How Smart is the Grid?

Marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to capitalize on technological trends faster than engineers and users can settle into the technology itself. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it is difficult to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. Right now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. Known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of Things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.

A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.
Photo by Bryan Cockfield

To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. Often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the invention of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to almost every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, most modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry more and more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become more efficient at delivering energy.

While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the US Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an extremely useful way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that suddenly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA)

The most widely used grid control system is known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA. This is an industry-standard across a wide range of technologies which has been adapted for use on the grid. This allows power system operators to see which breakers are open or closed, which generators are online, what the voltages are at various points, where problems in distribution lines might be, etc. It allows dispatchers to get a high-level view of the grid and to take some control over how power flows through it. Newer implementations and additions to this system allow the grid to detect faults more quickly and divert power flow around the fault, if possible, which is a key feature of a modern smart grid.

While SCADA is a powerful tool for system operators and dispatchers, it can be lacking in some areas that have been most impacted by modern technology. Certainly, a grid equipped with only a SCADA system is not considered a smart grid. Specifically, it lacks control of anything going on “behind the meter”, or within a customer’s control, which is where a lot of emerging smart technologies are focused. This includes handling electric car charging, active management of power-hungry appliances like water heaters and air conditioners during times of peak demand, and microgeneration like rooftop solar.

Smart Metering

Besides these specific new technologies, another major part of the smart grid has already been widely implemented: the use of smart meters. These are electronic (rather than electromechanical) meters that can report energy use remotely, eliminating the need for a meter reader. It also allows for demand-rate metering and other innovative ways of billing at particular times of day and for different uses which older style meters cannot do. Unfortunately, despite all of these advantages, these particular devices are often in the news because an extremely small minority of people have become convinced that the non-ionizing radio waves that the smart meters use are somehow harmful, despite absolutely no evidence to support their claims, and despite the fact that these frequencies see extensive use already.

Absorbing Blips with Battery Banks

Another important improvement that the smart grid brings to the table is the ability to easily handle energy storage. While battery technology is notoriously behind schedule, it’s currently not economically viable to have large-scale batteries on the grid to store energy for longer than a few hours.

Most battery banks that are online perform a task called “load balancing” where short-term (in the range of seconds to minutes) supply and demand is balanced. For example, starting up an industrial facility like a saw mill may put a brief high demand on the local grid, which can be balanced by a battery bank almost instantaneously in order to mitigate a voltage sag. On the other hand, a sudden load loss on the grid can be absorbed by charging the battery bank which maintains grid stability in the other direction.

Perhaps in the future battery technology will be mainstream enough to absorb daily cycles of demand from something like a solar site, but the price point and technology are not quite where they need to be for widespread adoption of something on that scale. Flow batteries are a decent alternative to lithium-ion batteries for this type of application, but need to be improved upon before large-scale adoption.

Microgeneration

Like battery banks, microgeneration can be used to help the smart grid as well. Microgeneration refers to small power generation like rooftop solar or small methane generators at landfills. A sufficiently smart grid has more ability to know when these distributed generation facilities are online, and can use this information to maintain grid operation in a more efficient way than would otherwise be possible.

With all of its benefits, however, the smart grid doesn’t have a clear standard yet. Like the Internet of Things, it sometimes seems like a lawless technological free-for-all. There is often not even agreement between power companies that operate in the same state or country as to how they should handle and implement these emerging technologies. What the industry needs is a clear standard to rally behind, but it doesn’t seem like anything will be filling that void anytime soon.

82 thoughts on “How Smart is the Grid?

  1. Having worked directly with the 520 and 1150 series, the HELP indication actually is a product of smart self diagnostics. The unit needs replacing. Better to have an LCD display than have a lineman risk causing a fault while measuring voltages. I’m not sure what’s ominous here?

  2. There’s some very good technology out there, but as usual the industry management is decades behind the time and the mistrust is often well-earned.

    Our local electric company (which has near-daily power blips that reset everything in the neighborhood and blacked out a portion of the city yesterday) has complained that nobody has taken them up on their demand metering system – and it has nothing to do with radio waves. a Buried in the smart meter contract fine print are clauses granting them the privilege of remotely turning your home power completely off for up to 8 hours at their discretion – this in the Midwest U.S. where it routinely pushes 100+°F in summer and often hits -20°F in winter.

    Worrying about a neighbor reprogramming your Nest thermostat is trivial by comparison.

        1. But I’m as suspicious of giving the U.S. government total control over the power grid either. I mean, if bad people will try to bring down the power grid, they will probably either hack a government computer system, or be members of the government. And if the grid should all but collapse, who would get the available resources? Those who live near the solar / wind farms and hydro reservoirs, or the bureaucrats by remotely shutting off local breakers and routing the power to Washington, D.C. or NYC?

          1. >”American voters prefer a dysfunctional government.”

