Smart Metering: Getting the Consumer Onside

Jim Hayward | Jan 27, 2012

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The date is July 15, 1979 and at the White House in Washington DC, President Jimmy Carter has just completed an historic televised address to the nation. The thoughts of the American public turn from their small television sets and the grainy images of the President and back to enjoying their balmy summer evening. Meanwhile, the President turns to his assembled advisors and asks the key question: "Will it work?"

For those that are not old enough to remember this moment, President Carter was asking whether the American people would heed his call to save energy and play their part in averting the impending energy crisis he had just gravely portrayed.

Unfortunately, the disappointing answer arrived only three days later. Results of doorstep interviews revealed there was no difference in energy consumption behaviour between those who had watched the televised appeal and those that had not. The public had listened, but they had not learned.

Fast forward to 2011 and the UK is poised to begin its largest energy conservation programme yet: the roll out of smart meters to all households. Much like President Carter's address, this project has the clear aim of driving down energy usage by both influencing consumers and providing them with the means to change their consumption habits. But will history repeat itself? Or this time, will the public listen AND learn?

History's Energy Lesson

Back in 1979, Jimmy Carter's appeal was unsuccessful largely because his message failed to motivate consumers to change their energy consumption behaviour. To understand how to successfully achieve such a behavioural change we need to turn to a field of research that lifts the lid on the concept of motivation, namely that of psychology, and apply it to energy conservation.

Let's start at the beginning. As witnessed by President Carter's efforts, information alone is not enough to change behaviour. Researchi suggests that providing information, such as that on energy-saving techniques, can result in an increase in knowledge, but rarely results in a change in behaviour. So why is this?

Psychology contends that information alone does not typically motivate behavioural change. Motivation is definedii as 'a process that causes arousal, direction and persistence of behaviour'. As such, in order to motivate, the information disseminated must meet these conditions. One of the most powerful techniques to cause arousal is to personalise this information.

For an example of successful personalisation in the energy sector, we need look no further than home-energy audits, whereby homeowners are provided with specific advice on tangible energy-saving measures. Research clearly demonstrates a link between these highly-tailored interventions, and tangible energy-saving behaviour, with some studies finding energy use reductions of up to 20% vs. control groupsiii.

The deployment of new technology, including smart meters taking regular automatic electricity and gas readings and sending them to the supplier via a communications network, promises to bring a new level of personalisation to the home. The idea is that each smart meter will be coupled with an in-home display (IHD) to provide near real-time information on energy consumption in an easily understandable form. When this knowledge of consumption is added to information about energy saving options via the IHD, it is hoped that this will encourage consumers to play a far more active role in the supply chain -- taking greater control over their energy consumption, carbon emissions and energy costs. But as history suggests, delivering information is not enough. For consumers to be continually engaged with the process, their actions must be prompted by a robust and seamless technology system.

Giving Consumers A Helping HAN

Typically, a smart meter is installed for each energy source and then they are paired, with the electricity meter acting as a hub and pulling consumption data from the gas meter. This creates a very basic HAN (Home Area Network). Smart meters can also be paired with an IHD linked to the latest energy prices to show the consumer in near real-time what they are using and how much they're spending. The HAN could also include 'smart appliances' such as washing machines or fridges which would have the intelligence to alter running times to balance the grid, or to allow consumers to make the most of flexible tariffs.

Where the HAN provides the customer with a mechanism to view their usage, the Wide Area Network (WAN) is the link between the smart meters and the supplier. It is the WAN that delivers the two-way communications necessary to ensure that not only will suppliers receive information from the smart meter (and vice versa for consumers), but also have the ability to communicate directly with the other devices comprising the HAN. This two-way communication would allow for 'live' tariff information and also energy efficiency advice to be sent to the consumer by the supplier.

This kind of feedback allows outcomes to be associated with behaviours, and has been shown to provide a powerful mechanism to bring about behavioural change. The new in-home technology being developed now will deliver feedback continuously to the consumer, even enabling data-intensive real-time energy usage provided by the IHD within the HAN. However, these kinds of technologies would have to be highly flexible to meet both the needs of the supplier and the consumer.

The provision of feedback in this way is extremely powerful because it meets the 'persistence' condition of motivation. In other words, if consumers are repeatedly reminded of how they are performing, then the message is kept alive. However, for consumers to be motivated to act, they also need to believe that the outcome of their behaviour -- their energy consumption -- is explicitly linked to how they act. For example, running a dishwasher at off-peak times, or turning off lights when they are not needed should be explicitly linked to a reduction in energy consumption. The danger is that if the link is lost, consumers might feel that their behaviour has no impact on the outcome, and will simply stop trying.

