Smart Meters: A Smart Idea

Despite pockets of resistance in various parts throughout North America, utilities are continuing to deploy smart meters as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. Ontario began installing smart meters en masse in 2007. BC Hydro has been installing smart meters with the goal of having all of its customers with one by the end of 2012. SaskPower has also started installing smart meters to customers in October of this year.

Smart meters have also been deployed in many jurisdictions in the United States as well. According to Greentech Media, one third of all US households have had smart meters installed. Larger states like California, Texas, and Florida will have installed smart meters in more than half of all households by 2015.

 Expected smart meter deployments by state

The rationale for this is quite simple; a smart grid is a sound investment for the future with significant added benefits such as more efficient energy use, renewable energy accommodation, and decreased chance of a massive power outage.

Since smart meters are able to timestamp a customer’s electricity consumption, it is possible to implement time-of-use pricing, which will compel people to think twice about their energy usage. Now customers will be able to shift more energy intensive activities to less expensive times like early in the morning or late at night where demand is considerably less than in the middle of the day. Or they can save money by decreasing energy usage during higher demand periods. This will ease the strain on the grid, allowing for a more consistent daily demand without major spikes in the middle of the day. It will also help customers choose wisely when it comes to energy use resulting in an overall decrease in demand.

Ontario Hydro Time of Use Rates

Ontario Hydro Time of Use Rates

The future of our grid is looking greener. A previous Energent blog post indicated that wind power is going to make up a significant portion of Ontario’s grid in the coming years. Other regions around the world continue to increase renewable energy production as well. As more renewable and intermittent energy is added to the grid, utilities will need to balance demand with generation even more carefully. But with a vast network of smart meters consistently sending utilities energy consumption data, this balancing act becomes much simpler. Armed with this data, generators can scale down energy production from more polluting sources allowing renewables to supply the grid instead, which will reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

Solar Wind Farm

Solar Wind Farm

As a result of less strain on the grid brought about by consistent communication between utilities and smart meters, power outages are less likely to occur. As the complex balancing act between generation, distribution and consumption is more simplified by a smart grid, the chances of power lines coming into contact with branches causing surges is less likely to occur. In the event of a power outage, utilities will know much quicker as the smart meters will stop sending data altogether, allowing them to respond quicker.

Toronto skyline during the 2003 blackout

Toronto skyline during the 2003 blackout

For utilities, the rationale is simple for smart meters; more information concerning the grid will improve service by preventing and responding quicker to power outages, and in the long run, help save energy through load shifting and decreased demand brought about by time-of-use pricing. The integration of renewable energy sources to the grid is an added bonus that can drastically reduce our carbon emissions. The fact that there is resistance to smart meters shouldn’t and won’t deter utilities from deploying them when the benefits are so obvious. The world is getting smarter; the grid needs to get smarter with it.

Smart Meters: Why should I care?

Picture this, an electrical grid perfectly balancing generation, demand and distribution. A grid that is capable of accommodating abundant wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy into its system without issue or complication. On the rare occasion that problems occur, they are quick to be resolved. Such a technological wonder is not only possible but is already under way and it has started with the mass deployment of smart meters, so why then is there so much opposition towards them?

Smart Meter

Smart meters like this one are being deployed across North America

For those that don’t know, a smart meter is a device that collects a building’s energy use along with the time it was used which is then sent to the utility companies via Wi-Fi network at set intervals per day. Utilities will then use this data to get a more accurate, up-to-date picture of demand and consumption, which will make the grid easier to manage.

Currently, many utility companies across North America are installing smart meters at peoples’ homes and businesses as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. There has been, however, a significant amount of resistance to them in many areas. In British Columbia, many groups have sprung up vehemently opposing smart meters. In a more extreme example, some families in Texas have been threatening utility workers at gun point to prevent smart meter installations. Such resistance to a seemingly benign piece of hardware has raised concerns over privacy invasion and health risks. However, are these legitimate concerns? Are these groups just buying into their own paranoia? Looking into this subject, it seems like logic and science are being ignored at the expense of innovation and progress.

BC Residents Protest smart meters

British Columbia has become a hot bed of smart meter opposition

Much opposition towards smart meters is that fact that they monitor a building’s energy usage throughout the day. Some are concerned that this is an invasion of privacy and is akin to a form of surveillance. Although smart meters will give utilities a more accurate picture of how much energy you’re consuming throughout the day, utilities will not know how you’re using that energy. This is similar to how we already deal with our internet service providers (ISP). Most ISPs will know how much bandwidth you’ve used, but they won’t know whether your bandwidth was used for downloading, uploading, streaming, etc. Privacy hasn’t been violated; the ISP is merely collecting your bandwidth usage so that they can bill you for the services they provide. Utilities will work in the exact same manner (as they do now), the only real change brought about by smart meters is that utilities will now gather your energy data via Wi-Fi signals, which is the other main area of concern for smart meter opponents.

The radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by a smart meter’s Wi-Fi component is often cited as a major health risk by smart meter opponents. However, given the common sources of RF radiation, it seems short-sighted to villainize smart meters. Any wireless device will emit RF radiation; this includes cell phones, wireless routers, radios, garage door openers, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, cell phones will emit significantly more RF radiation than a smart meter and at a closer distance as cell phones are often pressed against a person’s ear whereas a smart meter is usually located outside of a building. Furthermore, a smart meter doesn’t emit RF radiation continuously like a cell phone; it will only emit when sending data to the utility. This is all making the assumption that the amount of RF radiation emitted by cell phones even poses a health risk in the first place, which modern science has flatly refuted. Frankly, the Sun is a far more dangerous emitter of radiation (and a proven cause of cancer) than any cell phone or smart meter, but that doesn’t seem to stop smart meter opponents from stepping outside to protest.

Sun

Beware, it could actually kill you… unlike a smart meter

The proven benefits of smart meters outweigh any inconclusive (or downright false) claims surrounding them. As more and more buildings have them installed, the grid will become far more interconnected in terms of its ability to share energy data information with utilities. It will make our grid more efficient, more responsive, and could potentially save us billions of dollars in the long run. But all this could be delayed or even prevented if smart meters continue to be opposed for illogical reasons. Now is not the time to let stupidity impede progress.

Winds of Change

Ontario’s power generation is changing rapidly. By 2014, there will be no more coal generation while renewable energy sources (particularly wind) will make up the difference. This goal has been lauded by a number of environmental groups as it will help lower Ontario’s carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, decrease our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy and at the same time, create jobs in a rapidly growing industry. However, no matter how positive these changes may be, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed about going green.

Wind Farm

Amaranth Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in Ontario

Wind power has made significant strides here in Ontario; the industry has seen an increase in the number of large scale turbines from 10 in 2003 to more than 700 today. You can also expect that number to increase in the coming years as well. According to the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Long Term Plan, by 2030, wind power will generate 10% of the province’s energy needs (in 2010, it supplied only 2%).

Increasing our reliance on wind turbines, however, has its own set of challenges. Unlike other sources of energy such as nuclear, coal or natural gas, wind turbines can only generate energy if there is a sufficient breeze. As a result of this inherent flaw, wind power is not ideal for baseload capacity as it is not entirely reliable. Of course, when building wind turbines, energy planners look to build turbines in areas that are consistently windy, however, it’s possible that even the most notoriously windy areas can go without a breeze for prolonged periods of time.

With this in mind, the all-too-important balancing act between generation and consumption becomes slightly more complicated. Adding an increasing amount of intermittent wind power might cause generating capacity to fluctuate over shorter periods of time. Currently, whatever wind capacity is generated is used as there is no viable way to store energy in Ontario, and on days where demand is considerably higher and wind cannot make up the difference, more nuclear and natural gas generation fills the void. Although our current grid can adjust load to compensate for wind power, a greater understanding of what is happening to our grid at all times will be needed in the likely event that renewables will play an increasingly larger role. In the worst case scenario, excess wind generation will need to be sent to neighbouring grids that may need extra capacity (e.g. Quebec, New York, Michigan) so as to avoid potentially catastrophic overloads (refer to the August blog post).

Energy Grid Management Facility

Managing our grid will be paramount in future years

Another issue that should likely arise due to increased wind capacity is energy cost. Although several cost analysis have suggested that wind power is competitive with other sources of energy in terms of cost, as a result of massive subsidies given to nuclear power, wind is considerably more expensive per kWh. As such, more wind power will likely increase peoples’ utility bills in the near future.

With the rising cost of energy, a greater emphasis is placed on energy management and conservation. As mentioned in a previous blog post, energy management systems for large industrial and commercial operations can help reduce energy consumption and utility costs. Furthermore, an energy management system can pay for itself through energy savings within months of deployment.

Increasing wind generation capacity in Ontario will benefit the environment greatly. The challenges that come with it on the other hand, are not reasons to prevent more wind generation, but rather they should be seen as a warning that there is no perfect and certainly no free solution to our energy issues. Wind energy can play a very crucial role in our electricity system and although it may cost more and require additional technology and infrastructure to support it, if business and industry move forward intelligently, there should be no reason why we can’t have lower utility bills and an adequate supply of energy.

