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apresher
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Smart Meters
apresher   5/14/2012 8:37:22 AM
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Chuck, very interesting and I think this will be an important step in moving toward better energy management in the home, and variable pricing models that will encourage conservation at peak loading times.  Thanks.

naperlou
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Re: Smart Meters
naperlou   5/14/2012 9:16:54 AM
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Smart meters are being installed in our city (Naperville, IL) and it has generated some controversy.  There are two points on which people get upset.  First is the ability of the utility to have access to our usage patterns on a fine grained level.  Second is the electromagnetic radiation that will harm some people.  The second is just a canard.  In Europe about half of the implementations use power line communications.  I would think this is cheaper, so I wonder why our city has choosen Wi-Fi. 

The privacy issue is surely there, but to take utilities to the next level of reliability and effeciency that information is needed.  We do not have devices in the home to control particular appliances, so the utility can only shut off the whole structure.  The other features, beyond the meter itself, are all ancilary deices that will be required to implement Demand Side Management (DSM).  Just having the meter is a necessary starting point. 

Another thing that strikes me is the replacement cycle.  Since these meters will be technology driven, it is unlikely that technology will have stood still in the time frame assumed.  The meters will have to be programmable, and perhaps should be modular.  Otherwise, those that are rushing to implement this now will end up with obsolete equipment in a very short time. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Smart Meters
Charles Murray   5/14/2012 6:01:13 PM
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I think you're right on the money, Naperlou. The privacy issue is debatatble, but the electromagnetic radiation isn't a problem. The power levels used hear are lower than those of cell phones, so everyone who is concerned about this should take the first step of tossing their cell phones now.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Smart Meters
TJ McDermott   5/15/2012 1:31:20 AM
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Naperlou, people see this as an invasion of privacy because companies do such a BAD job of explaining how this system will benefit them.

Most people (myself included) will see this as a way for the power company to gouge its customers - higher rates at peak demand periods.

The power companies have a captive audience - you cannot go shopping, can you?

Customers have to see this as good for them for proper buy-in.  The companies MUST prove that customers will see a real savings, not just less of an increase.

bobl
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Iron
Re: Smart Meters
bobl   5/15/2012 12:03:54 PM
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I live in the Los Angeles area.  Southern California Edison installed the smart meters in my area earlier this year.  They promised us a way to monitor our usage on-line.  That has yet to happen.  If it happens, I can envision someone writing an application to ping the meter every 15 minutes and attempting to create a usage history to compare with the utility bill.  Who would win that battle?  Will the utilities give us a log of usage by hour, day, week?

While I see the concept of smart meters, I cannot help but feel that the time-of-day billing will be a nightmare for consumers.  We can have a long hot(!) spell when electricity usage and demand goes through the roof.  I can't wait to see a bill after one of those periods.

Yes, the utilities have to sell the consumer on the 'benefits' of a smart meter.  I don't really see any consumer benefit.  This is along the same lines as paperless billing.  While I don't really like to waste paper, nobody is giving me any sort of discount for paperless billing or auto-pay (for that matter).  Let them send me a bill.  Because of the refund of a deposit and the subsequent crediting of that deposit to several months statements, I got a bill of $0.57.  Damn right, I paid it with a check.  Maximum inconvenience for a stupid statment.

apresher
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Smart Meters
apresher   5/14/2012 9:27:11 AM
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Naperlou, are there any talk of using networking to interface this data to touchpanels/thermostats as a way for consumers to be able to use this information?

naperlou
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Re: Smart Meters
naperlou   5/14/2012 9:50:26 PM
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apresher, not that I know of.  That is what puzzles me.  This will allow the utility to monitor their network better and to get an idea of usage down to the premise.  It does not, as yet, have a consumer DSM component.  That is where the real savings will come in, both for the individual customer and the systems as a whole.

One thing that might be of interest is that Naperville has a municipal distribution company.  Thus, they can buy power from different sources.  Our rates have been good as a result. 

tekochip
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Platinum
Control is next
tekochip   5/14/2012 12:13:38 PM
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I know the next stage will be to control appliance like air conditioning and the like, but in it's present form I do not see my electricity usage as an invasion privacy. Now, the guys running the grow houses might have a concern. I would take issue with ComEd running my appliances and then the security issues that come with that level of interaction.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Control is next
Beth Stackpole   5/14/2012 3:42:51 PM
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Some level of monitoring and control is necessary to enable a smart grid type of application. But in some ways, what's the difference. The electric and power companies already monitor usage for billing, and this isn't really any different.