Driving Engagement

The in-home technology driving the energy revolution also has additional benefits in motivating the consumer to actively engage with it by providing the ability to control domestic appliances and devices remotely. This is an area that will be seen as a really critical change within the home, saving consumers money and providing additional security. With these new in-home technologies, consumers will have the ability to not only control appliances remotely, but also heating and lighting, perhaps turning off all the lights in a house from their smart phones after they've left for work, or switching off a TV upstairs from downstairs at the touch of a button. They could even activate a forgotten burglar alarm from a foreign beach.

What then of hard cash? Can the promise of financial rewards alone -- predominantly from reduced bills due to lower consumption but also in the form of cheaper tariffs for customers who are happy to relinquish some control over the running time of some appliances to utilities -- motivate consumers to change their behaviour? Research suggests the answer is a confusing 'maybe'. Studies have clearly shown that monetary reward can drive energy-saving behaviour. Unfortunately however, the effect can be somewhat short-livediv.

So is this surprising? Not really. Psychology has long championed the message that money is not a sustainable motivator, and this holds true with energy conservation behaviour too. Suppliers must therefore look to the other ways discussed previously to maintain engagement with energy-saving technologies and schemes.

Also, let's not forget the power of role models. One motivational theory -- the social learning theory -- champions the use of modelling in which mental processes are developed by observing the behaviour of others and subsequently employing them in real life. In practise this might mean that in the UK, we could see the cast of EastEnders turning down their thermostats before heading out to the Queen Vic. The hope being, of course, that consumers all do the same.

The rollout of smart meters provides a real opportunity for suppliers, via their consumers, to deliver the energy-saving benefits this country needs. Yet there is much more to this than the logistical and operational challenge of installing smart meters in UK homes. To deliver the savings needed, suppliers must understand what drives the behaviour of their consumers. Psychological insight can help with this by exposing what it is that motivates us, but energy suppliers must apply these teachings in a way that drives behavioural change. This could be via the provision of continuous feedback via graphical displays, the use of role models (be they television celebrities or peers and friends), the use of personalised messaging and tailored home-energy audits, or by the championing of the financial rewards for using less energy.

Whatever the approach adopted, in order to succeed where President Carter failed, we need to better understand our consumers. At the same time, the underlying message is clear: smart meters alone do not reduce energy consumption, people do.

References

i. Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., Rothengatter, T. (2007). The effect of tailored information, goal setting, and tailored feedback on household energy use, energy-related behaviors, and behavioral antecedents. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 265-276

ii. Goldstein, I, L., Ford, K. (2001). Training In Organisations. Wadsworth Publishing Co Inc

iii. Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 273-291

iv. Abrahamse, W., Steg, L., Vlek, C., Rothengatter, T. (2005). A review of intervention studies aimed at household energy conservation. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 273-291 Kantola, S, J., Syme, G, J., Campbell, N, A. (1984). Cognitive Dissonance and Energy Conservation. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 69 (3), 416-421.

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Comments

This article is excellent and very timely. To some its facts may even be obvious. And there is more one can say about consumer behavior, and their potential to change their energy consumption behaviors.

Most consumers know they can lower their energy consumption by changing their use behaviors, practicing conservation, and/or by upgrading their homes and appliances to get better efficiencies. The REAL factors in what motivates people or not to do these things are personal costs both in time / effort and in investment of personal funds.

Investing personal funds for example to upgrade efficiencies must compete with all the other demands on personal finances. The lower the cost to upgrade something, the more consumers are likely to invest in it. Similarly the less time it takes to realize a payback of the initial investment, the more consumers are likely to invest. The latter is especially important in today's world where consumers’ choices today for investment may be trumped by better ones in the near future if they simply wait for them as technology advances at ever increasing speeds.

Home automation technology that is linked to energy monitoring via smart meters and IHDs is the obvious choice for investment. But by WHO? Some consumers don’t want it, while others will. The problem with this is that how do electric utility companies implement this stuff when in the current regulatory regimes, they must provide it to all their customers – with appropriate cost recovery in rate increases for all customers (or government handouts). In my opinion, this is a very inefficient way to commercialize a new technology because it is a waste of money for those consumers who don’t want it.

The solution to this problem is for regulations to change that would allow, or force, utility companies to change their business models to operate more like our telephone and CATV companies, where they provide basic electricity service to all customers, and then sell the new technologies to individual customers willing to invest their money in it. Plain and simple.

Bob is right. "smart meters and IHDs is the obvious choice for investment. But by WHO?" Of course as the article points out, the meters are simply a pre-requisite to implementing the real systems which will actually implement the savings, like home networks and smart appliances and genuine open markets for energy for every customer.

