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Offline thedoc

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What's your take on smart meters?
« on: 23/12/2014 18:30:01 »
CHARLES TURNER  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
There seems to be quite a controversy regarding "Smart Meters", what is the Naked Scientists take on them?

I thoroughly enjoy your podcast "Ask the Naked Scientists" keep up the great work.

Charles, Canada

 
What do you think?
« Last Edit: 23/12/2014 18:30:01 by _system »


 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #1 on: 23/12/2014 19:37:06 »
Smart meters are great for selling to dumb customers.

The power consumption of every electrical device is written on it. If it is switched on and not actually working, there will be a little green light on the front. So why make a trip to the electricity meter cupboard (which in my case is outside in the snow) to find out how much power you are using at any time? If you want to save electricity, switch off anything you aren't using - the power meter won't tell you what to do.

Incidentally I see the blessed European Union now bans the sale of domestic vacuum cleaners of more than 1800 W power, "to save energy". Utter rubbish! If you reduce the power of a mechanical device, it takes longer to do the same job, so the energy use is exactly the same, but you have to waste more of your life doing it.

Morons governed by morons.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #2 on: 24/12/2014 08:55:44 »
I was working on communicating "smart meters" around 1990, and ran some technology trials in USA and Australia. Unfortunately, it was a bit ahead of it's time (some would say it still is...).

As I see it, some major benefits are:
  • Distributed Electricity Generation: If you are going to generate some electricity (eg with solar cells or a windmill), and feed it into the grid (which will inevitably be at a different price than you buy from the grid), a smart meter is able to keep independent tally of generation and consumption, so that an accounting system can work out the bill. (As battery technology improves, the same metering capability could be used to support distributed electricity storage.)
  • Controlling Spikes in Consumption: The main costs of generation don't come from the average consumption, but from the few hours or days in a year that consumption exceeds capacity. There are significant capital cost savings if you can get people to curtail consumption at just these times, by sending advice or price signals.
  • An electronic meter is able to charge more at peak times.
  • I can forsee a time when the weather report ends with "Tomorrow will be an expensive day for electricity, with prices forecast to rise 50% above normal".
  • In the near future, similar messages could be sent over the internet into "The Internet of Things", which would invisibly trim electricity consumption and reduce blackouts.
  • Theft: Electricity suppliers work on very thin margins. If even 1% of electricity is stolen, they will make a loss (and we eventually pay for it). Electronic meters are able to provide far more information that can help prosecute these "leeches". 

Some major disadvantages I see are:
  • Reliability: The old spinning-disk electricity meter can keep working for 50 years. Electronics is advancing so rapidly that it is hard to see electronic meters being maintainable for even 10 years (if that long!).
  • Universality: Electronic electricity meters can be powered from the electricity. But mechanical meters can also read water and gas consumption (without taking electricity anywhere near the gas and water - not an ideal combination!).
  • Competition: Someone walking the street with a smart pad is actually a very cheap way to read a mechanical meter.
  • Privacy: Without adequate security, it would be possible for someone to remotely check which people in a suburb are on vacation, then go and raid their houses.
  • NIH: Electricity suppliers tend to be quite conservative, like to be independent of everyone else, and are used to having their own way. The thought that end-users could interrogate their electronic meter (and possibly hack it) will send shivers up their collective spines. Fortunately, there are a set of power industry standards called "Smart Grid" that shows a path forward for electricity suppliers.

In the end, computing costs are plummeting, and almost everything else is becoming "smart" (including our phones, credit cards, household appliances, cat collars, watches and even our flashy Christmas decorations), so I think it is just a matter of time - and people becoming comfortable with it.
« Last Edit: 25/12/2014 00:05:22 by evan_au »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #3 on: 24/12/2014 16:56:45 »

  • I can forsee a time when the weather report ends with "Tomorrow will be an expensive day for electricity, with prices forecast to rise 50% above normal".


To which the answer is "so what?" I still need to see what I am doing, cook dinner, and treat patients. Am I going to waste a 10 joint of meat because it will cost 75p instead of 50p to cook it? Will I tell the patient to come back on a warm day so my MRI machine won't cost as much to run? (actually I don't have a choice - the cryocoolers have to run 24/365, unless I want to spend another $1M and 6 months' work on a new magnet, and anyway the coolers work better on a cold day).
« Last Edit: 26/12/2014 16:36:16 by alancalverd »
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #4 on: 26/12/2014 16:13:13 »
Smart meters are great for selling to dumb customers.

The power consumption of every electrical device is written on it. If it is switched on and not actually working, there will be a little green light on the front. So why make a trip to the electricity meter cupboard (which in my case is outside in the snow) to find out how much power you are using at any time? If you want to save electricity, switch off anything you aren't using - the power meter won't tell you what to do.