            It may be hard to understand from the European point of view, because you still have strong-ish national governments against the federalists who would like to concentrate all power in the EU and Brussels. There’s not the same level of crony capitalism and nepotism, elitism going on, where someone 4,000 miles away may decide you can’t get power on saturdays if you were foolish enough to give them that power.

            The smart grid is really a byword for energy rationing.

            The powers that be want to replace cheaper fossil fuels, and nuclear power, and just about anything that works with more expensive and intermittent renewable energy to benefit their buddies in the industry with subsidies, without which the whole system cannot operate. In order to do this they have to make it work by force, because the hard practical reality of getting large amounts of power at random times slaps you in the face, so the logical next step is energy rationing. If it’s not smart meters, then it’s rolling blackouts.

            It means they get to decide when you wash your clothes, or cook your dinner, or have a hot shower – and if you don’t like that then you get to pay more money to the same industry moguls for batteries or big storage boilers etc.

            And it’s not even about saving the environment, as something that is necessary to do, because it isn’t necessary at this point and it isn’t even helping. The artifically high cost of electricity requires more economic activity to pay for, which requires more resources including fossil fuels, which ends up with more CO2 emissions and the rest. The actual reduction in CO2 output has been 95% due to advancements in fossil fuel based technology, from efficiency improvements both in supply and consumption, and from switching fuels from coal to natural gas. The renewables do virtually nothing but make that work harder since they introduce random variations on the grid which reduces the overall efficiency. The technology isn’t there yet, stilll the lobbyists and the government keep pretending it is, keep spending other people’s money to pay a few rich assholes like Warren Buffett, keep denying real alternatives like nuclear power – all because it gives them more money and more power.

    1. We could compare how terribly inaccurate the new meters are at billing (135% to 600%), or how they have already seen people breaking the smart-meter protocol. However, companies only see advantages to cutting the workforce needed to inspect the infrastructure, over-billing stupid people, and pricing structures like only a monopoly can. Recall the less money spent on supply drives up the energy prices – hence rolling-blackouts are more profitable.

      You think a china hobby motor that controls the actual breaker is smart?

    2. Demand metering shouldn’t work on “I supply you power at fixed rate, unless demand exceeds supply, and then I switch everybody off ” principle.

      The idea should be that energy price in the grid is not limited. It rises and falls with demand, it falls (down to a limit of fixed costs) and rises opposite to unbalanced supply (falls when supply leads over demand and rises when vice versa), and it is up to consumers to equip each of their appliances with intelligence (embedded in appliance itself or in a plug-into device) and means for receiving the current energy price from the grid, so that each appliance could be programmed to bail out and switch off when its running cost gets above certain upper limit rate. If there is energy shortage in the grid, this set up essentially *auctions* it to consumers, and consumers can prioritize their devices: life support machines switch off never (and probably should be exempted from competition altogether), low power devices such as essential LED lighting or network and telecommunication equipment can afford to stay on even on higher price rates, but heavy loads will probably have to wait, or reduce workload, or else pay increasing premium price.

      This would also give strong incentive to home owners to invest into local generation and energy storage, because such investment would pay itself off very transparently.

      Overall, such system would allow society to harness and use ample but intermittent energy sources which depend on nature’s whims, without resorting to capital investments into centralized energy storage. Instead, distributed energy storage capacity would emerge driven by incentive to profit on energy demand and supply fluctuations in form of day trading, as well as incentive to reduce expenditure while improving and/or maintaining level of living standard and quality of life. Incumbent energy suppliers would probably specialize for servicing industry, which mostly has inelastic demand due to fixed deadlines, while households would probably embrace lower prices of energy from renewable sources.

      1. Usually demand metering means they charge you for the largest power draw you sustained for some contractually set duration within each billing cycle, this applies to commercial and industrial customers but not to residential customers. (Since this is the capacity they need to plan for, and they have to buy power on a capacity basis not a usage basis).

        This is similar to how bandwidth charges work for upper tier ISPs. This also gives them (and, with time-of-use pricing, power consumers, including residential consumers) an incentive to charge their electric car or do their wash or whatever at times of low demand when unused capacity is there to be soaked up.

      2. I do not want such a loss of quality of the electricity supply. I know this pipe dream of the smart grid lovers, I think this would be a very bad path of development. The good quality is, that I can switch on reasonable loads WHEN I NEED THEM at the fixed rate. We should raise any effort to keep or better improve the quality of our electricity supply (e.g. with centralized and manged storage) instead of ruining it.

        1. Residential consumers are only between 1/4 to 1/5th of the total power demand on the grid anyways, so focusing the smart metering on them is a misguided effort with little effect on the overall situation.

          But that’s pretty much the only place you can do it, because the industry has the power to ignore you because they make direct deals with independent power producers, and just like in Germany, if it looks like the grid is getting too unreliable they’ll just build their own powerplants.