I'm interested to hear that Britain is implementing smart metering throughout. Whomever gets all the pre-requesite infrastructure in place first should win the competition to design and own the intellectual property required to implement all the following steps. There was a day i can remember when that would automatically have been the US, but it seems that for some reason that no longer holds. All the "leading thinkers|" in the US have gone arthritically conservative, yet for some reason still hold all the strings required for any inovation. Wierd.

I;m guessing that its a symptom of people living too long now.

Len,

As you know Ontario has already implemented smart metering to all approximately 5 million customers in the province, spread out amongst dozens of distribution utility companies. Although Ontario was among the first to do so, they really don't have all the prerequisite infrastructure in place to enable smart grid functions with residential HANs. In their wisdom Ontario did not mandate that all smart meters be equipped with auxiliary communications, like a Zigbee or similar radio. Hence the majority of the smart meters deployed in Ontario have no capability to directly communicate with HAN equipment in a customer's house.

For future residential HAN equipment to become part of a smart grid in Ontario, they must communicate directly with the meters' AMI radio networks, or alternatively go through the internet back to the utility company's office systems. The former is a very unpalatable option with utility people because a) they don't want anyone directly accessing their AMI networks, and b) adding an AMI radio gateway device to a HAN is a costly and non-standard interface for the HAN equipment makers. The latter is also not something utility people like either because using the internet places a huge extra cost for interfacing their AMI head-end systems to the internet for huge numbers of customers, and besides not all customers have internet services, or have them running 24/7 like their AMI networks do.

The only reasonable solution for Ontario is to replace most of the 5 million deployed smart meters to upgrade them with auxiliary radios installed for future HAN use. I hope other jurisdictions in the US reading this don't make the same mistakes as Ontario did when they deploy their smart meters.

Agreed Bob. Adding the local HAN interface either wifi or powerline carrier to all meters at the outset wouldn't cost much at all, and would guard against near-future obsolescence. Hope someone in Britain is reading this (LOL).

I guess where Carter failed was in not managing to convince the population that the problem was theirs as a whole - I suspect many thought someone else would take action to solve it.

Regarding changing consumer behaviours with the extra information smart meters can provide, I suspect the IHDs will only have limited impact, certainly after seeing the current capabilities offered. More impressive results will likely follow from the introduction of advanced user interfaces - mobile apps for iPhones and the like. Introducing elements of competition, and more importantly, reasons to keep using them, will help engage end users and drive behavioural change.

Chris Taylor,

You are correct, IHDs alone will have limited impact on consumer behavior, it's all the other potential home automation and demand responses that are possible with smart grid and new technologies.

Len Gould is one of the visionary contributors to this website who several years ago proposed a real-time Independent Market for Every Utility Customer (IMEUC) on this website which would depend intimately on customers having all the technology for communicating with a smart grid in real time to monitor and make purchases for their electricity.

There are several stand-alone IHDs on the market today that connect directly to a home's utility panel, or alternatively place their own sensors on the utility’s mechanical meter or smart meter on the house, effectively avoiding the need to communicate directly with a smart grid. Studies by Ontario's Hydro One utility company many years ago revealed nearly 10% AVERAGE energy use reductions were typical among hundreds of customers equipped with an IHD in the studies. While this is a substantial energy consumption reduction for the grid when one considers it expanded to millions of users, utility companies are not interested in bearing the cost to provide them to all their customers. Part of this reluctance is they don’t want to depend on customer behaviors alone to achieve energy conservation targets, they prefer more guaranteed demand responses when they need them.

Indeed mobile apps are already appearing for smart phones that talk to HANs and other home automation systems that have been around for some time already. The missing link of course is hooking any of these systems up with a smart meter or smart grid managed by one's the utility company, available ON A LARGE SCALE such that it becomes available to any utility customer willing to use it.

Incidentally, there are many examples even here in Ontario where numbers of industrial and commercial businesses have tapped into real-time communication with the electricity grid, implementing very sophisticated energy monitoring (for both total enterprise consumption and specific loads), demand response automation, and more complex computer interfaces than a simple IHD can provide. In spite of a large initial investment in monitoring devices, computer software, and communication links to the grid, substantial energy conservation savings for the company have usually been the result, translating to significantly lower ongoing business operating costs. However being much larger energy consumers than a residential customer, they are the “low hanging fruit” for utility companies and government grant handouts targeting energy conservation and demand management.

