At the moment a working group of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), ESB Networks, the Department of Communication, Energy and Natural Resources (DCENR) and Sustainable Energy Ireland (who have I forgotten?) are working on the role out of smart meters in Ireland. Smart meters are really interesting (to me) and can do lots of clever and different things. This post is about what they could include, what they should include, and what they will include.
First, lets talk about what we (the standard domestic user) have today. The meters in most of our houses are very simple, robust and solid. They simply contain a device that measures electricity passing into the house. They can’t (in theory) be tampered with, they don’t measure electricity going the other way (if you were to generate electricity). They don’t measure the time. They don’t measure max demand or rate at which you are using the electricity (that again would require a time thing). They don’t report back the information electronically to the ESB (yes, the man still does come round to read them) they don’t control the electricity passing through them. They don’t control the electricity, just measure it. So if the ESB decide to cut you off, then someone needs to come out, the meter has nothing to do with it.
Next we must understand what the national demand for electricity looks like. This graph shows that in the middle of the night, there is low demand. It rises sharply during the morning, evens out during the middle of the day, and peaks in the evening. This peak is due to people going home, making tea, cooking dinner, that sort of thing. It creates a big headache for the ESB as they need to have power stations waiting around to be switched on to meet the demand when it comes. This means, that there is a push to move from the current system of a flat rate for electricity, to a structured one, more like what the phone system uses.
So what could new meters possibly do? And why?
New smart meters will report information on your energy consumption back to the ESB by the electrical system itself. This will mean no more jobs for meter readers, which should result in savings for the system, which should reduce prices over all.
Smart meters will associate the electricity you are consuming with the time that you are using it at, this will open up all sorts of new tariff structures as discussed below.
If you install an electricity generator in your home, say a wind turbine or Photo Voltaic Solar Panels, then there is a chance that you will need to export electricity, while at other times you may need to import electricity. Net metering refers to meters who can measure electricity going in both directions. This means that you could trade off the cost of the electricity imported against the electricity you exported. This will encourage people to install their own renewable power, which will have benefits for the environment, security of supply, and the economy.
Time of day metering
To the power plants, electricity has different values at different times of the day. During the middle of the night electricity is not in demand, while in the day, particularly in the early evening, it is in really short supply. Time of day metering will allow the ESB to charge different prices at different times of day, and so encourage people to use electricity when it is plentiful. This will have some environmental benefits, but mainly good for security of supply. The idea is that we will all put on our washing machines and dishwashers at night.
This refers to the highest rate you are consuming electricity by your home. It is important for the same reasons as the Time of day metering.
Variable electricity price
Ireland has a mix of electrical generation, from gas, to oil, to coal to wind. Each power station has different economics. Wind for example is expensive to build, but cheap to run (wind is free after all), while gas is cheap to build but expensive to run. So if the true costs were returned to the user, you would have cheap electricity when it is windy, and expensive when it there is no wind. And as the amount of wind installed on the system grows, this wil become more and more important. The idea of variable electricity price is that an interface (lets say a red/amber/green light system) on the meter will inform the user of the relative cost of electricity at that moment. So if it is windy, there would be a green light. If electrical generation was in short supply however, it would be red, and the encourage you to leave the dishwasher or washing machine off for a while.
At the moment the ESB have no control over what you do with the electricity you are getting. Under a load shedding system, some large electricity users in your home could be controlled remotely by the ESB. So if electricity was in short supply, non essential large electrical users, such as your plug in hybrid car, could be “shed” from the network. This would mean that the essential users on the network would have more security of supply, as a cost to the non essential users. Other things like electrical heaters and decorative lighting could also be on this circuit. It would also probably have some sort of boost button to provide electricity if you really needed it.
User interface metering
A key to getting people to use less electricity is to provide them with more information. Perhaps new meters would allow you to trend your usage on your PC.
If it comes time to disconnect you from the system then the ESB could remotely disconnect you. This has two main uses. Firstly for revenue control. Secondly in the event of a catastrophe, and total system blackout, it would be a lot easier to get back going if you shut everyone off, and brought them back on in phases.
So, it is unlikely that all these things will be introduced on day one, but net metering and time of day are almost definite. What do you think of the load shedding stuff?
Let me know. If the web community got together and looked for a PC interface, using blue tooth or something, it could probably still be done.
What other things do you think should be included?