          See for example:

          http://www.businessinsider.com/homemade-electricity-is-catching-on-in-germany-2014-5?r=US&IR=T&IR=T
          >”According to a survey of some 2,400 companies conducted last year by the German Chamber of Commerce, nearly half have either made, initiated or are planning measures to provide themselves with electricity”

          The German government and the press like to pretend that people and businesses are getting self-sufficient on renewable power, but in reality they’re building gas turbines, gas boilers, gas heaters, gas cookers etc. while those who do have renewable systems do it simply to get paid the subsidies. They don’t want to use the power for themselves because they get more out of it by selling.

          1. Dax –

            You might think that 1/4-1/5 of TYPICAL load might not matter, but load control / on call systems are not just about “smoothing load” in normal conditions, but also about ATYPICAL load, or atypical issues with generation or distribution capacity. Also, you are talking about tens/or hundreds of thousands of people, each of whom representing a potential long and loud complaint to their public utility commission if their power fails.

            Base load is reasonably predictable, as is typical peak load, although less so. The behavior of the transmission and distribution system is typical “most of the time”. However, what happens when one or more major distribution transformers fail in a substation? With a limited ability to switch loads between feeders and substations, in the absence of load control, you end up with the same amount of demand, with a significantly-reduced capacity to MEET that demand. And load control is there to help set the world right, allowing the utility to reduce demand on the distribution system to more manageable levels of demand while they “work the problem”, rather than having a complete failure of part of the distribution system.

            Other benefits:

            – Reduced billing costs – Fleet and personnel
            – Faster failure analysis and restoration of service because of data provided by (or NOT provided by, in the case of “last gasp” signal analysis) Smart Meters
            – Predictive analysis using data provided by Smart Meters.

          2. Yes, the theory is that load shedding through smart meters is useful for dealing with the unusual situations.

            But reality is that it will be used as a substitute for rolling blackouts as the politicians push for more and more unstable renewables on the grid and dump the responsibility for dealing with it on the utilities. It will become the norm to have your water boiler or your fridge shut off arbitrarily nearly every day.

    3. A hidden part to that remote shut-off capability. Pre-payed metered accounts. Kind of like cell phone accounts, with the same amount of grace if you don’t keep it filled (reserve).

    4. As someone who works in this industry I have only ever seen a contract that only allows them to cut you off if the outside average temperate is within a certain range over time. This way people dont have their heat or ac cut off but allows the grid to not respond accordingly to issues.
      They will usually do voltage manipulation schemes to help shed load as they want to have the grid stable as well as not have their GNT bill them a lot more. Remember that every second you dont have power they cant bill you so they have a incentive to keep your power flowing every second of every day.

      1. The outside temperature is not the only important factor.
        What about sump pumps? When the power was out for an extended period
        my sister spent one night getting up every so often to run down and bail water out of her basement.
        8 Hours may be too long to be left without a working pump.

        Also, those with medical needs, such as sleep apnea.
        A CPAP machine selectively blows air so somebody with sleep apnea will continue to
        breath regularly through the night (rather than repeatedly stopping breathing until a
        burst of adrenaline half wakes them up so they clear the air way, but also makes their
        heart beat like crazy).
        Sleep apnea can be dangerous for anyone, but especially if one has a heart condition.
        When the power goes out you are left with a full face mask on, but no supply of
        fresh air being pushed into it (not fun).
        8 hours where it isn’t safe to sleep. I don’t think so. (No mater what the weather is.)

        1. We should not let agencies (or environmentalists) degrade our electric grids reliability to the level of third or fourth world countries. Here in Austria you can measure power outages in average in something like minutes/years and not hours/day.

        2. Completely cutting off a customer would always be a last resort.

          In my country, we have a process to notify the power company if we are using life support equipment (you might be able to argue CPAP counts?)

          The goal of the “smart grid” is that certain appliances can decide to turn off if the price is too high, and as a shortage worsens, the price goes higher until enough load drops off.

          For example: if your 3kW hot water system turned off to help reduce peak load for a 10 minute interval, it would help the grid a lot more than your 30W CPAP machine.

          Cold storage warehouses can move the vast bulk of their energy use to off-peak times.

          The Electric Arc Furnace next door might be able to delay the next batch by 15 minutes for a moderate amount of compensation, while the Ball Mill is restarting (at great expense) due to some prior fault.

          Etc.

      2. Cutting off power also can cause food to spoil and frozen food to thaw and re freeze.
        I expect cases of food poisoning to sky rocket 10 even 20 times the norm in places that allow remotely cutting off power.

  3. By the current standards, “smart” means being able to tell which way energy is flowing (in or out)… and that is not smart at all!. Another dumb idea is to be able to remotely read energy consuption (eliminating manual readings), which inserts an additional insecurity layer (comm protocols and physical layers). Not sure if I want my meter to be that smart..