Now just imagine the same sort of more complex monitoring and computer interfaces developed for small businesses and residential customers. Needless to say the costs of such technology would be driven down tremendously by the shear numbers of potential customers who already own multiple PCs and smart phones. Someone should be seriously working on developing low-cost monitoring and demand response control products in the electronics industry for these markets, with an emphasis on ease of setup, ease of use, and more comprehensive and easy-to-understand user interfaces that continuously and clearly demonstrate user energy bill savings.

A good example of a relatively young company in Ontario commercializing customized sophiticated energy monitoring and user interface software to large industrial and commercial businesses is Energent.com.

May also be of interest:
http://www.springwise.com/eco_sustainability/mobile-app-adds-element-gaming-home-energy-metering/

I had a look at Chris’s link to springwise.com. It's based in Germany and they have an impressive lineup of products for both electricity and gas including smart phone apps that complement web-portal based data presentation for residential consumers. They claim to have 20 German utility companies doing pilot projects with various combinations of their products too.

No information however on how much their stuff costs per residential customer, and whether the participating customers bear any of the cost or whether it is all paid for by the utility company. I'll bet it's the latter because they do not show any retail information for consumers, and if correct many of the pilot projects will never go beyond pilot projects unless the German government steps in and allows large utility rate increases for all of their customers, or provides large handouts to the utility companies.

Just what is the scope of the problem here? My house is “totally” electric. My heating by air exchange heat pump and cooling are my biggest users. My electric co-op has for many years been able to mitigate peaking by restricting service to my heat pump/AC and water heater as they pleased. I have never suffered.

What I am concerned about is all the other stuff. Not my electric bill, a rather minor concern because the weather, not computer programs or exceedingly smart metering make a big difference.

Don, you and many others may already be practicing conservation to some degree, or your utility company may already be shaving peak demand by restricting service to your AC. The point is it is not enough, they want more peak demand reductions and more conservation to reduce overall energy consumption growth (overall for the grid) as we move into the future to avoid building costly large central and peak generators. Furthermore, they want to introduce much more expensive renewable energy generators (solar and wind etc.) over time. Time-Of-Use billing enabled by smart meters are the first step they will take to promote this.

Your electric bill may not be a problem right now for you, but just wait, rates are going to steadily climb to pay for all the hew renewable sources and the massive refurbishments needed for existing aging grid assets. I promise you your electric bill will become much more of a problem for your pocket book over the next ten years. Computer programs and load shifting encouraged by Time-Of-Use billing are recognized tools that consumers can use to minimize their bills. Consumer education is a secondary benefit from these tools that will show consumers how much energy they use for specific loads in their house and when.

The majority of energy use by the consumer is for heating and cooling. A simple, inexpensive programmable thermostat is all that is required for saving energy (i.e. saving money).

There is simply no question that smart meters are being foisted upon the hapless consumer by elitist, half-witted and corrupt politicians attempting to “save the planet” by driving up the price of power, thereby reducing energy usage (and by extension, greenhouse gases). Ontario proves my point, in spades.

Utilities happily go along with the nefarious scheme because they can make more money by passing along the contrived prices created in the wholesale power markets, as well as the costs of unneeded, expensive renewable energy. The later is once again being pushed by the elitist politicians who are invariably socialists (that would be democrats in the US).

Unlike, say the telecommunications, power is not a free and open marketplace. Thus the whole idea of introducing “market-based” prices, as promulgated once again by the left, is complete nonsense.

Michael,

You are absolute correct, a programmable thermostat can be the biggest tool for homeowners to help reduce their electricity bills. I'm sure many people who understand this already use one (as I do), I mean just look at the number of these thermostats on the market today which someone must be buying.

Your frustrations are well taken. There is no question that those of us who are already practicing load shifting and some degree of energy conservation (by using a programmable thermostat for example), are not being given any credit for doing so. The utility industry wants MORE consumption reductions from the entire grid, I assure you, and they know renewable sources are going to drive up costs and hence our billing rates.

They also know consumers won’t like the higher rates either. So their response is to actively participate in pilot projects, and to accept government handouts, that implement Time-Of-Use billing with smart metering, and any other hi-tech tools that might help the less technical customers (than you or I) get a handle on how they use their energy and how to reduce their consumption with less effort.

There is much backlash in the US already from consumers to the new smart meters rolling out. In California just yesterday the regulators permitted PG&E to allow disgruntled customers to “opt out” of smart metering, and have an old-fashioned analog meter installed in place of a smart meter. Nice eh… they don’t realize it yet but the opt-outs will pay higher utility bills with an old analog meter than they would with a smart meter. One reason being is that PG&E will have to set flat billing rates for these customers, and you can bet they will set them to a level that is sufficiently high enough to cover all their added costs to make truck rolls to install the analog meters, and the wages for the meter reader guys that must visit your house every billing period, and the added costs to handle these customers differently in accounting than their Time-Of-Use billed customers.