Charles Murray
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Re: Control is next
Charles Murray   5/14/2012 6:02:32 PM
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I think the benefit is for them, not us, Beth. They want to reduce their costs. They might position it otherwise, but I have my doubts.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Control is next
Beth Stackpole   5/15/2012 7:10:42 AM
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But wouldn't the monitoring help in terms of lowering utility expenses? I thought that was part of the appeal of the smart grid. If you know my usage patterns, you might be able route me more effectively to cheaper, alternative energy sources or something that will reduce my monthly bill. No??

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: Control is next
tekochip   5/15/2012 7:24:19 AM
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Customers will receive a discount if they allow the power company to control their usage, such as controlling an air conditioner or a washing machine.


Charles Murray
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Re: Control is next
Charles Murray   5/15/2012 7:57:13 PM
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You're absolutely correct, Beth, one of the key theoretical advantages of the smart grid is its ability to enable us to use power more intelligently, at more cost-effective times. Call me cynical, though. I just have a feeling that the utilities' savings will be used in other ways, and the trickledown from the smart grid will somehow miss me.

Jon Titus
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Electronic Power-Meter Cautions
Jon Titus   5/14/2012 1:46:48 PM
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Power-line communications have a place, but in communities that have tried broadband over power-line comms for Internet access, the power-line signals have caused interference to wireless signals. Most US communities that adopted broadband over power-line as an alternate to cable have dropped it.  Perhaps the meters in Europe use a lower-frequency scheme for power-line communications.  How do they pass signals through transformers and substations, or do they grab the signals locally and transmit them over a wireless link?

Security becomes a big issue.  We don't want people to spoof a system and turn off power. Also, smart meters need to detect reversal of current flow so someone can't reverse a meter.

Here in the Salt Lake Valley, Rocky Mountain Power can connect a module to an air conditioner and control it with a wireless link. When power demand increases during the summer, the power company can shut off air conditioning for 15 minutes per hour. Those of us who voluntarily have such a module attached get a rebate at the end of each calendar year. So our power company already has some sort of power-management wireless network in place.

Texas Instruments has some devices, boards, and application information for engineers interested in smart meters: http://www.ti.com/solution/smart-e-meter-diagram.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Electronic Power-Meter Cautions
TJ McDermott   5/15/2012 1:33:17 AM
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John, the smart meters should detect reversal of current if the customer is sending juice back to the power company.  Smart meters should be able to deal customers having solar generation and wind turbines.

apresher
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Smart Meters
apresher   5/15/2012 9:28:45 AM
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Even in the industrial space, the ability to monitor energy usage is a first step and you'd think that new smart meters could be part of that.  Control is still a way out into the future, given the speed we're moving at the moment.  I thought the Google Powermeter service was interesting (http://www.google.com/powermeter/about/) but now the service has been "retired". This page does reference a study by CenterPoint Energy Inc. and the Department of Energy found that 71% of customers reported changing their energy consumption as a result of accessing energy data through in-home displays.

Arcs_n_Sparks
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Iron
Chinese could not be happier
Arcs_n_Sparks   5/15/2012 9:40:37 AM
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The Chinese cannot wait until the U.S. has wide-scale deployment of Smart meters. They are a security vulnerability (perhaps not so much today, but the meter stays put while the security hacks grow in sophistication). And if you think this can be managed by remote upgrades of the firmware, well, that works both ways.

Jon Titus
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Re: Chinese could not be happier
Jon Titus   5/15/2012 10:26:46 AM
See: 

"FBI Warns Smart Meter Hacking May Cost Utility Companies $400 Million A Year"


Time to roll out the aluminum foil and cover your smart meter!


rrietz
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Iron
Re: Chinese could not be happier
rrietz   5/15/2012 4:50:33 PM
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Any meter (or anything else for that matter) which can be upgraded remotely must be locked down fairly tightly. 

HP printers are going through that tightening up process because of the ability to download malicious firmware. I think it was an overheating fuser proof of concept that got HP to tighten up firmware update processes for printers.

