That is not the case.

Light bulbs are still more common that luminescent lights. They could be phased out now.

I have not seen heat exchangers built into the bottom of bathtubs or showers that could recycle some of the heat in the water. The process heat exchanger is a standard device in many chemical process applications.

Tripple glazing is not common in the US and neither are IR reflective coatings on windows. Once you have tripple glazing and well insulated walls, much of the heat loss in winter is radiative through windows.

Solar water heaters are simple, effective and standard technology. We have yet to see mass applications. Instead people keep burning gas and oil in 25 year old furnaces which need hot exhaust gas to use old style chimneys. Modern ones can cool the exhaust down and remove it with a fan.

Heat pumps have yet to see their day on a large scale. They alone can cut down on consumption by 30%.

Better still is electricity/heat co-generation. Well planned units can achieve over 60% efficiency while coal/gas fired plants max out at 40%. On top of that local co-generation saves the power grids from peak loads and educes I2R losses.

We are far, far away from physical efficiency limits.


When you mention co-generation are you talking about gas-fired units such as the WhisperGen? These are taking off in NZ and UK now.

The Energy Trust has done some work on the Whispertech units.

For UK domestic use, they don't save a lot of carbon.  The problem is they don't run enough.

For larger units (small commercial, hospitals, schools) which run all the time, they would produce significant savings.

In a UK electricity system with lots of renewable wind, they could play a really important role (the utility would reach down your wires and turn them on when demand was peaking).  Couple that with a domestic hydrogen-based heating system and we are on to something (depending on how you produce the hydrogen).

I think we will see hydrogen emerge as the technologically easiest way to store large amounts of peak energy from wind and PV. Currently, there is no spare capacity, so there is no need to store energy. Ten, fifteen years from now that will change and hydrogen is easy to generate and reasonably easy to store in industrial facilities.
As one example. I have yet to see a WhisperGen in real life but it is a good looking product. Almost sexy...

I think neighbourhood size local generators are also promising in the long run but require new infrastructure for steam or hot water pipes. In Germany they just love to dig up the road (it keeps the local civil engineering firms happy), so they can do these kinds of things more easily than elsewhere. In areas with lower population density individual residential solutions make more sense.

It's a Sterling Cycle engine: only about 15% efficiency.

Again the Carbon Trust (from memory) ran some real live monitoring tests, and the results were disappointing.

Toronto is building a 550MW gas fired unit on the water front, they did not build a combined heat and power unit.  The problem was they couldn't find a constant demand for heat, close enough to make it worthwhile (although they have left provision for it).

District steam heat will work, its quite common in Scandinavia (it was in Russia, too, but is being replaced by individual apartment gas boilers-- civic infrastructure has declined so far that the district systems aren't reliable, and Russians are rich enough to have their own boilers).

I can't see it easily being rolled out in US suburbs (distances) and in the UK (low densities and all the problems of retrofitted infrastructure).

CCGTs run just around 60% efficiency-- very close to Cornot's limit.

I think coal fired (pulverised bed) run at c. 37% efficiency and IGCC (coal gasification) run at c. 45-47%.

CHPs can run as high as 80% I believe if there is a constant need for the heat (so district heating, hospitals, some industrial applications like greenhouses work well, but home applications don't).

Home applications of co-generators work well in winter when there is a need for heat and the 2kW PV on your roof gives off no more than 2.3W because the sky is gray like asphalt. Since the machines only work efficiently at constant load, there has to be a way to share the electrical load. Net metering, again, is an absolute necessity. But we already need that to make PV work.
Actually SSTs are back.  An SST small business jet-- there are a couple nearly in prototype stage I think.

It's an environmental nightmare but no one seems to be pointing that out.  The original SST was also an environmental nightmare and that was one of the objections to it, I think one Concorde flight was worth 300 cans of CFCs into the upper atmosphere, plus the contrail is a very effective greenhouse gas.

On appliances there is lots to go for. The average wall thickness is still lower than for a fridge in the 1930s, I believe.  There are better materials and seals that can be used.  

The compressor on a fridge is still on the bottom of the fridge, again if you go back to your grandmother's GE fridge, it was on the top (hot air rises, and needs to radiate).

The industry always screams when standards are tightened, but the reality is we don't yet design domestic appliances (or homes) from a pure efficiency standpoint.

I always wondered about the fridge design with the compressor built into the worst spot and no active cooling (fan) on the heat exchanger... I can not imagine they couldn't get at least 30-40% more efficient if they had to for e.g. $100 higher cost. And that would make a huge difference on my electricity bill.
There is a range of technologies, and home appliances are one of them, where I suspect we have only begun to get to the efficiencies we might achieve.  I keep thinking about Ground Source Heat pumps in the context of home heating/AC.