PG&E will have the luxury of data from millions of TOU billed customers on smart meters, and can easily calculate what their bill would have hypothetically been on flat billing rates to use as a base for determining the minimum flat billing rate for opt-out analog metered customers. Then they can easily bump it up to cover the extra costs above, maybe even more too. My point is all those analog customers won’t have any way of knowing because they won’t have access to TOU data to compare with, with no option of load shifting to reduce their bills either. I pity those in California who choose to opt out.

I love the "elitist politicians who are invariably socialists (that would be democrats in the US). " by Micheal Keller. Really? US democrats are socialists? In what wierd looking-glass world would that be true? The Democrat party line is clearly nearer corporatist than socialist. The Republican's only problem with the democrats is that they aren't quite corporatist enough.

The democrats are socilalist. They cause vast amounts of other peoples money to be directed into governments coffers, with the government then distributing the money to help get said democrats elected, who in the process enrich themselves. That pretty much describes socialists.

A lot of the Washington republicans are not much better, but at least they offer an alternative to the dismal state of the once honorable democratic party.

Well Micheal, it sounds like you have no problem living well yourself while your neighbour's children may die of easily tratable illnesses, or even starve. I happen to think that such is unacceptable, but that doesn't make me a socialist. Here in Canada it used to be the political territory of the conservative party, (the red Tory mopvement) of which I was a member. Its simply a matter of applying common decency and the values of that excellent philosopher who taught 2000 years ago in the middle east. And charitry is no substitute, an equal and decent start in life should be a right of every child, without the shame of the hated (by recipients) moniker "charity".

Also, i'd remind you that originally, the US was started as a fair and classless alternative society to the rigid class structure in Britain. Amazing how rapidly the super-wealthy have been able to brainwash you lot into accepting the existence of the most often undeserving upper class again.

Course it sounds like you've probably never thought such things through.

”…the values of that excellent philosopher who taught 2000 years ago…” I presume this is a gauche reference to Jesus, whom you summarily demote from being God, or at least the Son of God, or being one of the Trinity.

Len, you routinely discount anything you disagree with by requiring peer reviewed evidence being cited. Alas, the Jesus story cannot furnish anything close to the evidence you require. On the other hand we have far better evidence, indeed their very written words, of Greeks of four hundred years earlier. As far as I know Jesus wrote nothing. But never mind, we knew about right from wrong long before his time.

Oh, and I disagree with your mind-set about corporations (and much more) from which good things flow. I’ll say it again. We have too many people to allow solution to man’s problems. Arithmetic is unforgiving.

I demote no-one, Don. I merely observe things as the actually are, which is why I worship neither an absent god-being nor corporations, contrary to an apparent majority.

Well, in true socialist fashion, the Ontario smart meters program was legislated upon all electricity consumers by our great and glorious government but sadly and predictably NOT paid for by them.

The cost of the useless gadget now adorning my wall is billed to me. It is such an advance on the original meter that I am now fully unable to determine the rate of my electricity usage by watching the speed of the rotating disc. Instead I am confronted with a digital number that appears to resemble a series of "eights". They do flash which I suppose reduces the consumption of the meter by a few milli-watts. That savings alone should knock out a few coal plants - at least in the minds of our politicians who are unable to distinguish between a milli-watt and a mega-watt.

What is particularly irksome is that the said useless item was made in Mexico no doubt causing great amusement among the nice Mexican folks that made them.

As a tool for reducing or controlling electricity consumption it is a 5 billion dollar bust. Fortunately I do not have large electrical appliances preferring to use natural gas for my large energy needs. Once I find suitable technology for converting natural gas to electricity I will be requesting disconnection of said useless device from my house. While I may still have to see it daily as I leave the house, at least I will have the satisfaction of no longer having to pay for it.

And as an added bonus - I can read the gas meter - it was made in Canada.

Malcolm

Len, We, in the west, are all hypocrites of the first order. We have been living the good life alongside our neighbours for centuries while they starve to death and we consume far more food than we are capable of actually eating. The world is not now and never has been short of food - it is just poorly distributed with the west getting grotesquely obese by the day and the rest of the world scrambling for a few crumbs while we take a few bites out of our burgers and throw the rest away.

Bill Gates is spearheading an effort through the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to eliminate 12 treatable disease you speak of from the world. He notes that he is amazed by the complete lack of progress in the development and application of vaccines for many of these diseases since they were eradicated in the west. Note that it is Bill Gates (NOT our elected politicians OR religious leaders) that is doing this. We have allowed populations to live with leprosy when we know how to cure it. We have allowed poliomyelitis, small pox, TB and dozens of other diseases to continue to plague the world populations when we have known the cures for 60 years or more. So much for charity from the west. With "friends" like that the third world does not need enemies.

