Smart Grid may ration electricity

President Obama is a proponent of a “smart grid” to better distribute electricity between producers (including all those windmills he wants to build) and consumers. I agree that we need to update our infrastructure with more power plants and transmission lines. However, the following excerpt from a press release of a Maryland utility seems ominous.

BALTIMORE, Jul 13, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) today announced it has filed with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) a comprehensive and advanced Smart Grid initiative, including the planned installation of 2 million residential and commercial smart meters, that could potentially save BGE electric and gas customers in excess of $2.6 billion over the life of the project. In an extensive pilot program that began in 2008, smart meters and a new pricing plan proved that customers can reduce peak electricity usage by about a third and enjoy significant savings. BGE is seeking prompt action by the Maryland PSC and federal approval of stimulus dollars to position the utility to move to the next phase of this potential smart grid investment.

The first phase of BGE’s Smart Grid proposal would be the installation of 2 million advanced, or “smart,” electric and gas meters, operating through a robust utility-to-customer, two-way communications network, which forms the foundation for an automated, digital intelligent grid.

BGE claims benefits to consumers of about $5 per month.

I have a time-of-use electric meter on my house. I can choose when to run appliances, such as the washer or drier, to make sure it is in off-peak times, and thus save money. The operative phrase here is “I can choose.”

However, the “smart meters” used by BGE operate “through a robust…two-way communications network…” That means the utility company can decide when and how much gas and electricity you can use at any given time. The ultimate purpose of the meters is to allow local utilities to ration electricity as demand rises faster than supply, a situation caused in part by enviros blocking construction of new power plants and transmission lines.

To find out more about U.S. electricity generation, see: Obama clueless on energy, part 1.

6 comments

  1. How are you drawing the conclusion that a “…robust…two-way communications network…” leads to rationing?  There must be more to the story.

    1. Because the utility company can decide how much power you can have and when you you can have it. They can also cut you off if they think you are using too much. That’s where the potential for rationing comes in.

    2. I say that because they are already trying it in California.
      In November 2007 the California Energy Commission proposed a plan that would have required the installation of “programmable control thermostats” that would have allowed for the regulation of energy consumption “as California’s public and private utility organizations [deemed] necessary.”
      Next-generation thermostats, appliances and even light fixtures will be able to send and receive signals from the utility via the meter. Ultimately Sacramento Municipal Utility District may be able to order hundreds of thousands of air conditioners and other appliances to adjust their power demand to relieve strain on the grid. A dishwasher could postpone its cycle, for instance, or a refrigerator could raise its freezer temperature by a couple degrees for a few hours. (Sacramento Bee June 14, 2009)

      1. Interesting.  I suppose if energy demands continue to increase, something has to change.  If not rationing of the sort you are predicting, then there would have to be increased supply and/or more efficient use.  Hopefully, more efficient end use of energy would reduce demand and cleaner sources of energy such as solar and wind could add to the supply from conventional sources.  

        You mentioned efforts to block the construction of new power plants.  Of course, I do think it rude (speaking euphemistically) that the US is a great big, bloated, black hole when it comes to energy consumption.  And, while sensitive to environmental concerns, I have never liked the NIMBY attitude.  I suggest that any new power plants and transmission lines be built only in view of neighborhoods where the average annual income exceeds the national average by 35% or more.   By burdening the powerful rather than the powerless, I believe more effort would be put into a sustainable solution.

  2. You mentioned rationing in your blog.  With the renewed discussion and debate surrounding the future of health care in this country, the word “rationing” has become another of those catch terms used by the right wing in their arguments to describe the horrific consequences we can look forward to if the progressive elements have their way;  kind of like “tax and spend” .

    It seems to me that any number of things in this country are already rationed.  Mostly they are rationed on the basis of the ability to pay.  I have no problem when yachts and Ferraris are rationed on the basis of the ability to pay, but things such as decent schooling, health care, access to good food and clean water, a safe environment, etc, are already effectively rationed on this basis and should not be in any decent society.   Should energy also be rationed on the basis of ability to pay?  I don’t know, but it may be an unavoidable question at some point. 

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