Incidentally I see the blessed European Union now bans the sale of domestic vacuum cleaners of more than 1800 W power, "to save energy". Utter rubbish! If you reduce the power of a mechanical device, it takes longer to do the same job, so the energy use is exactly the same, but you have to waste more of your life doing it.

Morons governed by morons.
I'd like to see you doing the cleaning.
A well designed cleaner picks up almost all the dust in the first "sweep".
Increasing the power won't improve on that.
So, presumably you think you can clean, say, only the left hand side of the room with a high powered cleaner and that will do the right hand side too.
« Last Edit: 26/12/2014 16:15:34 by Bored chemist »
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #5 on: 26/12/2014 16:34:28 »
And by your logic, a 15-foot-wide suction head powered by a 2 watt motor will clean the room even quicker! Makes you wonder why nobody ever put one on the market. Or, for that matter, put 2000 kW engines on aeroplanes.

Fact is that the cleaning efficiency depends on intake air speed, which, for a given head area, depends on the motor power. The bigger the motor, the larger the particle it can pick up for a given linear speed over the floor. So if we have a fixed distribution of dirt (say a teenager's bedroom) the time taken to pick it all up is inversely proportional to motor power, so the energy required is constant.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #6 on: 27/12/2014 03:51:05 »
I suppose it depends on how complicated of a "smart system" is designed. 

I would expect the first generation to have a simple fixed algorithm such as variable  energy charges:

50% 6am - 7am
100%, 7am - 8pm
50% 8pm - 12pm
30% 12pm -6am

It probably won't mean a lot to people, and designed right, average rates would stay the same.  Are you going to cook breakfast before 6 am?  Cook dinner after midnight?

However, there are a few changes that a person might do.  For example, if you had an electric vehicle, or an rechargeable hybrid, one might chose to to enable after midnight charging. 

Perhaps rather than enabling heating only at say 7:00 AM and 5:00 PM, one might consider turning an electric heating system on earlier. 

Maybe smart hot water heaters that could heat the water, say from midnight-6am, then no heat for the rest of the day.  Turn on dishwashers and clothes washers after midnight.  Morning only for showers.

Perhaps one would design methods to store energy from low cost hours such as a battery system, or perhaps a liquid salt heat storage system.

It might encourage natural gas heatig for those who have access.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #7 on: 27/12/2014 08:50:59 »
We had half-price offpeak storage heaters way back in the 1950s. We had industrial peak monitoring and differential charging in the 1960s. It was all done with dumb mechanical meters and worked very well, as did the nationalised generation and distribution system. The strategic objective was to smooth out demand so we could replace dirty, dangerous coal-fired power stations with clean, safe nuclear ones.

Privatisation killed all that.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #8 on: 27/12/2014 15:41:50 »
In Ontari, Canada, the Auditor General just released a report that was pretty damning of the results so far. Installation of smart meters ran way over budget, they did not decrease peak demand, and prices for off peak energy increased. Any savings seemed obliterated by something called the Global Adjustment, which covers the gap between guaranteed prices paid to contracted power generators and the market price. I don''t know if these problems are intrinsic to a smart meter program or not.
It is pretty difficult to influence consumer behavior when there are so many fees on the bill unrelated to actual consumption. Anecdotally, but a common experience none the less, is people insist their usage is not accurate, or the amount charged for it is not consistent. When my husband's uncle died his usage went up even after everything was unplugged, and the next month after the power was turned off!
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #9 on: 27/12/2014 22:07:41 »
Quote from: cheryl j
Installation of smart meters ran way over budget
Today, electronic meters are more expensive than the electromechanical variety. This is known, and can be easily budgeted for the regular domestic meter. But there are quite a number of unusual installations, which require special meters (read low-volume/high cost), and potentially require design work on many affected sites.

Installing power meters is a very labor-intensive program, especially if the power connections do not exactly match the spacing of the previous electromechanical meter. Communications capability further complicates the issue, as there are dead-spots in wireless coverage, some countries enclose meters in a metal box, and wired connections have all sorts of safety concerns.

We also saw that the new technologies caused some difficulties with workers in the industry. Even for something as simple as terminating a wire, the tools used by the power industry could easily handle a wire as thick as your index finger, but could not cope with wires less than 0.5mm thick.

Quote
guaranteed prices
Energy prices are fairly heavily regulated around the world.
It partly has to do with the observation that electricity distribution is a "natural monopoly" - it benefits noone if there are two sets of electricity poles running down your street, with two sets of wires to which you can connect (the same can be said of roads, water and gas).
But everyone is aware that an unscrupulous monopoly draws excess profit and tends to get bloated and lazy. Hence the heavy regulation - which also tends towards an excess bureaucracy which also tend to get bloated and lazy.