    1. Knowing which way power is flowing is not trivial. It used to be that you could know which way it was flowing as the source was defined to be the sub station but now it is a real problem. Distributed generation is going to kill people before much longer

    2. Remote readings have been a thing for decades. It’s quite nice in rural areas, where you might be many miles from the nearest electric company office, and many people would rather not have random technicians traipsing across their land.

      1. Social engineering works just as well. Once a year I am asked to submit my meter reading myself. It is trivial for the electricity company to do some statistical analysis and decide whether I am scamming or not. If they find my submission curious then they put me on a route of one of there meter readers who’ll check if I need new glasses or not.

          1. It is done online in many places.

            The power company does a few random checkups every year that you aren’t lying about your power consumption, otherwise they use a prediction algorithm to determine your monthly payment, and compensate for the difference at the end of the year. Around here it even works with time of use payments, because even the old style analog meters know how to switch between two counters on a signal from the power company.

            If your use patterns change, or you feel that their predictions are off otherwise, you can manually send in your meter readings every month until their predictions are closer to reality.

  4. You had me until : “This includes handling electric car charging, active management of power-hungry appliances like water heaters and air conditioners during times of peak demand”

    Not a chance in Hades that I will allow anyone control over my appliances EVER. Even suggesting such a thing is offensive. Last thing I need is to have to fight my evil power company over hot water or AC. If this article had convinced me of anything it’s the need to own a home sooner so I can become energy independent.

    As a long term HaD reader I’m sure you can understands my need to know what’s going on inside my home, and sneaky utilities trying to use security through obscurity will likely result in a law suit or termination of my services of I poked around. Not to mention I have my own very specific power implementation in mind and they will only get in the way.

    1. Energy independence is a good thing*, evil power company or not. As for energy monitoring, using devices like TED one can get a better grasp on what’s happening in the house, and hence do their own form of self-control. As for the article there is one unintended benefit of the “smart grid”. The bringing of broadband out to those who need it without the current incumbents getting in the way.

      *Building to modern conservation (http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy00osti/27835.pdf) standards can help.

    2. Thing is, utilities have been able to control things like water heaters for the better part of 30 years. They do it by superimposing a higher-frequency (~1kHz) low-rate ASK signal on the mains which is then detected by the controller in the water heater telling it to turn on or off. You can sometimes hear the same tone through badly grounded audio equipment or through some synchronous motors like fans that can sometimes act as voice coils.

      We used to have one… circa early-80s… that did exactly this. I can’t remember when we switched to gas (we’ve had two large ~1.5m tall gas cylinders connected to the house for as long as I can remember. The hot water service is our only gas appliance.

      1. Yeah, in South Africa (Johannesburg), we have “ripple control” relays fitted in many houses to control the geysers at peak times. These were fitted in the late 70’s/early 80’s, as far as I recall. The utility would cycle the geysers in a particular area off for an hour or so, then “ripple” on to the next area, as long as the demand exceeded the capacity.

        Strangely enough, they do not appear to be installing them any more – my current house does not have one, and I have not heard much about them for quite a while.

        This was the subject of a ZaCon talk a few years ago, where the speaker noticed the noises it generated, and spent years trying to decode the signals. He figured out they were also being used to turn street lights on and off, which was quite cool!

        Here is some more detail of the scheme in use in ZA: http://goingsolar.co.za/2013/06/19/i-have-the-power-ripple-control-and-load-shedding-in-power-systems/

    3. Same here I’ll go off grid and cover my entire roof in solar panels,and install a listeriod powered generator in a shed as a back up before I submit to that level of control.

      1. nice to see someone mention a Listeroid, they work great and are extremely reliable. I created a kit to add electric start to mine using an off-the shelf electric starter from a v8 engine.

  5. “….these particular devices are often in the news because an extremely small minority of people have become convinced that the non-ionizing radio waves that the smart meters use are somehow harmful, despite absolutely no evidence to support their claims, and despite the fact that these frequencies see extensive use already.”

    It’s the cell-phone controversy in a different form. I’ve also heard accusations about wireless internet (Wisp) disruptions, and reduced cell-phone service.

    1. These are the same people that never get off their cellphones these days. Heavily rely on bluetooth and wifi , but wont stop complaining about em ution, and how electricity gives them a rash. Atleast they are in the area I live.

    2. These particular devices are often in the news because — study after study have found them to be wildly inaccurate. As much as 600% as mentioned above. Do you want to be billed for 6 times as much power as you are really using? And in most areas, the consumer has very little recourse if they believe their smart meter isn’t so smart.

    3. My favorite story about this was video that was taken at a city council meeting in Santa Cruz some years ago. The people who were *extremely* worked up about RF exposure from the smart meters PG&E was getting ready to install were seen talking on their cell phones during a recess.

      The arguments are particularly specious for smart meters, since the meters are generally located, oh, I dunno, several orders of magnitude further away from the occupants than a cell phone would be.

