Smart power meters start to arrive

By Felix Salmon
May 20, 2009

Google PowerMeter announced its first partnerships today, with energy companies from Kentucky to Canada participating in the program. I spoke to Hal Snyder, who works for one of them, San Diego Gas & Electric, which has recently started installing what it calls “smart meters” in 1.4 million homes in southern California. It’s up to 10,000 now, hopes to get more than 200,000 by the end of the year, and have everybody installed by 2011.

Any of SDG&E’s customers can get their electricity-usage information from the utility’s own website, but now they’ll have the option of getting it straight from Google instead, embedding it on their iGoogle home page, that kind of thing. And the more they see how much energy they’re using, the less they’ll use — a 5%-10% reduction up-front, with more down the road when they start replacing appliances and light bulbs and the like.

None of this comes cheap: SDG&E is spending $500 million on this scheme, or about $350 per installed meter, but reckons it’s worth it in terms of hitting conservation goals, improving system reliability (they don’t need to wait for phone calls any more to know that power’s down in a certain area), and even obviating the need for new sources of power if and when variable pricing is introduced and moves consumption away from peak time and into the night time and evening.

The question is what happens for those of us who don’t have such an enlightened energy utility. Will we pay $350 to Google for a gizmo which does something similar? Since it’s Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the company, will they subsidize it somehow? Or should we just start lobbying our legislators to make smart metering happen nationwide? (I’m unclear on the degree to which such things are part of the stimulus plan.) In any event, the quicker this happens, and the more people that get this information, the better off we’ll all be.

Comments
5 comments so far

More info about the device and especially a photo of the device would be most helpful.

How does the technology work? Through an internet connection? Cell phone network?

Very disappointing article which leaves reader frustrated.

Posted by Andrew | Report as abusive

Smart meters are similar to analog meters in that for every revolution of the meter disc they generate an pulse. The speed of rotation of the disk inside the analog meter indicates how much and how fast energy is being pulled off the grid.

limitenergy.com offers a real time energy monitoring system (RTEMS) that can display energy demand and consumption data in real time over internet. Using this information control strategies can be implemented to lower the monthly electric bill between 10 to 30%. You can take actions and get immediate feedback as to what is going on with the electricity consumption. Is the furnace running all night long (if so why, is building envelope compromised), filter dirty, low on refrigerant. How much are light left on all night long. How much is TV adding to the bill … etc.

The higher the consumption higher the speed of rotation of the disk – In smart meter the faster the pulse rate. By reading the pulse information generated by the smart meter we can accurately know the kW and KWH (demand and the consumption). Higher kW is like opening a fire hydrant and lower kW is like using the kitchen faucet. The numbers of empty one gallon milk cartons you can fill is the kWH. Utility company base their rate on both number. How many times you open the fire hydrant and how many bottles you fill.

This has been available here in Germany (at least from some power/utility companies) for some time now, though personally I don’t have one. Also I don’t think Google supports them yet, you would have to look it up on their website.

Posted by flo | Report as abusive

Wikipedia on the 28M smart meters installed in Italy 2001-2005: “In various publications Enel has estimated the cost of the project at approximately €2.1 billion and the savings they are receiving in operation of 500 million Euros per year, a 4 year payback.”

To be fair, there were some especially favorable features in that Enel/Capgemini project, but that last line is the killer: in the utility world, “4 year payback” is the voice of the angelic choir.

Posted by Monte Davis | Report as abusive

After having read your article I want to share with you something that cost much less is easily installed and doesn’t mean throughing away a perfectly good meter.

Have a look at : http://www.xemtec.fr and http://www.xemtec.com

I really like this type of solution.

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/