It may or may not be the Chinese.  All we can see for certain is that many attacks appear to come from that nation, no absolute proof.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Chinese could not be happier
Rob Spiegel   5/15/2012 4:58:47 PM
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Good point on the aluminum foil, Jon. Who would guess anyone would be interested in hacking meters. I still have a dumb meter. Maybe I'm lucky.

mrdon
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Gold
Smart Meter Reference Design
mrdon   5/15/2012 1:31:54 PM
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Nice article Charles. For those interested, TI has a wealth of technical information on Smart Meters. Here's a link to their reference design. http://www.ti.com/solution/smart-e-meter-diagram. Also, TI has made a quick video explaining their Smart Meter Reference design as well. http://www.engineeringtv.com/video/Texas-Instruments-TIs-Smart-Met

Thinking_J
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Platinum
smart meters..getting bad rap
Thinking_J   5/15/2012 3:14:29 PM
I have been involved in "smart Grid" technology for 17 years.

Security....

There are very few installed smart meters with remote disconnect option. Reason: it adds a great deal of cost to unit, with for very little usage(value).

And the risk of what can be done with "hacked" meters is no more than what is already done with old meters that typically erred on the side of the consumer Power companies have already "lost" billions in revenue...on paper anyway.

costs....

Lost revenue is mis-leading, any real losses are built into billing rate. Reason: most power companies have defined profits by regulating agencies for their area. Result: until recently, Power companies do not have much incentive to actually be more efficient and/or bill accurately.

And cost to read meters .. for my small town .. $250,000 a year - for insurance alone! (cost of people's dogs biting meter readers). Plus the cost of wages/trucks/office support, etc.. It is significant.

The largest part of one's electric bill .. goes to infrastructure (fixed cost).. not fuel (base on usage). There are numerous proposals "out there" .. trying to make billing reflect this reality. Do people really believe that if EVERYONE uses less electricity, their electric bill will be significantly reduced? (that's just crazy talk!).. At best, those that are first to use less power will have smaller power bill, but after EVERYONE uses less power.. everyone will pay the same to cover the infrastructure costs.

Going forward...

If we are to use the existing infrastructure most effectively, controlling peak power delivery is required. The primary tool for doing this, is social engineering via monetary incentives. For the next 10 years , it will be much cheaper to cover society's needs this way compared to building more infrastructure. And most companies can't (won't?) project the future beyond 5 years with any accuracy.

Real value to "smart grid"....

If we are going to make our grid more robust.. we will need better monitoring and control. THIS is the biggest security issue - not terrorist. The cost related to blackouts is very, very high. In both lives and $.

The silliest concern yet on smart meters..

"radiation" from meters. Just what do people think the meter is monitoring? a large web of radiating elements (power wires) throughout their home!.. and a new meter is that typically transmits at a level tens of thousands of times smaller, for a few milliseconds each day, THIS is their big concern? Really?

What next? shoot people waking by their house talking on their cell phone?

 

Arcs_n_Sparks
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Iron
Re: smart meters..getting bad rap
Arcs_n_Sparks   5/16/2012 10:02:30 AM
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Thinking_J's post is very good. It points out what I believe to be the most serious issue: our governments, bending to the environmentlists, don't want to build any more power plants. We will now "shape" the load by extracting significant costs for consuming electricity at inconvenient times. What nonsense.

While the grid could me more robust through instrumentation and monitoring, that benefit is really at the T&D level. Monitoring my house is a pimple on the back end of the electrical infrastructure elephant.

And I agree the R.F. concern is totally off base. These people are probably complaining to their utility on their cell phone.

Jon Titus
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Separate Delivery and Use Charges
Jon Titus   5/15/2012 5:33:29 PM
Hydro One in Ontario, Canada, privides bills that separate delivery from cost of electricity. Unfortunately even if they don't deliver any electricity, you still get billed for it.  I know people who have summer cottages in Ontario and they pay about $10 for electricity during summer vacation and then $100+ per quarter for delivery when they're not there.

Thinking_J
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Platinum
purpose to metering.... ?
Thinking_J   5/15/2012 5:53:37 PM
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For many years in this country.. electricity wasn't metered at all (except for industrial users)

In many countries today.. electricity isn't metered (on homes)

Reason why: because it isn't related to the electric billing.

If all electricity was solar or wind generated.. you would have a similar electric bill. Reason: infrastructure costs would be about the same.

