Remember When Smart Meters Were for Customer Convenience?

Russ Steele

I learned the other day that PG&E will be implementing peak day pricing. They will be jacking up the price of electricity during the peak hours for California business and agriculture.  How will PG&E know how much energy a business is using in during peak hours — SmartMeters?

The PG&E webpage has the details HERE:

California businesses are moving to a new electric rate structure called Time-Varying Pricing, part of a statewide energy plan that will be implemented by all investor-owned utilities in the state.

Time-Varying Pricing is designed to help protect the state’s electricity resources. During weekday afternoons, when demand is higher than in the morning or at night, rates are higher; at other times they will be lower. Conserving energy during peak periods, by even a small amount, can help you lower your annual bills.

As I have pointed out before, in the transition to renewable energy sources utilities have less flexibility to crank up another generator to meet the demand. They will not have the generators to crank up, as they will be unable to command the wind blows more, or the sun to shines harder.

One of the strategies is to jack up the price of electrical energy when the demand goes up on hot afternoons.  They hope that increasing the cost of energy will force business to curtail power use on those hot afternoons. Shutting off the AC, turning off lights, and shutting down the machines.

In my estimation, this will force high energy users to leave the state.  Some business cannot just run off the lights and shut down the machines because PG&E is locked into renewable energy by CARB and AB-32.

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About Russ Steele
Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.

19 Responses to Remember When Smart Meters Were for Customer Convenience?

  1. Brad Croul says:

    Sounds like it is time for businesses to put solar panels on all those flat roofed commercial buildings.
    Have you seen the giant wind turbines in Budweiser Fairfield, and Superior Farms in Dixon?
    The good thing about solar is that it shines brightest during peak rate times.

    • stevefrisch says:

      Or you could just do solar thermal hot water (for residential) or paint your roof white in commercial.

      On average, if you install a solar water heater, your water heating bills should drop by 50-80%. For most people that is between $20-$35 per month. Since systems today cost about $1500 to install, you are banking after 3 years. If you are building a new home, or refinancing, and including the price of a solar water heater in the process, the economics are even better. (Oh, and the hot water heater still uses electricity or gas, so before the naysayers say “But I want hot water when its cloudy”, you can just discount them.)

      Using special white roof paint and painting commercial buildings roofs white saves about 20% of air conditioning cost. Similar results in a residence, but more paint because of the shingles, which are a little trickier). Since this is the major energy use for most commercial non-food service buildings, the saving would recover the cost in about 2 years.

      • Brad Croul says:

        Yes, “insulation” gives you a great return on your energy conservation investment.

  2. Dena says:

    I have a smart meter here in Arizona and you get to pick from one of three plans. One plan (the default) is flat rate but you pay more the more power you use. The second plan chargers you a very high rate for power used between 3pm and 6pm. And the last plan puts about 7 hours a day in the high price class. Because we have people in the house during the afternoon, I can’t tamper with the Air Conditioner which is the big power consumer from about now till into November. It looks like the flat rate plan for me till I get a better feel for how we will be using power.
    What would really help is if the utility would add to your web account information on what you power bill would look like before changing plans. They have all the information already so all they need to do is crunch it and produce a few additional bit of information.
    We also have California to thank for this because the power company ships a good deal of power your direction. An example is the Palo Verde Nuclear plant is jointly owned by power companies in both Arizona and California and I am sure that with the band on power generating plants in California, Arizona generated power is more valuable in California than it is in Arizona.
    More information on the rates can be found here http://www.srpnet.com/menu/PayBillPrice.aspx?res

    • stevefrisch says:

      Dena, you should be able to download third party software that gives you the ability to estimate your rates based on your usage and different rate plans. Your usage information by time of day is collected by your utility company and you should be able to get that for free. You can also download third party apps that give you the ability to monitor and control your temperature, and thus your use, on a hand held device, like a cell phone. Most people playing around with such software for can usually save about 25% of their utility bills (that is a national average so results may vary according to location).

  3. stevefrisch says:

    Oh, I forgot….really? Smart Meters in Arizona? That bastion of socialist liberalism?

    • Dena says:

      Yes, first my house was constructed in 2007 and as new construction it received a smart meter. I suspect because it was easy to read (I kind of live in the boondocks).
      Second, Obama provided a good deal of stimulus money so everybody can have one.
      However, this isn’t making sense because stimulating the economy by installing smart meters in the end puts a large number of meter readers out of work. Explain that one to me.
      Also note that currently Arizona leans right. Before Janet went to work for Obama, she was governor of Arizona. That was not the case years ago when I first live here. The population of Phoenix grew from 1 million to 4 million mostly due to people from left leaning state moving to Arizona. Many were snow birds and the economic crash caused many of them to give up their second house causing the housing glut in the Phoenix area. If you want, you can still find a 2000 square foot house in good condition for under $150,000 on the outer edge of Phoenix.

