An interesting conversation with my mother

Bart Thielbar | Feb 10, 2010


In a recent conversation with my mother, I tried to explain the value of a smart meter and usage monitoring to her. It was a fascinating conversation that went absolutely nowhere. My mother is as prudent and environmentally aware as anyone can be. She grows many of her own vegetables, rarely wastes any resources and is of a mind that compels her to leave the planet to future generations in better condition than when she arrived here. Such a person should be chomping at the bit for a smart meter and related usage monitoring technology, shouldn’t she? Not so much, it turns out.

She is not a highly sophisticated technology user, but she harbors no phobias of technology either. She welcomes new technology into her life when it makes sense and, like most of us, sometimes gets frustrated with learning new ways of doing things. But, she does have two computers and a wireless network and gets better at technology every day. Several months ago, she moved much of her banking online and, although initially frustrated with having to remember more passwords, has since come to enjoy the accessibility it provides. In short, there is every reason to believe she would welcome smart meters and load monitoring technology into her life, yet she doesn’t. But, why?

It turns out that practicality trumps technology for her. Her view is that she doesn’t need technology to tell her that an older refrigerator is less efficient than a new one, that leaving lights on unnecessarily wastes energy or that adjusting the thermostat will help conserve energy. She gets all of that in a “no-duh” kind of manner, as perhaps we all should. 

In her view, such technology is not a prudent investment for utilities or consumers, unless an individual is unable to recognize and act on their own consumption patterns. After all, do we really need to be told by a device hanging on the wall that our meter is spinning faster than we might like? Can’t we just look around the house and turn off lights that aren’t being used, adjust the thermostat or replace appliances that are less efficient? The conversation brought me back to my childhood when I was constantly reminded to turn the lights off, put on a sweater, or – my favorite -- “we are not air-conditioning the great outdoors – close the door!” 

Mom’s logic, it turns out, is a good reminder for this analyst and has me further pondering how normal human behavior might affect the smart grid vision. Without the willingness of consumers to change consumption patterns, especially in the face of the obvious examples mom cited, the technology will have little impact on overall load growth throughout the nation. Mom is not excited about the prospect of paying more in her rates because others aren’t able to do the obvious without technology to remind them.   

Speaking of that, when I went to get a soda recently, I looked outside and my neighbor’s outdoor lights were still on. He must have forgotten to turn them off before he left and they have been on all day. Now, that is a problem that technology can easily resolve.

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Great post!

I really enjoyed reading your blog this morning.  I think the consumer benefits of the Smart Grid won't be in having consumers reading charts everyday and changing behavior but in having appliance companies 'tap into' the technology and make smarter decisions for me.

I also added a link to your post in my blog post today.



Mom Is Right

I think your mother is more than right, she's typical..after all the hoopla about smart meters, a meter that merely tells you consumption is not such a big revelation to the consumer.  However, if the appliances and meters could talk to each other and signal when prices are high and act upon that signal - now that would be neat!  Or if a home master energy coordinator(the meter?) could orchestrate  the grid power flows of a house with electric vehicle/solar/wind powered, that might even be profitable!

Unfortunately those are the tomorrow things, right now it looks like the smart meter with a thermostat is about the only proven thing we can do today. RTP is still in its infancy.  Solar/Windpower is still far away from being widely available for the consumer...and the electric car is going to have its own set of infrastructure problems to overcome before it can be easily integrated into the grid.