The problem being Jevon's paradox, ie that we never imagined living in a world where we have efficient air conditioners, but houses are 50% bigger, and have 3 or 4 home computers chugging out power.

It's still worth doing. As California's experience has shown since the early 70s, it could be something of a 'win win', in terms of driving efficiency.

Does anyone know of any gadgets you can attach to your electric meter with a wireless inside display to show how much wattage you are using? I'm not sure how such a thing could work - in the worst case I suppose it could have a light meter and notice the fluctuation as the disk spins with its black mark. My meter doesn't seem to have any accessible contacts or wiring that would allow something else to work. Of course I understand that the utility doesn't want to make things too accessible or people would cheat by wiring around the meter or whatever. But a sensing device would be pretty neat. Seems like it could almost be a build it yourself project for someone handy.
How about somthing like the Kill-a-Watt Electricty Usage Monitor:

You plug it into an electrical outlet and then you plug a device into it.  It's acts like a power strip.  It also tallies the energy going through it (to the plugged in device) and reports on the LCD.

Thanks, I've been meaning to try one of those. I tried to get one last year for the holidays but they were sold out. I went ahead and ordered one from Amazon.

Also after some searching I've found a couple of models of whole-house meters, and . They attach inside your breaker box and clip onto the outside of the power lines to monitor current flow. They are around $150-$200. I pay more than that for electricity each month (and no central air! and gas furnace and clothes dryer!) so it might be a good deal for me, help the family to remember to turn off lights and such.

> They are around $150-$200. I pay more than that for
> electricity each month

Yikes!  We're around $20 to $25 / month for electricity.
I think that Ontario's move to SmartMeter everying is innane and insane.  There is no point in going after families like myself - are we going to stop cooking to save energy?

They should have a bonus level - when you hit $50 / month or something you get to go to the bonus level and win a smart meter!

Neighbours with A/C often have it running - while I'm wearing a long sleeved shirt for walking outside.  People are living in their own virtual world - their house set to 20C in the summer and 23C in the winter.  They'd never think of opening a window.

As for power meters - I've used them and don't think that they're of too much value.  You can count on the rating on modern appliances to be basically correct.  What you've got to correct for is the unreal assumptions.  For instance for a washer or drier they assume that you're doing a load every day or two!!!!  Having washed lots of cloth diapers for twins I can tell you that it's about $0.50 per load to dry and the cost of washing (front loader) is pretty well the cost of detergent.

For every DC wall wart you've got assume 5W or $5 / year.  Dito for any clock hidden inside things like the fridge, microwave or VCR.  You can use your house meter to meter yourself as well.  Simply unplug your fridge and freezer and then if the stove and other major appliances are off you'll know your vampire load.  It may surprise you (it was 1/3 of our total use).  Look at your bill for average use then start estimating washer / drier and lighting.

In retrospect I'm stunned that the average draw for my family of 4 is around 200W - basically as much electricity as people who leave their outside / driveway lights on at night!

In Ontario the only reason that they've putting in smart meters is to shift use out of the daytime peak.  Sadly; it's not going to help anyone reduce.  What's the point at $0.06 /kWh?

We still need more labeling.  I've been testing LCDs and I've seen 17" ones which suck <<1W when off/standby and 20W when on; and others that suck 4W when off/standby and 28W when on.  In typical use the standby draw is the most significent figure and you rarely see it reported.  Perhaps we need an idiot figure - what the device costs to have in typical use - but PLEASE state the assumptions.  Such figures for front-loading washing machines are bunk - to be polite.  The ones for Ontario assume that you're using an electric water heater cranked to the max and that every load is done in super, extra, amazingly hot water.  In reality all that a front loader will save you is:
 1/2 the detergent use
 upto 2x the laundry can be washed per load
 aprox 60% of the electricity use
 takes about 2x longer to wash
 spins clothes drier and saves about 30% of drying cost
 takes only 1/3 as much hot water and about 1/2 the water

Context context.

The easiest way for people to reduce GHGs is to switch to
a plant based diet - healthier, better for the planet and
animals.  It'll do a heck of a lot to reduce the problems with super-bugs and avian flu just for starters.

Next change your lifestyle.  Don't drive everywhere; don't insist on how water for rinising hands; don't insist on a house exactly 20C in summer and 23C in winter.  If you can relax then you can save a lot of energy.

Next get efficient appliances; but look at context.  There often isn't a point getting a $1500 front loading washer machine when a $600 one will do you just as well.  Older fridges and freezers are murder and about 1/3 of out home electricity use - the proper choice will save you for years to come.

Lastly try to find an efficient vehicle - better yet don't drive one; and don't buy a second one.  Audit your life to find out that it's $4k+ per car - that's a lot of money to save, give to charities, etc.

As you say context.