    4. They are only harmful in this context, because they give the utilities a means of control over your live which they should not have. It’s not the waves, it’s the function which is harmful.

  6. Quote:
    “Unfortunately, despite all of these advantages, these particular devices are often in the news because an extremely small minority of people have become convinced that the non-ionizing radio waves that the smart meters use are somehow harmful, despite absolutely no evidence to support their claims, and despite the fact that these frequencies see extensive use already.”

    There are much more concerns than this one…. Just a reminder:


    How to Trick Your Electrical Meter By Saving Power[Links to HAD article]

    Here the writer explains from their source(s) that the meters could over charge by a huge margin when under irregular loads (Plenty of those about PFC-less LED bulbs for one)

    Then there are concerns about terrorists hacking random people… saw a source a while back… cant find it at the moment.
    However… Terrorists could hack individual peoples’ meters, say, remotely to pretend that the target is commiting fraud. This could out someone from important places and bring things to a standstill giving terror groups easier games:
    Think a bunch of security guards… seemingly random superstores go away for fraud/scamming… Yet no-one notices that an airport has now no security guards… KABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And then what!

    (OK, not likely with the airport idea… however an example nonetheless)

    1. Forgot to add another forgotten issue with the meters…

      Youtube smart meter fires and google it.

      The google searches seems censored… though a link or two points to a shady (Read: Tin-foil hatter) site saying no to smart meters…
      However they at least ain’t bat-sh** crazy in their case of meter fires….
      Though fires technically could happen to any meter in theory…
      However modern stuff like these meters are built to “Just-enough” standards, like:
      exploding “hoverboards”, $100 Intel atom snap-tops, and other inferior items.

        1. Even if it said and genuinely was, “DESIGNED IN AUSTRALIA – Made In USA – ASSEMBLED IN UK”…

          Our Anglo-sphere Elite (World elite wannabes) will still exclaim, “Tah Ruzzianz Dudid it!!!! Its all Putinz fault!!!”

      1. There would be an increase in the likelihood of a fire from the increased complexity but the standard ones this should only be minor if they are designed right but the ones that can remotely switch power would have an order of power or two increase in the chance of a catastrophic failure as the switching hardware can fail in a spectacular fashion and the cut out fuse may not trip until 600 amps or more if three houses are on the same transformer.
        So in that case it would be a pretty good fire starter.

        1. Yes, but for a utility going for the pre-pay model, those kind of meters are perfect. Having people drive around to disconnect and reconnect would cut into their profits, and our misery.

  7. “it lacks control of anything going on “behind the meter””

    And that is generally a good thing. Behind the meter or “on customers premises”, I – the customer – and only I should have control over MY appliances. I use them, I have to pay for the power and I want to be able to use them when I need them, not when the power company has overproduction. Only a very small amount of loads, like storage hot-water heaters or really big loads like electric car charging are acceptable under foreign control.

    1. “Only a very small amount of loads, like storage hot-water heaters or really big loads like electric car charging are acceptable under foreign control.”

      nope nope nope! give them an inch and they will take a mile. everyone who owns a house knows when peak hours are and if you are able to buy an electric car then you should be able to program it to charge in off peak hours. The electric companies should at the least be providing statistical data on when off peak hours and then let the consumers choose when to charge it. If they want to get fancy, provide an API that tells the home owner what the current cost of power is and then allow the consumer decide when and how much they want to consume.

      There are locks on my door, a firewall on my internet connection and blinds on my windows because it is MY right as a independent human being to decide when i wish for people to be able to enter my premises. Period, end of story.

      you wouldnt let anyone dress you for the day so why would you let someone tell you when you can use energy?

      This would also effect the young and old more so than anyone in-between. Imagine if the power company could randomly shut down your heat or AC (which are huge power draws in a house) for the majority of people this wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but what about those with breathing related medical issues stuck in a sweltering house? what about children who in general are less able to adapt to extreme heat or cold?

      1. No, do not misunderstand me. I did not say I would accept them controlling an A/C. Night time storage hot water tanks are controlled since decades with a carrier frequency system. That just works. Electric cars can take really high powers and I think we have to accept some load shedding here and perhaps even some reverse power to the grid for peak demand. Of course with a good rebate if I accept this. But this circuits have to be separated from normal house power where no external control is acceptable. The remote controlled breaker supplies only these special loads.

  8. Surprised that no one mentioned any of the DOCUMENTED fires and explosions caused by Smart Meters. On record
    in many City Halls, Fire Departments and newspapers. IF you ask your local power company, they will likely deny that
    any such thing has EVER occurred. A few simple searches on the internet will bring results of these fiascos.

    As for me, I have my Analog meters locked in place, and nothing but a court order will get the locks removed. So far,
    with hundreds, if not thousands of similar lockouts, I’ve heard of no such court orders.