 

Reason for metering: same as reason for padlocks - social engineering.

For padlocks..  to encourage honest people to remain ... honest.

For electric meters...to keep people from being wasteful with a resource. (you waste/use more than your neighbor - you pay more than your neighbor). People tend to waste a resource if there is no penalty for being wasteful.

If there were no metering.. the world would not come to an end. Your electric bill (on average) would remain the same.

 

Smart meters = additional level of monitoring for additional level of social engineering ( to control peak power usage).. So we don't have to pay for additional infrastructure to handle higher peaks.

 

Jon Titus
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Electrochemical Meters circa 1880
Jon Titus   5/15/2012 7:01:59 PM
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On an historical note, the first electricity meters used the electrochemical deposition of a metal (zinc) onto an electrode as a way to measure current.  The higher the current, the more metal got deposited.  For more information, run a Google search for "zinc edison meter electricity" but without the quotes. You'll find several good articles about how electricity metering got started. In the beginning, Edison charged by the lamp.

Thinking_J
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Platinum
it all adds up...
Thinking_J   5/16/2012 3:02:31 PM
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Arcs...Not just environmentalists driving the issue.

When everyone's home Air Conditioning kicks in in the afternoon (I am in southwest), the peak demand can cause overloading of the transmission lines. Options: 1, build more/bigger transmission lines (everyone wants additional high tension lines in their neighborhood) 2, add natural gas fueled generators to kick in closer to load (and everyone wants a power generator in their neighborhood) 3, let the power brown out or shut down.

I don't think the objections involved will be coming exclusively from environmentalists.

Existing transmission lines are already maxed out. ( I don't see them making economic sense of super conductor lines for the hundreds of miles our lines run).

And when the additional natural gas generator kicks in.. According to my sources in the power company.. a minimum of $250,000 is spent, just to cover 15 minutes of peak demand - covering a limited area of a city.

If they don't turn on the additional peak generating source BEFORE the peak .. they risk a brown out or worst. So they are constantly playing chicken (will the peak subside before exceeding present capacity?) on summer afternoons.

A private home's consumption may be only a " pimple" but they add up! And it is the only load they can influence. Nearly everything else (commercial, industrial) has little ability to control their peak power demands.

The additional transmission lines.. the most expensive option.

Distributed Gas generators less expensive ... but not by much (have to get LARGE NG lines to the site).. effectively laying gas lines  to delivery energy instead of high tension lines.

No easy answers everyone can agreed to.

and yes.. none of the answers will reduce your electric bill.

Anyone thinking there is an option that will reduce their costs of having electricity, is in denial. We (in US) are accustomed to cheap power, it will never be that cheap again.

 

William K.
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Platinum
smart meters, dumb policies, and load peaks
William K.   5/21/2012 10:37:48 PM
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The concept of increasing capacity to handle the ever bigger peaks is fundamentally deffective in one major area, which it neglects the demand for maximum return on the investment in the system.  The result is that if we double the generating capacity, policy will demand that sales should rise to utilize that capacity all the time. That is how the maximizing of ROI works in the real world. Investors will not stand for expensive generating capacity not producing income. So the concept of expanding to fit the load assures that the load will always grow.

What the smart meters will certainly do is allow the utilities to charge much more for power when people want it the most. This will benefit the utilitie's stockholders and be hard on those who are not rich. 

Two things are urgently needed, which the first is a means to quickly disconnect those areas that suffer some system failure before they cause a system collapse such as the last one. The finer the granularity of the disconnection ability the fewer will be affected by the catastrophic faults. The other urgent need is a means to ration power consumption during overload periods. Cutting off the air conditioning power for 15 minutes out of each hour will not hurt anyone, but it would be an immediate reduction in usage, and it could solve problems. Of course, to be the most effective it would need to cover all the users, not just a few of them. That is where the smart meters could come in, except that none of the meters that I am aware of include means for interrupting service. So another generation of smart meters would need to be produced and installed. That would be a quite extensive capital outlay, I think.

Charles Murray
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Re: smart meters, dumb policies, and load peaks
Charles Murray   5/24/2012 8:16:55 PM
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"What the smart meters will do is allow utilities to charge much more for power when people want it the most." I wholeheartedly agree, William K. Call me cynical, but I can't imagine my electric bill decreasing because of the presence of smart meters.



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