The grid is getting smart.
The Associated Press released a story recently about advancements in the works for the nation’s power grid, and more importantly, how that grid interacts with energy consumers. Faced with steeply rising demand and associated fuel costs, power companies are exploring new ways to encourage, and potentially mandate, conservation, with the most promising being to make the grid “smart”.
Likely gone are the days of flat rate per kilowatt hour billing, replaced by sliding scale costs based on hours of peak need where power would cost consumers more during the middle of warm summer days. To notify consumers of adjusting rates or conservation needs in situations of low supply, some companies are using little amber lights to encourage household lights to be turned off or color-shifting orbs to indicate when power costs are higher.
To automate the process, the grid would “speak” with household appliances, adjusting the thermostat, tweaking refrigerator temperatures, and scheduling dish washing cycles to be more efficient.
The payoff is noteworthy, with the AP noting, that “a mere 5 percent improvement in U.S. electric efficiency would prevent 90 large coal-fired power plants from having to be built over the next 20 years, according to Jon Wellinghoff, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who advocates demand response.”
While the goals are admirable, the technical and social acceptance challenges will be large. Many consumers will be reticent to turn over control of their household thermostat to an all-knowing grid. And the more appliances “talk”, the more personal use data is placed in the hands of the power companies, which will inevitably lead to privacy concerns. While technologies like TiVO garnered a large degree of success while sharing private viewing information with a faceless box, others such a DIVX (Digital Video Express) met a quick and graceless death.
At the end, it may be a question of how much your private information is worth against your bank account.
- Smarter Electric Grid Could Be Key To Saving Power – Newsweek (May 4, 2008)