    In Michigan, so far, there are no places where Smart Meters are considered “Law”. Just a money making dream for
    the power companies. Yes, they make more money with identical loads, with Smart Meters. With analog meters,
    current surges from motor driven appliances did not register fully. The mechanical parts of the analog meters could
    not react fast enough. BUT, the power companies already had these situations figured into their rates! So, now they
    continue the ‘adjusted rates’ and are able to record the ‘surge currents’ for a few more bucks a month per customer.

    Don’t we live in interesting times?

        1. I have a neighbor whose garage caught fire a couple of weeks ago – electrical fire, the apparent source of which was a window air conditioner mounted in a window opening in the garage. There meter was pulled by the power company before the fire department and Red Cross had left the scene for this Smart Meter-equipped home.

          In our (US) jurisdiction, “pulling the meter” and replacing it with a blank meter cover is the standard method used to disconnect power to a home in the event of a fire. I don’t know why a Smart Meter-equipped home would require a utility Trouble Call repairman to “pull the meter”, other than the fact that it is the safest, most-secure method to ensure that all power is “off” in the home and will not be restored until the code enforcement department has received verification from a licensed electrician (and possibly other licensed trade professionals) that the home is safe for occupancy.

          In this same jurisdiction, there are also no fuses or breakers at the meter, only breakers at the service entry in the home’s electrical panel. Any fuses or breakers may be NEAR (and downstream of) the meter, but pulling the meter makes them irrelevant in this case. The power company doesn’t “own” your main breakers or fuses, so they really don’t have a right to manipulate them in any way – nor do they need to, in this case.

  9. Micro-generation is great but can lead to a lot of issues if not properly implemented. I good example I have heard a talk about is a huge solar farm senses a blink and the grid-ties start to island. Well they are a huge part of generation to that area and now the grid is imbalanced due to power, voltage, power factor, etc. The capacitor banks, regulators, etc try to correct it and than the solar panels come back on. Without smart grid ties we wont be able to reliably add a significant amount of solar which is coming. This is currently being resolved in some areas including in Germany.

  10. I have no problem with electric meters WITHOUT communication inside as long as the measurements are right. But i do have a big problems with meters that CAN communicate. Possibility to cut power remotely (and cause a blackout if somebody manages to get into the core management IT and cuts power to A LOT of people at the exact same moment – remember, restarting an electric grid of a country or part of it is not as simple as pushing a button!) and even more data to collect about when i’m at home, what i do, …
    The funny (or better sad) thing is that i just received the i think THIRD mail telling me about the (mandatory by law) smart meter that has been installed here more than TWO MONTHS ago. Seems like the electric company REALLY wants me to enable the detailled data capture… No, thank you, i don’t need this! Btw, i just did the first manual reading, the consumption that this thing measured seems correct, let’s see on the long term. Oh, this meter gives a lot of information on the screen, among other things the peak consumption. Could be interesting (or MAYBE even usefull) but – it’s in VA. WHY? Why VA and not W??? It’s W(h) that are billed, why show the peak consumption in VA?
    I have no problem with meters that transmit the consumption of several streets / a district (not sure about the translation) together, but not for individual houses. And i seriously doubt that data that is so much detailled is of any use / needed to “manage the grid” / maintain stability! (but of course it’s really “useful” for companies, gouvernment, …)

  11. Smart meters are a huge boondoggle for the manufacturers (and maintainers), and an environmental nightmare. The utilities push them for short term savings, but don’t adequately discuss the lifetime costs.
    Conventional meters work for decades (40+ years not atypical, some have been in place for
    more than 80 years.)
    Smart meters will not last for anything like that. Even if the hardware continued to operate,
    the network and security infrastructure would be totally laughable much sooner.
    Optimistic estimates put smart meters at lasting 15 years.
    More realistic ones put it maybe as long as 10, if you are lucky.

    After that – spend more millions of dollars to replace them all, with new meters,
    and do something with the old ones. (Probably harder to recycle than a standard meter,
    because more different materials, etc.)
    Then another few years, do the whole thing again. More e-waste. More cost.
    More new features, bye-bye privacy.

    Or, if the economy goes south (think someplace like Detroit, or Flint). Continue to use the old system, even though it has become trivial to crack it. (Savvy people can adjust the meter
    readings, or turn off other’s meters.)

    One bright spot – your neighbor blasting the stereo late at night. Just turn off their power.
    Of course you need to keep a tin-foil beanie on your own meter to protect it.

    1. “After that – spend more millions of dollars to replace them all, with new meters,
      and do something with the old ones. ”
      And for those that are uplinked (via local repeater, such as in my ‘hood) to satellite, consider replacement costs for satellite…

    2. If a utility can’t afford to upgrade the meters, maybe the manufacturer would provide a patch that will turn off the radio broadcast/receive. Thus protecting them from tampering. Then people could read their own meters (as we used to do in the REA co-op), or go back to using meter readers.
      How likely do you think manufacturers are to do that willingly.

