Power to the People

Every year in December I expect the LOML to climb up on our roof, hang over the edges, and attempt to make our house look like a Thomas Kincade painting by stringing Christmas lights around each edge. I also expect our electricity bill to reflect our complete disregard for this excessive energy consumption when we get our bill in January. We budget for this increase (even though we never know exactly what it will cost) and pay the large bill when it arrives. This has become part of our holiday ritual; it is what we expect.

What if I could see how much my energy use increased as soon as we turned on our Christmas lights? What if I could know how much my bill was going to be at any time of the month? These situations are possible with the introduction of Smart Grid technology and are the reality for some consumers as it becomes more widespread.

What Is the Smart Grid?

A simple definition: the Smart Grid is the digitization and modernization of our energy system. However, as I researched this topic after hearing a presentation from SilverSpring Networks, thanks to Mom Central Consulting, I learned defining the Smart Grid can be anything but simple. 

As a nation, we have expectations about our energy consumption. We expect to be able to walk into a room, turn on the lights, and have access to electricity at that exact moment, no matter what. Expecting this from our current system is getting more and more difficult due to the rapid increase in people and technologies accessing our energy grid. A Smart Grid enables energy to be distributed to consumers more efficiently due to the interconnectivity that will be created with the implementation of technologies we use already in other sectors.

The Smart Grid uses similar technology employed by the internet to better connect users to the sources of their energy. In turn, this will make our system more efficient and better able to serve our nation’s needs.

What Does This Change Mean For ME?

Our current metered system reads how much energy a household uses in a month and we are billed for this usage. The new digitized system will equip households with Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI). This means new meters for your home. These meters break down consumption by the hour and instead of being charged a flat rate, consumers will be charged depending on what time of day they are using their energy. Peak times will be billed at a higher rate than non peak hours.

Consumers will be able to securely log into their billing systems, which are getting information from their meters, and determine when they can cut down on their energy consumption to conserve energy and save themselves money.

If your baby vomits all over their favorite blanket at 2:45 in the afternoon in the middle of August and you have to wash it within the next hour to get it clean for bedtime, it may cost a bit more to get that blanket clean at that time of the day because it is considered a peak time.

This is a massive overhaul of tracking energy consumption as well as billing for its use. As with any change or innovation, some think the Smart Grid will be a positive change. Others oppose the innovation for various reasons.

Is the Smart Grid a Good Thing?

As the new meters are being integrated throughout our country, some users are finding ways to conserve energy. By having the ability to closely monitor their energy use, these consumers make changes that translate to saving money. In turn, by conserving energy, our energy grid endures less strain during peak times.

We have more people and technologies demanding the use of energy than ever before. The Smart Grid enables our nation to continue expecting immediate access to energy whenever we want or need it. With better efficiency, we will decrease the need for older, less clean-burning power plant usage. This helps keep our air cleaner by producing less harmful gases into our environment.

Is the Smart Grid a Bad Thing?

As this technology is introduced throughout our country, it is being met with opposition for various reasons. Some view it like Big Brother: watching us closely and reporting our every move. Others have concerns that if this close monitoring and breakdown of energy use were to get into the wrong hands,  it could enable others to know when we are home or not, allowing for easier break-ins.

The meters currently in place in homes are old and may not be reporting our energy use as accurately as they should. When the new meters are installed and readings are more accurate, the household bill reflects the new accuracy and bills can rise. This is not a common case, but has happened enough for others to worry.

What’s Next?

Our energy grid as it exists cannot sustain our increasing demand for energy use. The Smart Grid is a logical step in improving our energy distribution. Whether this increased efficiency will translate to an increased cost to the consumer remains to be seen. For now, we will continue to educate ourselves about this topic because here in the Calandro Clan we believe knowledge is power.

We may need to budget a bit more for our Thomas Kincade effect at Christmas in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Disclosure: I wrote this post after attending an informational luncheon on behalf of Silver Spring Networks and Mom Central Consulting and received a gift bag and gift card as a thank you for taking the time to participate.

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