Quote
fees on the bill unrelated to actual consumption
In today's environment, you can often generate electricity more cheaply than you can buy it (over a 5 year timeframe). But you are typically producing it at times and locations that are different from the times and places that you want to consume it. So you use the grid to dispose of it when you don't want it, and consume it from the grid when you do want it.

This means that electricity companies can no longer charge per kWh, but must add in a significant fixed price for the grid itself. Having available "Peak" power capacity for the worst hours of the year represents a huge investment which is hardly ever used. This dilutes any price signals, unless the price swings become extreme, like 10:1 (something that is likely to get regulators voted out of office).
Quote from: alancalverd
dumb mechanical meters and worked very well
I agree that two, single-phase electromechanical meters, connected via a time-switch (or commanded via power-line tones) are simple and robust. My house used such an arrangement until this year.

As a holiday job at university, I worked on repairing polyphase electromechanical meters which had features like peak measurement and time-based measurement. These are all features which are quite simple in software, but horribly complex in a mechanical device.
« Last Edit: 27/12/2014 22:27:02 by evan_au »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #10 on: 28/12/2014 07:34:21 »
As a holiday job at university, I worked on repairing polyphase electromechanical meters which had features like peak measurement and time-based measurement. These are all features which are quite simple in software, but horribly complex in a mechanical device.
Plus, updates to a mechanical device can be problematic, whereas a mostly computerized system can often be updated with software. 

As far as labor expenses, having a meter-reader coming to each house to read the meter every month can be very expensive and labor intensive.  Thus, going to some kind of networked system can save a lot despite installation hassles.

As far as being overcharged, the utility distribution system is just about the only system that can charge "estimated charges" if they think one isn't using enough electricity/water/gas.  Usually they'll fix it after a few months, but I've had a few occasions where they believe their estimates are more accurate than their own meters.  I had one occasion that the Gas company started doing "estimated charges" despite getting electronic readings from their fancy electronic meters several times a day.  Then they decided to send a technician to check the meter.  Then, they didn't believe their own technician was correct, and refused to give "credit" for the overpaid estimated amounts.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #11 on: 28/12/2014 10:04:18 »
Quote
estimated charges
When I was living in Belgium, I saw a low-labour (and in my case, surprising accurate) method of estimating the water bill.
  • The meters are indoors (to reduce the chance of pipes freezing), so it is a nuisance for someone from the water company to read the meter.
  • When a new tenant moves in, the new tenant checks the final meter reading from the previous tenant. The tenant also reports on the number of residents and the number of appliances that consume water.
  • The water company sends you an estimated bill every few months.
  • The water company aims to check the meter only once a year. There is then a correction on the balance.
  • When the tenant moves out, they send in the final reading, and leave a copy for the next tenant.
  • I assume this is a case of "big data" being able to make reasonably accurate predictions (at least in my case)?
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #12 on: 28/12/2014 17:59:00 »
  • I assume this is a case of "big data" being able to make reasonably accurate predictions (at least in my case)?

Big Data crashes when changes occur that they don't anticipate.  So, for example, if you left the apartment vacant for a few months, then water consumption would not match the predicted amount.  I could understand the case where they tell you that it is on an annual billing cycle. 

However, when the utility company is regularly reading the meter, then their assumption that a decrease in consumption is a broken meter which may be the case sometimes, but not always.  So, rather than considering all causes for drops in consumption, they fabricate consumption data.
« Last Edit: 28/12/2014 18:07:20 by CliffordK »
 

Offline dlorde

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #13 on: 28/12/2014 20:19:27 »
Smart meters are great for selling to dumb customers.

The power consumption of every electrical device is written on it. If it is switched on and not actually working, there will be a little green light on the front. So why make a trip to the electricity meter cupboard (which in my case is outside in the snow) to find out how much power you are using at any time? If you want to save electricity, switch off anything you aren't using - the power meter won't tell you what to do.
You shouldn't have to go anywhere to check your power consumption - I don't have a smart meter, but was given a little gizmo that clips onto the cable at the meter and sends the consumption to a wireless display that tots-up consumption hourly, daily, monthly, and also tells you the current cost per hour (depending on tariff). In a house full of electrical stuff & chargers, I found it very interesting and helpful for the first couple of months, to see what different devices really consumed in different modes (the wattage written on them often doesn't reflect their actual consumption). 

Once you know what difference different devices make, you don't really need the information any more, but it's also a useful record of summer/winter consumption, and for when some new device is introduced.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #14 on: 28/12/2014 23:36:40 »
Moneysaving tip!

Since the real cost of all utilities is increasing faster than inflation, always accept the estimated charge if it is higher than the actual usage, so you are paying the next quarter's bill at a discount. 
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #15 on: 29/12/2014 15:44:05 »
And by your logic, a 15-foot-wide suction head powered by a 2 watt motor will clean the room even quicker! Makes you wonder why nobody ever put one on the market.

No, that's not what I said at all, is it?
Why pretend that it was?
Did you think it somehow made your point look valid?