      It would be a good thing to require when approving smart meter systems though. They have to release the source code to the utility (so they can do their own maintenance, if needed), or they have to maintain such a turn off the communications patch and make it available for when the company decides to cease support of the meters, so the utility has options.

    3. I used to believe the digital systems would have a longer service life due to less moving parts but in practice the opposite seems to have been true esp if it’s made in China.

      1. The issue here is not how long will the meter continue to function.
        (I don’t know how robust such meters are to surges, enviroment, component degredation
        (capacitor rot), etc.)
        The problems are:
        1) The meters are computers on a network (often a wireless network, which means really open
        to listening or attack).
        So how long can they be kept even moderately secure? Attacks on them will be using ever more sophisticated hardware. At some point the old hardware just can not keep up.

        2) How long will people continue to support the old hardware. (Fix problems, provide software upgrades, make new components compatible with the legacy system.)

        Many computers become obsolete long before they cease to function.

        1. My experience with Smart Meters has shown them to be QUITE robust.

          We have had multiple lightning strikes on the power lines in our neighborhood, the last of which hit the pole serving our house and fried the neutral connection at the pole. Our Smart Meter kept chugging away, even though a ton of stuff in our house “fried”, including the “Whole House Surge Suppressor” installed in our electric panel.

          A certain amount of future-proofing is available for Smart Meters via remote software updates, but the hardware is what the hardware is. And, like all hardware, it will become obsolete. The US electric meter as we know it has been around for 40+ years, not because it was so “wonderful”, but because our electric utilities have a tendency to embrace technological innovation at a snail’s pace.

          Since we are all concerned about the IOT and security, it’s understandable (and justifiable) to be EXTREMELY concerned. I have seen enough lackadaisical activity within the local utility company’s IT organization, where I worked for a few years, to know that even with GOOD hardware and GOOD practices, it “only takes one” (mistake, response to a spearfishing email, …) to make everyone on the local grid have a “really bad day”.

          And picture someone “War Driving” around town, using their portable Zigbee rig to turn off everyone’s power…

  12. I’ve had three houses in three different (US) states, all with different power companies, and all three had load control systems for the water heater and/or A/C. All three load control systems required me to opt-in to the utility’s load control program if I desired to do so, and gave me a small discount on my monthly bill in exchange for agreeing to participate. If I did NOT agree to participate, they had no control over my water heater or A/C, and I didn’t get any sort of discount. Period.

    In all three cases, the utility had to install one or more control boxes on the circuits powering the appliance in question – and without the box being present, it was physically impossible for the utility to disconnect either appliance (short of powering off the entire house). The utility had no control over any other circuit downstream from the meter, other than the circuits for the water heater and A/C.

    If I remember correctly, Sierra Wireless is a big radio subsystem suppliers for Smart Meters in the US. Sierra manufactures Zigbee modules operating on the GSM band, so, if you don’t need an aluminum foil hat when using your wireless router, a Smart Meter shouldn’t require a trip to the grocery store for more foil.

    Smart meters have a number of benefits beyond simply eliminating the cost of human meter readers (which is not inconsequential) and providing demand- or other time-of-day billing. For example, Florida has lots and lots of trees in and alongside power line right-of-ways, and until Florida Power and Light rolled out Smart Meters, there were relatively few points in the distribution system with monitoring capability – primarily, at the substation (end of the feeder) and (now, in the last three years) at the connection point between the line feeding your home or business (lateral) and the feeder via a device known as a recloser (TripSaver®). When a tree or branch fell on a line, FPL had to “guess” where the fault was located based on a smattering of phone calls from irate customers and/or dispatch one or more trucks to start “driving and looking up” over what might be a sizable geographic area.

    With the rollout of Smart Meters to the FPL service area, the company can achieve much finer granularity during analysis of an outage caused by “veg” (trees) that allows the company to increase speed and locational accuracy when dispatching trucks to restore service, and many times, be able to dispatch a truck before any customer has even called to complain that their “power is out”.

    BTW – Not an apologist or promoter of FPL, just had a few years working as a developer in their IM group (an IT department that brings new meaning to the term, “Don’t go there!!!” – so don’t!!!!) working for (a bunch of great “customers” in) FPL’s Distribution Reliability Management.

    1. Jim – We had a long outage, several years back in the warm months. My gas generator was capable of running the A/C but since the A/C unit was disabled by the utility, it would not run. There was one of their ‘sealed boxes’ on the back of our house with an open relay contact. As long as it stayed open, the compressor could not run. The fan on the furnace COULD run, but after a while, the amount of cooler air in the basement was ‘used up’ and the upstairs temp slowly rose. I was really tempted to break that seal and jump out that contact. Fortunately, the house temp did not get out of hand, and we survived with 76 to 80F temps until the power was restored. By then the outside temps were in the 70s and the possibility of no A/C was less of a problem.