Exciting announcements at OCE Discovery last week

Energent is very proud to announce the latest investment the Ontario government has made in improving the Smart Grid infrastructure.  On Tuesday, May 15th, Sean Conway, Chairman of the Board of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, announced support for an innovative partnership between Energent and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Gord Ellis, CTO of Energent Inc., and Wilfrid Laurier University are collaborating on a communications software system that can potentially be installed on all smart grid devices to allow them to communicate with each other to facilitate smarter, more effective, efficient energy use. The platform is now under development with a prototype, and further research and development will be conducted in collaboration with the team from Wilfrid Laurier.

This exciting infrastructure development, designed to design and create a communications middleware system, will be powerful enough to handle the increased amounts of data that are part of the Smart Grid.  “The Grid is going to be all about data management” says Sean Conway, Chair of the OCE Board of Directors, “and therefore the Grid must communicate effectively and reliably, and must be able to handle vast amounts of data.”  This collaboration will enable all three of these communication goals, providing a stable platform for which the Smart Grid to grow from.

These are two videos announcing the project below in this blog post.

 

Energent particpating at Globe 2012

Energent is excited to be part of the premiere global conference on sustainability and the environmental economy.  Globe 2012 brings together a worldwide audience to discuss and debate the pressing issues of the economics of environmental sustainability.  Energent is excited to be part of this world-class conference and tradeshow, and to participate as part of the Ontario Pavillion.

At the tradeshow, Energent will be showcasing two products.  The first product is Energent’s class-leading Energy Management Information System.  Energent’s EMIS platform provides visibility into the real-time energy consumption of operations in industrial, institutional, and commercial buildings.  The comprehensive reporting and alerting that is enabled because of the Energent platform drives companies to lower energy consumption and save money.

Energent will also be presenting it’s leading-edge Home Energy Smart Grid platform.  The Energy Hub Management System (EHMS) is being deployed across Ontario through partnerships with Hydro One, Ontario Power Authority, and the University of Waterloo.  Energent’s EHMS is a web-based, two-way communication and software optimization  engine, providing every home with the opportunity to optimize thier home energy consumption based on goals for the end user and the Utility.  Home owners see value through lower energy costs and improved visibility into their consumption, and Utilities will be able to optimize the distribution of electricity to thousands of homes, lowering peaks, and improving efficiency.

At the conference, Energenet will be presenting an update on the roll out across Ontario and will welcome other Utilities and jurisdictions that are interested in grid optimization to speak to them at Globe.

To arrange a meeting with Energent at the Globe 2012 conference on either the EMIS or the Smart Grid EHMS, please contact Craig Haney at chaney@energent.com, or by phone at 519-725-0906 x2007.  Energent is looking for productive meetings with utilities and municipalities interested in reducing peak demand on their grid through Home Energy Management plans.  Energent is also interested in meeting with commercial building operators, municipalities, and manufacturing organizations looking to lower their energy consumption through real-time reporting and ehanced energy analytics.

Look for Energent at Globe 2012 in booth 1117-13 at the Ontario Pavillion on the Globe Tradeshow Floor.

Thanks for reading

Energy Hub Management System

Along with our core Energy Management Information Systems that we offer to industrial, institutional, and commercial clients as a way of managing their energy use, we are working very closely with the University of Waterloo, Ontario Centres of Excellence, Ontario Power Authority, Hydro One, and Milton Hydro to create the Energy Hub Management System (EHMS).

The EHMS is a web-based platform that connects all of your appliances and energy-consuming circuits in your house, and provides visibility into the cost and impact of operating these devices.  On top of the, EHMS has a complex scheduling system in place that aggregates a series of profiles that describe your energy preferences (lowest cost, lowest carbon footprint, etc.) and automatically schedules your appliances to operate only during times that fit your profile.

This portion of the “smart grid”, the consumer side, is vital to the longevity of our electricity infrastructure.  Much of our electricity wires, plants, and towers are 70 years old, and we must begin to replace these power lines soon.  But at the same time, to take the pressure off these line, we must lower consumption.  The EHMS gives insight into which appliances are consuming the most power, and the cost of running these appliances.  Giving consumers real dollar amounts will encourage behaviour change, and encourage conservation.

For more information on the Energy Hub Management System, check out http://energyhub.uwaterloo.ca/.  There is also more information in the 3 min video below.

www.youtube.com/expertsangle