In short there is no excuse for what the west has allowed to happen other than we are all (including you and I) complete self-centred hypocrites and that includes every single western socialist and every single western conservative.

But, of course, using Don's pessimistic analysis the treatment of these diseases is a lost cause since everyone is going to die of starvation anyway as there are too many of us to feed.

Perhaps he is right. Perhaps we need to think outside the planet

Malcolm

Let’s look at some facts and reality and timing. When I was a child in the US there was exactly one vaccine (Small pox). Children with diabetes usually did not survive beyond their teens. There were no antibiotics, none, until “The Wonder Drug” sulfanilamide in time for some of WWII. Until DDT millions upon millions were dying every year from malaria. Vitamins except for D from fish oil and C from citrus fruits were largely unknown. I never knew a day that was not in The Great Depression nor WWII until 1945. Yet I never actually saw anyone who looked as if they were starving. A few times people came to our back door asking for work but really were asking for food. (They were pleased with whatever we had on hand – eggs and toast, a hearty sandwich. I never lacked for calories and never felt deprived. Unlike people today we knew that for very little money we could eat peanut butter and bread, boiled potatoes, cabbage, beans and pasta. Even today a pound of dry split peas sells for about a dollar and makes a pease porridge to feed many people. Cooked with some ham hocks or neck bones, onions it is delicious. Today I make it by the gallon and freeze it.

Malcolm, while maybe a billion of us have an excess of food available there are 7 billion eaters. And we privileged are not all obese and I have never ever wasted or thrown out food.

I have observed people on food stamps in the checkout lanes. They often use two baskets, one with eligible stuff and one for ineligible stuff, cigarettes frozen lobster, fancy convenience foods. Even in the eligible cart I don’t see potatoes, dry pasta, dry beans, carrots, cabbage, house- brand bread, etc. - but these take some effort and a little knowledge to prepare. You want me to soak beans overnight? I wonder what percentage of food stamp users are justified.

You wrote:” In short there is no excuse for what the west has allowed to happen other than we are all (including you and I) complete self-centred hypocrites and that includes every single western socialist and every single western conservative.”

What nonsense. “Allowed to happen? “ Surely you don’t mean this. Item: After WWI the US shipped huge amounts of food to Europe, saved the Belgians from starvation. After WWII there was the Marshall Plan, perhaps the biggest act of humanitarian action ever- to name two.

Today the undernourished and those with bad health service are most often extremely poor, ignorant, and superstitious, have high birth (and death) rates and live in high crime situations. They are very difficult to help. Item: every day (not year) about 20,000 children die from diarrhea from contaminated water. Now a sanitary water plant is the answer we think of, that is usually impossible. What is possible and extremely cheap is to put a little bleach in a water vessel and let it stand. (We combat soldiers put a Halizone (spl) tablet in our canteen before refilling from a stream.) But few of the people who might be helped will take the trouble. Much enlightened effort to help is fatuous and alas so often a waste of money. I have talked to some wonderful former Peace Corps people who can relate heartbreaking failures in cases which they had once considered successes.

"As a tool for reducing or controlling electricity consumption it is a 5 billion dollar bust."

I must agree with you Malcolm because by themselves, the only thing smart meters facilitate is Time-Of-Use billing for the utility company. They don nothing by themselves to reduce your energy bill. I also sympathize with you that most people wouldn't know how to read them easily, the digital displays on them designed to cycle continuously between cumulative total kWhrs and other useful information for the utility company, they were never meant to be simple to read by consumers. Indeed not even utility companies manually read their digital displays, since the meters are networked wirelessly through an AMI network to be read electronically remotely by the utility.

Ontario has orphaned most of the 5 million smart meters by not ensuring utility companies equip them to interface to any in-home hi-tech tools for consumers to help them manage their energy bills.

Don writes "Today the undernourished and those with bad health service are most often extremely poor, ignorant, and superstitious, have high birth (and death) rates and live in high crime situations. They are very difficult to help." -- You could have shortened that significantly by simply saying "uneducated". And that's one of my primary beefs with this stupid system we live in. By refusing to help the children we condemn them to repeating the errors of their parents.

And I find it a bit disgusting that you've attributed the poor's lack of health care insurance to personality traits. The fact that in the US, provision of healthcare insurance to many children is left as a perk of employment is disgusting.

especially when it is "government / corporate policy" to keep at least some percentage of the workforce unemployed in order to maintain low wages by competition.

