The dream of the smart grid, an intelligent electrical grid integral to the 21st century economy, is finally coming true, thanks to smart meter initiatives in cities like Chicago, Baltimore and Palm Beach.
The installation of smart meters, a device that helps consumers establish a
two-way connection with the grid, is integral to this transformation. The device offers homeowners and business owners a new level of energy intelligence with near real-time energy use data.
Companies like BetterNRG, a Chicago-based clean-tech organisation, help consumers interpret this information.
We dont expect that customers are going to look every day on the Internet to log into a site to figure it out. We try to make it user-friendly, said BetterNRG CEO Mark Rice, whose company sends regular email updates to users in order to help them understand their energy costs.
If you can take the data from a smart meter and make it user friendly and show peoplehow much they are consuming and how that compares for example to people around themthere is something about human behavior where that is very effective, he said.
For residential and commercial customers, data like this offers a level of granularity that was previously unavailable. Whereas traditional meters just offer total consumption, smart meters break it up by date and time, helping to raise awareness about the value of energy conservation.
If you can effectively reduce energy through these devices and behavior modifications, you can probably save as much as 50 per cent off your bill or consume 50 per cent less energy, Rice said.
Research by the U.S. Department of Energy reinforces Rices conclusions. A 2009 pilot study involving 3,000 electric customers in Maine found that 70 per cent of participants modified their behaviour when provided with weekly updates detailing energy use and costs. Overall, these changes resulted in a 1.8 per cent reduction of energy consumption per participant. Also compelling are cost savings by the energy provider, Central Maine Power (CMP). Since smart meters enabled CMP to conduct meter readings and service changes remotely, the company saved approximately $6.7 million in 2013, according to the report.
For businesses with high rates of energy usage, smart meters offer particular allure. In addition to cutting costs through close monitoring, smart meters can quickly alert you and the power company if theres outage, helping to mitigate risk of failing products such as refrigerators, washers and dryers or air conditioners.
Programs like PeakChoice by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company incentivise business owners to use energy during non-peak hours. Designs like this are meant to be fiscally as well as environmentally responsible, mitigating the effects of temporary spikes in energy demand.
Local governments are also developing regulations and fines to spur adoption. Cities like Baltimore and Chicago are imposing fees on business owners who opt out of smart meter usage. Fees will incur on an upfront and monthly basis. At the lower-end of predictions, its likely that these fines will rise, as well as spread to other communities throughout the U.S.
Put together, its not surprising that the number of smart meters shipped is set to rise. According to a recent study by Grand View Research Inc., a market research and consulting company, 59.6 million smart meter units were shipped in 2012. By 2020, that number is expected to grow to 165.5, putting the market at an estimated valuation of $22 billion. As the smart grid rapidly expands, the message to consumers and business owners is clear: embrace smart meter technology and prepare yourself for savings.
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