      Do you suppose a call to the utility would have caused them to send out a ‘close’ signal to my relay? Maybe if I could outwait the music on hold long enough to be able to speak to a human, but then, my plea would still likely have fallen on deaf ears.

      I’m happy with the locks on my analog meters and don’t mind the ‘meter reader’ walking into our backyard to do his/her thing. I’m paying an extra fee for meter reading, but I can’t help but wonder if they are reading it 12 times a year? I really doubt it. Probably using ‘degree days’ and prior history to determine what the readings ‘might be’ and billing accordingly. We used to get a monthly recorded phone call warning us to make certain that pets were not in the yard on certain dates, since the meter reader would be coming that day. It has been quite a while since I heard any of those calls. Our voicemail would pick them up if we were away at the time.

      I guess the next owners of the house can give in, if they choose. The locks will come off on ‘moving day’. After that, who knows?

      Our first house had ‘timed’ hot water heating. We could theoretically use as much as we wished like between midnight and 5 AM with no extra charge. There was a box mounted flush with the wall with two 220V circuit breakers in it. One set controlled the water heater energy through the meter, and the other pair controlled the energy in the ‘off hours’. Since we had a new baby and my wife opted to wash diapers, etc. there was a lot of late night activity in the utility room. Unfortunately, the washer was always on the meter, but there were some hours when the water heater energy was basically free. Don’t know how that house is presently connected to the power company. It is just a mile away, but never was curious enough to knock on the door and ask if I could look. We had oil heat for the seven years we lived there, since natural gas was not available on the street. I know that has changed so many other things probably also changed in the intervening 44 years.

      1. W8ROI-

        Whoa!! “Timed hot water”, where the electric utility was aware of a bypass for the meter??!! I hope they spread that idea to other utilities. Even if this was a “submetering” arrangement, where the property owner pays for the reading on a “main” meter, and individual tenants are each billed according to their own meter, it sounds “unique”, to say the least.

        As for the first (edge) case, I can only speak to my knowledge here in Florida, where the utility wouldn’t have been able to re-enable your A/C during the outage because the physical connection required to communicate with your load control devices had been broken. On the other hand, if could still receive a load control signal in the absence of power entering your residence, in FPL’s service area your power would only be “off” for 15 minutes of every half-hour, until the peak demand period was over – enough to keep you cool on your backup power.

        I suppose it’s possible that someone has manufactured a POS load control that doesn’t take health and safety into account by failing to use some sort of “positive control” for load control systems such as a 5 min heartbeat (“If I don’t get a heartbeat from the substation telling me to turn ‘off’ every 5 minutes, I will re-enable power to the connected device”), but I could foresee some HUGE potential lawsuits as a result. Think about it – a small Florida (Montana) nursing home with electric A/C (heating) experiences an 8 hour outage while the A/C (heat) is disabled by load control… while it is 95 (-5).

        1. Jim

          I guess I should have been more specific. This was a single family residence.

          The water heater had an upper and a lower heating element. The two breakers I mentioned controlled them. Under normal circumstances, we got a certain amount of hot water available, whether we used it or not. If we needed more, we could switch on the other element. Under normal circumstances one heating element provided us with enough hot water for normal daily use. A few well timed showers or baths and maybe one or two loads of clothes. We washed dishes in the kitchen sink, not a dishwasher.

          If we closed that breaker during normal hours, the energy went through the meter and we ended up paying extra. If we closed that breaker in the ‘off hours time slot’, somehow it was not metered. I’ve long since forgotten the details. The people who sold us the house gave us written instructions on how to get the most hot water for the least amount of money. I don’t know how long they were there before we bought the house. Long enough to learn how and when to close the breaker for the second heating element.

          That wall mounted breaker box also had a seal on it. It was a twisted copper alloy wire with a lead disc that was crimped in place, as I recall. I don’t recall if the power company ever asked to see it. My wife might remember, but I doubt it. It was a flush mounted panel and the house fuse/breaker panel was right next to it. The meter was just a few feet away, through the nearby outside wall.

          Hope this makes more sense.

      2. Wow that’s like being in the third world.
        I would have went and bought a window unit just so at least one room wouldn’t be a sauna.
        Really who ever came up with that scheme is an idiot.
        If their wimpy infrastructure can’t handle the peak usage then they should upgrade it.
        They make gas turbine peaking generators just for that problem and for the cost of putting those stupid boxes on every house they could buy a few.

  13. “it’s currently not economically viable to have large-scale batteries on the grid to store energy for longer than a few hours.”

    $3000 and I have 43kWH of backup. What isn’t feasible about that? I’ve run 2 electric ovens for ~10 hours before I realized we lost grid power on thanksgiving a few years ago; and mainly because my sensor was beeping and cannot be heard upstairs and when I went downstairs I barely heard it because the 24 hour battery in it was almost dead.

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