Len comments above: “You could have shortened that significantly by simply saying "uneducated".

Thank you for the kind editing suggestion Len but I did NOT mean simply “uneducated.” Actually, when I wrote my description of the very poor I had in mind Malcolm’s comments referring to the world situation. But you seem to want to use your talents about US poor. The poor in the US usually have cars, color TV (often more than one) cable or satellite service, DVD players, refrigerators and freezers, micro wave ovens,automatic hot water and heat. Many own a house with A/C. A very large percentage of US poor are obese. This is off the top of my head. If I wanted to take the time I could tell you much more about the US poor.

A high percentage of Blacks are classified as poor in the US. Yet these people nearly always have access to the same schools as whites. But how these people are benefited by “free” education is dramatically different. Current figures are like this: Those Blacks who finish high school (i.e. presumably the best educated Blacks) test at the level of white 8th graders. These are very discouraging results. They are true results corroborated results and that is why nobody wants to talk about them. Where I said these people were “difficult to help “I was thinking of people such as sub-Saharans but it applies also to US Blacks albeit to a lesser extent.

"If I wanted to take the time I could tell you much more about the US poor."
-- times not required. Simply say "uneducated". And take your wonky theories on racial issues somewhere else please.

I can understand why many people in the US loathe the idea of socialism: it always was a much more ruthless system in the US, with Tea-Party types everywhere you look. US citizens have far fewer social safety nets than we have up here in polar-bear land, so it's either sink or swim for most people if you don't have lots of money.

Unfortunately the electric utility industry with its heavily regulated monopolies cannot be disassociated from government intervention because governments control regulation, period. So Michael and Don, get over it, because until regulation changes, don't expect anything else than government intervention in the utility business. That includes doling out handouts to pay for anything new for all consumers, or alternatively substantial rate increases for all consumers to pay for them. BTW I should also point out it also includes DECIDING what policies and ultimately what the utility industry should be doing for anything new too....

Get the violins out to soothe your frustrations.

Well, I learned a new word. Wonky [Brit. Slang] Unsteady, liable to break down, boring, stupid (and much more)…first use 1920-1925 – which might account for the word not being in my 1926 Fowler’s.

Anyway, I don’t think I have espoused any theories here. I have presented facts. Some of them might be wonky to you without in any way reducing their validity. Alas, there is a great supply of unpleasant things that are true.

I don’t want to be rude Len, but rather than sending me away, perhaps you could merely avoid reading my comments.

The test result data and what US poor own (above) can be found in recent columns of syndicated writers Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams.

Don. a) your theories regarding racial differences in intelligence are so far completely unsupported by any reliable reference. I would note also that scientists who study differences among species genomes have stated that the most notable thing about humans as a species is how little difference there is in their genome, relative to other species. All humans are essentially identical when compared to say all cows or all lions or all dogs etc.

b) Poor people own less that rich people therefore their situation is their fault?

Wonky.

Bottom line is, give 2 random groups of children from poor families and from relatively well off families comparable educations, rinse and repeat for three generations, and you're likely to find outcomes of the people whose grandparents started poor very favourably comparable to those whose grandparents started relatively well off.

Len, let me try once again: I have no theory about races, and never had such a theory.

I find there are some people so convinced racial differences don’t exist that they are blind to their own observations. Item : Just a few weeks ago I read an article by a professor who claimed American Black athletes are not superior in any way to American whites – a myth he said.

I have never once seen a white man beat an American Black in a dash or hurdles race. Despite drawing from a pool 1/6th or 1/7th as large nearly all the multimillionaire NFL running backs are Black. I have seen good basketball games with ten Blacks on the floor at one time. What’s the random chance of that : 1 in 6^10 = 1 in 60 million or 7^10 = 1 in 282 million of seeing 10 Blacks on the floor. Does one need peer- reviewed evidence?

Cognitive testing is 100 years old and has for as many years been refined. What surprises me and adds credence is that tests of widely different design give such similar statistical results. (Spoken verbal, written verbal, pointing, pictures) There was a big issue raised some years back that American tests gave an edge to middle class American whites. That appeared to have been a valid contention in that Black scores were so far below white scores. So these tests were given to Korean children. The Korean children scored a bit better on the tests than American whites. Nevertheless the tests were revised once again to try to eliminate any bias.

As an aside it is cogent that North Korean children have average IQs exceeded by no country. Today these children are disadvantaged by almost any measure, and Koreans have been abused throughout their history. The Japanese are only now acknowledging that Koreans are not sub-human as they have traditionally considered them -perhaps to excuse their egregious treatment of them.