A 5kg load Bosch washer here (95%+ of European washers are front loaders) is £349 including VAT + c. £25 for delivery.  In Canadian terms, about $700 (including sales tax) + delivery.

You could buy one (cheaper make) for £250, even £200.

The worst problem is they are hardly worth fixing, the minimum call-out is £80-- after a few years, one tends to just throw them away.

Front Loaders are still a luxury item in North American markets, and priced to same.

We have diesel cars which get 50mpg (Imperial gallon) in real usage (ie 60mpg on the testbed).  Hybrids are rarer, perhaps as a consequence.

Conversely I read that most UK houses have no or minimal insulation: Swedish building codes dated 1985 are tougher than ours dated 2005.

The Swedes have 350k ground source heat pumps installed, we have fewer than 10k.

If we took best practice across a range of countries, we would be able to lower energy consumption quite significantly.

Those are interesting numbers. I tried working out my usage in a little more detail.

If I pay $250/month for electricity that is $3000/year. Here in California I pay about $0.25/kWh so this means I am using about 12,000 kWh per year. (Wow, 12 megaWatt-hours! Sounds like I need my own nuke plant in the back yard.)

Anyway, that corresponds to about 1400 Watts drawn continuously on average, day and night, all year long. Quite a bit more than your 200 Watts.

Out of curiosity I walked out just now and looked at the electric meter. It's daytime and I don't have any lights on, nor is the furnace blowing (it's about 65 outside, very pleasant), nor am I doing any laundry. I do have a window fan on to keep the air moving. And of course all 7 of my computers are on, plus the TiVo, and assorted electronics plugged in but "off".

It took 19 seconds for the disk to go around on the electric meter, and from the formula here, , that corresponds to about 1400 Watts. Exactly what my yearly average draw is.

I'm not using two of the computers right now, although I might need one of them later today, so I shut them down, and turned off the monitors on a couple of the others. This slowed down the electric meter to a 29 second rotation, or about 900 watts, saving 500 Watts which would be about $1,000/year. I guess that might be worth the inconvenience of having to wait for the machine to start up whenever I need to use it.

Turn your monitors off!  It's at least 1/3rd of the draw on a machine.

I think the newer Intel processors have a 'sleep state' that reduces their power draw.  You may be suffering from older machines.

Google estimates power is at least 40% of the cost of its server farm, and is suggesting various measures to fight this (like moving all technology inside onto 12v DC).

Another factor you are going to hit is that your computers will heat up the house, which will increase your air conditioning load.

One thing I have noticed is that in the good old days, my grandmother's fridge was in the larder (which is where the icebox was, before fridges).  In winter (in rural Ontario) you didn't need much to keep the food cool!

Nowadays, we heat our houses, so our fridge can cool them off.  It's not as bad as the reverse case (summer) because the waste heat is spent heating the house.

A general point about 'single point' energy savings estimates.  If your appliances are less wasteful, in winter, this means you spend more heating in other ways.

All of which argues most of all for better insulated homes and tighter fitting windows ;-).

I was thinking of putting a webcam on the inner side of the door of the meter's enclosure. There are security webcams which are small enough, operate on batteries and have wireless connectivity but they are not cheap and I would hesitate to put one in what is essentially a public space.
This is a post I've just submitted to Matt Savinar's forum.  After reading the first two paragraphs, you'll see it's quite relevant to this topic.

My thesis is that there will not be a societal collapse in the US.  Let me prove it.

I will start with a couple of assumptions that most people here will agree to, and many will actually consider an understatement:

  • In the US there is an establishment/elite/ptb/... that has considerable influence in US public policy and media.
  • A strategic objective of that establishment is the preservation of their societal status and quality of living.

I will also start from the following generally accepted facts:
  • The US Armed Forces have a generous amount of WMDs that can reach any place on Earth.
  • In case of societal collapse involving a complete breakdown of the security system, financial wealth becomes useless (what would deter the warriors guarding the rich guy from killing him - or just kicking him out - and seizing all his stuff?)
  • The key to societal collapse is the operational status of the electricity grid.  That's because the decline in the production of fossil fuels will be gradual, and there's so much fat in their usage, but the grid is either up or down, and when it's down there's no drinking water, perishable foods rot, etc.

From that, the demonstration is straightforward: suppose the elite moves away to a beatiful remote place and lets the US collapse.  Very likely a B-2 pilot, learning that his family has died, will load some nukes on board and drop them on such place.  So, unless the US Armed Forces are wholly dismantled (very unlikely) or all his members are taken to the hypothetical faraway paradise (ditto), societal collapse in the US is not an option for the elite.  So, the US electrical grid MUST be kept operational.

