Smart energy, data privacy and carbon emissions

Readers weigh in on the week's topics

Phil Carson | Mar 04, 2011

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Readers say the darndest things, to paraphrase Art Linkletter. An allusion that dates me badly.

Herewith a smattering of topics that we've covered recently and how readers weighed in on those topics—think "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." (Dang, there I go again.)

In the column dubbed "Austin Smart Energy Project," we detailed how the Pecan Street Project in Austin, Texas, is focusing on the customer side of the meter.

"Pecan Street has an outstanding charter," a reader wrote. "That said, the partner list contains a wide array of green enthusiasts/proponents. It will take a good measure of discipline for project leaders to keep biases at bay ... and that must be done for the sake of credibility.

"It is imperative that the PSP get the science right. A failure to do so will ultimately discredit the entire effort ... and at this point in the era of smart grid hysteria, we've already got plenty of discredited efforts."

"Austin's project seems to be more carefully thought out than some of the others I'm acquainted with," wrote another reader. "It also has the important advantage of being in ERCOT, an energy-only wholesale market where so far, at least, politicians and regulators have resisted the temptation to 'protect' consumers from occasional high prices.

"I'm hoping the Pecan Street experiment will finally put to rest any reservations on the part of regulators and self-styled consumer advocates that consumers are unable to deal with dynamic pricing," this writer continued. "If tied to wholesale prices, dynamic retail pricing provides the information consumers need to adjust their electricity consumption in ways that benefit the grid without subjecting consumers to the confusing plethora of tariffs and program rules that characterize more typical and largely unsuccessful attempts to influence consumer behavior via electricity pricing. I still think wholesale markets provide too little forward visibility, but that's a problem that can be fixed."

In a column titled "Electronic Privacy Official: Opportunity Ahead," we interviewed Lillie Coney, associate director, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), about smart meter data privacy. 

"Privacy is an important issue and needs to be addressed," one reader wrote in. "But the focus must be on the areas of true concern. . It is difficult, if not impossible, to interpret which device is consuming energy at any given moment. The smart meter can tell when the consumption increases or decreases, but it is unable to identify exactly what each piece of equipment is doing or what the end customer is doing. . The real privacy concerns will be the HAN equipment that will have the ability to monitor and determine individual equipment usage and preference
at the site."

This reader claimed direct knowledge, but almost every utility I visit tells me that, in fact, the signature of every device in the home is indeed discernible from its draw, as reflected in smart meter data.

Would anyone like to weigh in further on that issue?

Finally, in "Think Globally, Act Locally," I connected a few disparate dots, from the expected rise in electricity rates due to grid modernization to digital vulnerabilities, from the pros and cons of natural gas to the expected rise in oil prices, from the strength of a diverse mix of power sources to the leadership by many large utilities and conservative commentators that have called for a price on carbon emissions and a rational, national energy policy.

Faster than you can say "knee jerk," two readers demonstrated either their skill at satire or their fierce denial of events in the electric utility industry. (Maybe they were just plain angry?)

"Seriously, if you're going to write an opinion piece thick with the usual green-centric pap, at least have the courtesy to indicate so in the title or first paragraph," snarled one commenter. (Presumably that would save this individual the pain of considering a viewpoint other than his own.)

"A price on carbon does not make solar and wind more competitive, it makes coal, natural gas and oil less competitive," wrote another reader. "It raises the average price of all forms of energy in the process, thus raising both the cost of living and the cost of manufacturing goods and providing services in the U.S. economy.

"A price on carbon in the U.S. does not reduce global annual carbon emissions, though it might force decisions which partially offset the growth of annual carbon emissions from China and India, and other developing countries.

"You are certainly free to believe that resisting even greater tax and spend profligacy by the federal government is 'adolescent,'" this reader wrote. "I am equally free to believe that the exclusion of one party from the negotiations over the past two years was 'adolescent,' if not infantile."

The reader goes on to savage the "$30 trillion" investment made by the Administration, Congress and the U.S.E.P.A. in "a carbon-free energy economy."

Frankly, this last remark would seem to be a proof point for theories of parallel universes, but I digress.

Thanks to all for reading and writing in!

Phil Carson
Editor-in-chief
Intelligent Utility Daily
pcarson@energycentral.com
303-228-4757

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Smart Meters

I suspect there is a certain amount of paranoia and an affinity for conspiracy theories among privacy advocates, but when it comes to a Smart Meter's ability to collect information on individual appliances, there's more than a kernel of truth.  At a meeting on some of these issues at the CPUC last summer, PG&E did not deny that its meters could collect and transmit appliance level data.  It would likely require a connection to the appliance, but the gateways were designed with more granular data collection in mind.