As to the similarity of all Homo sapiens’ DNA I would point out this similarity is common to all primates. Before we knew about DNA Homo sapiens knew they had viable young in all racial proportions. In a word we are the same animal. But so are English sheep dogs and Pekinese, and quite likely the wolf.

Some can object to what I write because it is statistical. Some can object to me calling man an animal. Objections noted. I hope I do not have to say again that I have no theory about race. But then I don’t have any theory about gravity yet I believe it (without peer-review) and abide by it every day.

Don: My question is, what contribution to the betterment of society do you think you are making by attempting (still unsuccessfully id add) to declare humans with one particular external attribute less worthy of respect than others? Without thinking on it a lot, I'm tempted to say your position is something like claiming that "stupid people are dumb" as a worthwhile item of conversation. My point is, there are some very smart people and some very dumb people of every skin colour, and grouping all members of one colour together to paint them with a particular intelligence attribute serves no positive purpose and only raises longstanding still-open sores.

Don, First of all you always have my respect as one who sees things for what they are. But you are of the "old school" where wasting food was tantamount to committing a sin. I also do not waste food ever. I have been hungry and I have a huge aversion to throwing food of any sort away. I must bring you to your senses though Don. The waste of food in North America is huge. My daughter works as a manager of a fast food outlet. At least 30% of the food going into that place is thrown away due to being past due date. That is without the half eaten dinners the full plates of food that someone ordered and decided they didn't like the spice or whatever feeble reason. You cannot deny that obesity and morbid obesity is an epidemic in North America and the only cause is too many people stuffing too much food into their mouths without even an ounce of remorse for those who have none. My son-in-law works at another fast food outlet and any food cooked but left over at the end of the shift is thrown out. Packages of perfectly edible chicken, salad, burgers are thrown into the dumpster every single shift at every single outlet (and there are thousands of them) across North America. Food waste on an industrially massive scale.
There is PLENTY of food produced to feed every single mouth on the planet. Once study I read showed that from farm to table at least 80% of food calories produced are discarded. We feed enough calories to our cats and dogs to feed an entire continent.
The day I will believe that North America is serious about trying to feed the worlds hungry is when I see no fat teenagers, no 500lb obese people seeking stomach surgery (an epidemic) and dumpsters outside fast food restaurants fiulled with garbage not wasted food.

That my good friend is a long long way off.

Malcolm

I was not going to enter the discussion about US poor versus world poor but one statistical item was etched in my mind a few years ago. It was a study that showed the ranking of the worlds poor and one of the key findings was that the poorest 5% of the population in North America was among the wealthiest 5% of the worlds population. Of course any discussion about this must include what the definition of poor is. That of course is where the problem is. The "poverty line" that is the income below which a household or person is considered "poor" in North America is generally around $15,000 to $20,000 per year. That amount exceeds the average income of China, India and Africa.

People below the poverty line in North America are not poor they are relatively poor. To me poor is not having enough food to eat, having to walk 10 miles to get water, no schools to send the children to, no medical treatment available, no roof over your head. By that (much more meaningful) definition there are no poor people in North America....just people who think they are relative to everyone else.

Like Don I have had the misfortune to see people who I know are on welfare walking out of the beer store carrying a 2-4. I do not begrudge them anything - but please please please do not tell me these people are "poor"

Malcolm

I'm nowhere near as comfortable as Malcolm or Don regarding the ease with which on can ignore the poor in N. America. The "lifestyle" one can achieve here on $15,000 / yr is not that different than that which is possible in say Africa or India. Here, land area is impossibly expensive for a poor person to own or rent, so growing own food is basically impossible, even if local zoning laws would allow achieving any balance in diet by raising a few animals for food, eggs, wool etc. in the back yard on table scraps. Many other points, but basically, N. America achieves its much higher per-capita incomes by financializing every minute part of the lives of its people. Where in Africa, a mother can collect vegetables in the garden, fuel in the forest, and feed the family without any financial transaction; here all the inputs for that process must be purchased from a supply chain which is optimized to target an above-average income customer, meaning it throws away anything even slightly or possibly tainted or even off-colour or wilted and increases the cost of the products on offer. It maximizes GDP and GDP per capita, (and government tax income on all the transactions, as intended), Add to that the huge hurdles for a poor family to get established in a new area (first + last month rent up front, gas and electric service connections, credit rating checks, prior landlord recommendations, etc. etc.) and i'd guess there are probably a lot more children coming to primary schools hungry (inexcusable here, re-read above three posts) than there were when I was in primary in the 1950's and often showing up hungry myself, as son of a hard-working mixed farmer at latitude 55 N in Ontario.

Main point is, we don\t always know what we think we know.

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