Therefore, to prove my thesis I just have to demonstrate that the US grid CAN be kept operational.  Which is very easy due to the very large share of electrical energy that is devoted to air conditioning (A/C) in the US, which is a non-essential item  (and BTW is usually set to temperature levels unbearably cold for foreigners) and can be partially or completely disposed of, although at varying degrees of discomfort.

Being there ample room to cut electricity consumption, it can be done in two ways:

Market way: exponential rates.  E.g.

Range of    - Price of each KWh
consumption - within the range
in KWh      - in $
000-100  - 1
100-200  - 2
200-400  - 4
400-800  - 8

This rate structure will greatly encourage owners of McMansions to turn on just the A/C set of the room where they are at the moment, set it at the minimum level, and close the door.  And only on days when it's really hot.  (It will also encourage people in places such as Las Vegas to leave, which most would agree would be a positive outcome, and unavoidable in the long term anyway.)

The penalty for clandestine connections to the grid will be the immediate removal/destruction of all A/C sets in the house.

Non-market way: the police/National Guard goes home by home to seek and destroy the A/C sets.  Excepted are those homes which:

  • are off the grid, or
  • have been net contributors to the grid during the previous year.

This proposal looks draconian, but shows that it is feasible and actually very simple to avoid collapse in the US for the foreseeable future.  Personally, I'm 99% confident that collapse will not happen in the US.  As for advice for taking the heat, there is one proven strategy: siesta.

Finally, let me bring up the topic of another thread - the probability of gold confiscation - and compare it with the non-market way of my proposal.

  • In my proposal, the police/National Guard goes home by home to seek & destroy the A/C sets, which takes a few minutes, cannot possibly fail, and averts societal collapse for decades.

  • In gold confiscation, the police/National Guard goes home by home to search for gold coins and bars, which can take hours, has a significant probability of failure, and has no influence in averting societal collapse.

Which scenario do you think more likely?
Oops, I see now that this thread is in TOD:Canada, while my post was mostly about the US grid.  Sorry.
If you are afraid that "they" are manipulating your mind with satellites, I would suggest to wrap some aluminum foil around your head really tightly. It is known to supress all electromagentic radiation. It will not help against the neutrinos made at Fermilab, however. Once the infernal neutrino machine comes online, you will be completely helpless against mind attacks! Neutrinos can not be shielded agains! The project is done in absolute secrecy but I have found a web page on an unprotected server. You have to be quick and download all the information because I have heard that the henchmen are on their way to capture the sys admin who made it publically available by accident. The poor fellow will be tortured until dawn and then shot in the neck!

Here is the link, anyway...


The following is a rant about thermostat settings.

I was visiting my friend in his university owned apartment dorm and on the way out I noticed the thermostat on the wall inside of a locked acrylic box. Needless to say anything that is worth locking up is worth looking at and I noticed that it was set to seventy seven degrees fahrenheit. It is no coincidence that my friend was wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

I was actually hot when I was visiting my friend. Hot. The thermostat was set so wastefully high that I was uncomfortable in my season-appropriate clothing. This situation is in no way unique. On the contrary, it is a great representation of overall results from HVAC.

Conservation is in my opinion the major solution to our current/future energy woes(GW, PO, etc.). I am not advocating the lukewarm shower type conservation(a future without hot showers is not a future in which I want to live) but our current egregious waste and our unbelievable growth absolutely have to stop.

On showers.

London has had the driest 18 months on record.

Sydney is in year 7 of drought and they have just had another dry winter (this is true in Adelaide too).  There is a town in New South Wales that is looking at getting its drinking water from recycled sewage (to predictable howls).

The prediction for GW is hotter and dryer for the places that already have intermittent rainfall (and paradoxically, worse storms).

My wife grew up (in London) without baths or showers-- you used the kitchen sink.

(there are some nifty recycling tricks on 'grey water' but they cost money, and housebuilders are fighting them).

This has some good ideas in it, hadn't heard of the Woodstock program, really encouraging.

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.

Two way communication isnt that expensive, almost every home and business in the US is already wired for it. There's a couple reasons why right now we could use it. One is you cut the need for meter people, debate the labor issue another time.

Second if you have distributed generation, particularly solar at this point, you need it to communicate when you'r
sending excess power back to the grid. Net metering is not good enough, if PV is sending power into the grid when the utilities are paying some peaking gas plant 25 cents a kWh, that's what it should receive.

Finally, you need to begin removing the utilities as a centralized middleman controlling the grid. With solar, you could have micro-grids inside the bigger grid, for example a hundred houses where people aren't home, could in the middle of the day provide power to a near by office building or grocery store. They could pay for using the utility's wires and figure out the rest, for example how much they want to charge, amongst themselves.

Of course the utilities will say this impossible and fight tooth and claw -- "it is unclear whether this additional feature would add real value" -- they've been saying this about adding more information and communication to the grid for 20 years.