      • stevefrisch says:

        If you have the same types of smart meters I am used to working with, you should be able to read your energy use in per hour increments. By installing an in-home display device that communicates wirelessly with a Smart Meter, you should be able to monitor your electricity usage and costs in real-time, allowing you to adjust your usage instantaneously in response to changes in prices or system reliability events, for example by delaying the use of a high-energy appliance (like washing machines and driers) or shutting them off. This could be done manually or automatically by pre-programming the device or appliance. SAVE YOU A LOT OF MONEY.

        Really, meter readers? My guess is the economic stimulus that comes from saving consumers 20% of their electricity uses creates a heck of a lot more jobs than the few at risk meter readers. Perhaps they can become smart meter installers?

        I know Arizona very well. I visit often, many members of my family like there (Tucson, Phoenix, Prescott and Flagstaff areas). I started visiting there in the 70’s.

      • Dena says:

        Temp jobs. The whole problem with the stimulating the economy by the government is it only works as long as the government is handing out money. What will your new installer do when everybody has a smart meter? When the money runs out, unemployment goes back up and you are left with inflation or more government debt. If the government wants to avoid the long term problem, they tax more so the people pay in taxes what they would have spent out of their pocket. Stimulus only appears to work if you don’t tie the side effects to it.

  4. Dena says:

    I was last in the web site a few months ago and went back in after my post. They now do provide estimates of my bill under other plans and it turns out the saving often amount to a few cents a month and not the 25% you claim. The reason is our power bill is just over $100 a month and until we step up to the next billing bracket we don’t see much in the way of savings. The web site states the basic plan is good for the following cases-
    Your August bill is less than $135
    You have a small to average-size home
    Someone is often home during the day
    You use major appliances, but not on a daily basis
    You are a part-time resident
    In our case, we do have a larger house and we are a full time resident, but all other conditions apply.

    • stevefrisch says:

      To be clearer Dena, I said that when people use monitoring software and actively manage their usage, they can usually achieve a 25% savings. The savings come when you actively manage.

  5. Dena says:

    Short of turning off the heat pump, there is little we could change to get a better power rate. Last year it reached a peek of 118 degrees so turning off the heat pump is not one of those better ideas with one of the members of the house being close to 80! The French were able to kill off a bunch of elderly a few years back because of a heat wave combined with lack of air conditioning.

    • stevefrisch says:

      You must be right Dena, there is just nothing you can do to be more energy efficient.

      • Brad Croul says:

        If someone wants to live in a hotter (or colder) than hell climate, they should expect to pay a lot to be comfortable (or sweat/shiver more); unless they paid more in advance and built their dwelling with superior insulation and passive heating/cooling design.

      • stevefrisch says:

        Precisely Brad, and then they can embrace the victim mindset and pretend they have no control over their lives. Sorry, it is just a big, fat, cop out. If Dena really wanted to change her energy usage, she would, and could.

      • You energy police are too easy. Seig Heil!

      • Dena says:

        The house was built in 2007 and has R30 in the roof and I think R19 in the walls. We use all our power other than the heat pump in the off hours. It is an all electric house (no gas in the neighborhood). I repeat, short of turning off the heat pump and overheating my roommate, there is little I can do to move power out of peak time. I am aware I need to pay for what I use but the point is that the smart meter is not a good way to reduce power consumption unless you are out of the house at peak times. For people who don’t get home from work after 6pm, or for people who can change the timer on their swimming pool pump, it may work. But not for somebody who already cuts their power to the bone.
        In california, I was able to open the house at night and most of the year it would remain less than 80 degrees all day long. I was able to get away with only 2 or three months of air conditioning. The nights don’t get that cool here and if the wind picks up, everything will be coated with dust the next morning.
        The rate plan is rigged so you don’t start saving money till you use more than $130 a month in power. Kind of dumb using more power so you can save more.

  6. Brad Croul says:

    I am not an expert, but I think the reason the rates are higher during the day is due to the fact that the utility companies have to generate power using more expensive methods. During the evening when demand is low, lower cost hydroelectric power can cover more of the demand. It is not a conspiracy as some anti-Obama characters on these sites seem to want to imply.
    The more we insulate, the less power plants we need, and the lower our bills are.

    You could call an insulation contractor to see if you could double the amount of insulation in your attic (if you have one).
    Keeping the sun off your windows by installing awnings helps also.

    • Dena says:

      You are kind of right. At peak times they do use more expensive ways to generate power such as Natural gas turbines however Hydro is best reserved for peaking because it can be controlled in an instant. If they have a surplus of water it is a cheap way to generate power but if water is short, it’s better to use it only when they need it.
      Coal fired and Nuclear need to remain hot all the time even when not producing power so first use Nuclear all the time and add coal if you need more power.
      It has to be a real art form to determine what power resources to use when in order to provide the utility with the lowest cost energy.
      The house is already well insulated. In winter when it gets down to the low 30’s outside, the inside temp only drops about 4 or 5 degrees all night. The house also has double pane windows making it pretty well insulated. I looked at a new house under construction and layers are a tile roof, then plywood and a layer sheet foam insulation and then in the attic they put blown cellulose. The attic is also vented to allow the hot air to escape. Putting more insulation up there would result in little gain.

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