And it's easy to see why they put it on the market- it sells to people who think big numbers are always better.
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #16 on: 30/12/2014 10:52:52 »
Quote from: CliffordK
a mostly computerized system can often be updated with software
In a democracy, the government (or the regulator's policy) changes every few years.
I guess there is an advantage in having downloadable policies? (...unless that just encourages them to change the policy more often?)
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #17 on: 30/12/2014 17:35:00 »
Quote from: CliffordK
a mostly computerized system can often be updated with software
In a democracy, the government (or the regulator's policy) changes every few years.
I guess there is an advantage in having downloadable policies? (...unless that just encourages them to change the policy more often?)
Policies can change either for better "tuning" electricity consumption, or maximizing profits.  (Even non-profit organizations seem to attempt to maximize their profits). 

I just don't foresee any drastic changes in electricity consumption patterns with the introduction of smart meters.  Unless, of course, they also introduce things like smart hot water heaters and smart Electric Vehicle Chargers.  Perhaps the two technologies would have to go hand in hand.

For those people who have tried running a house on solar power, one of the first things to do is often extreme power conservation.  It is hard to regulate power conservation, other than bringing in new technologies such as more efficient lighting.
 

Offline syhprum

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #18 on: 09/01/2015 22:35:02 »
electric storage heaters are one of the most useless devices ever developed they heat up slowly overnight when it is cold and release their heat during the day when it will be warmer anyway and the house may well be empty.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #19 on: 09/01/2015 23:52:14 »
Not if they are properly designed. The trick is to encase the heat reservoir in insulation and extract the heat when you need it, by circulating air through the reservoir block. The peak demand for heating is in the early morning and evening, which coincide with the peak demand for transport and cooking. My ultramodern airsource underfloor system is programmed to boost at 5 pm and 7 am, and lets the temperature drop several degrees from 11 pm (when most people are warm in bed) and after 9 am. Electric storage heaters can do the same.

There is no limitation on what you do with offpeak electricity. If you don't want to turn it directly into heat you can charge a battery and use it when you want to (e.g. in your electric car).
 

Offline oldgreg

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #20 on: 18/01/2015 14:58:27 »
Here in the Midwest USA, our smart meters may not be as smart as some other places. Here, residential anyway there are no demand charges. Simply kWh usage. The "smart" aspect of the meters are to save labor costs by greatly reducing the number of meter reading positions. There are programs available to allow providers with the ability to control peak loads. Generally water heaters. A typical "smart" meter costs in the range of $70-80 and estimate a 15 year life. Haven't purchased a disk meter for a while, but I'd venture not too far off. So over 2-3 years a Utility will see its return.
Smart.
 

Offline tkadm30

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #21 on: 20/01/2016 10:58:33 »
In Quebec the upgrade to a smart meter was mandatory unless you agree to pay a fee for keeping the old one. Smart meters are an additional source of wireless radiation which may affect peoples health. Moreover, the WHO oganization classifies wireless radiation as a 2B carcinogen, linking EMF radiation to brain tumors.

Source: http://emfsafetynetwork.org/smart-meters/smart-meter-health-complaints/
 

Offline teragram

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #22 on: 21/01/2016 16:20:59 »
electric storage heaters are one of the most useless devices ever developed they heat up slowly overnight when it is cold and release their heat during the day when it will be warmer anyway and the house may well be empty.

We have used storage heaters with off peak electricity for more than 25 years. Rooms are warm night and day. So far the only maintenance requirement has been changing a temperature controller.To be fair, the actual fuel cost is of course higher than gas, but then our gas centrally heated friends are always complaining about boiler faults, pipe blockages, and annual inspections. I would add - the danger of gas leaks.

 

Offline mrsmith2211

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #23 on: 23/01/2016 05:55:07 »
You should probably be more utility specific, Our water utility offers off peak demand at a lower cost for wholesale water to adjacent municipalities, so the wholesale customers fill their water tanks and reservoirs in off hours, the waste water treatment plant is incorporating methane recovery to generate electricity, but have a signal light to indicate usage, and draw most electricity in off peak hours by scheduling operations. In both cases smart?  Water Meters can monitor consumption at an hourly basis. In fact the psc is requiring documentation on an hourly basis for water consumption to wholesale customers. Our electric company breaks down usage for peak and off peak hours and bills accordingly, not new stuff, at least 20 years in practice.
« Last Edit: 23/01/2016 06:02:08 by mrsmith2211 »
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #24 on: 23/01/2016 09:57:15 »
Another "utility" which suffers from poor utilization is the road system, with clear morning and evening peak hours with excess traffic.
It would make a lot of sense to have road tolls which encourages people to drive outside the peak hours.
 

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Re: What's your take on smart meters?
« Reply #24 on: 23/01/2016 09:57:15 »

 

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