Testing the Smart Grid

  • A smart grid diagram from the US Department of Energy. (Photo courtesy of the US Departmen of Energy)

Some electric companies are working
to put smart meters on our homes.
They want to change how we use
electricity hour by hour. Eventually,
power companies will charge more
when demand for electricity is highest.
Mark Brush reports on a new study
that looks at how people are responding:

Transcript

Some electric companies are working
to put smart meters on our homes.
They want to change how we use
electricity hour by hour. Eventually,
power companies will charge more
when demand for electricity is highest.
Mark Brush reports on a new study
that looks at how people are responding:

Connecticut Light and Power tested the smart grid on about 3,000 of it’s customers. Half of them residential and half of them business customers.

They found that people did respond to high rates during high periods of demand – such as from noon to eight pm.

Jessica Cain is with Connecticut Light & Power. She says there seems to be a limit to how much they’ll change. For example, doing laundry late at night seemed to be a non-starter.

“Doing your laundry after 8pm would be a barrier. And we heard that from customers, both from a residential customer side and then from a business customer side. We heard that changing their business hours outside of that twelve to eight window would be very difficult.”

The power company found the most energy was saved when the utility itself used the smart meter to shutdown things like air conditioners during periods of high demand.

The customers said they liked the “set it and forget it” approach – so long as they could override the system if they needed to.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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The Status of the Smart Grid

  • A smart grid diagram from the US Department of Energy (Photo courtesy of the US Department of Energy)

Your power bill likely will change
in the next few years. Lester Graham
reports there’s a good chance you’ll
be thinking about how much electricity
you use and when you’ll use it:

Transcript

Your power bill likely will change
in the next few years. Lester Graham
reports there’s a good chance you’ll
be thinking about how much electricity
you use and when you’ll use it:

The Smart Grid will mean changes. Electric companies we’ll be able to monitor power use better and deliver electricity more efficiently. That should help avoid brown outs and black outs.

But it’ll also be tell you in real time how much power you’re using.

Brian Seal is with the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute. He says, eventually, you’ll be charged different rates at different times of the day.

“Consumers would be aware of that so that they can program their appliances and other equipment to consume energy when the price is low rather than when it’s high.”

But you’ll need Smart Appliances to work with a Smart Grid. GE is the first to announce a product line – right as the government released $3.4 billion in grants to power companies for the Smart Grid.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Grappling With the Grid

  • Net metering is when people use rooftop solar or wind power to generate electricity, and then sell the extra back to the power companies (Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

As a climate change bill works its way

through Congress, businesses are bracing

for change to cleaner energy. Lester Graham

reports some homeowners are thinking about

generating their own clean electricity:

Transcript

As a climate change bill works its way

through Congress, businesses are bracing

for change to cleaner energy. Lester Graham

reports some homeowners are thinking about

generating their own clean electricity:

People like the idea of using rooftop solar or wind power to generate the electricity and selling extra back to the power companies. It’s called net metering.

But some state regulations don’t allow it.

James Rose is the Senior Policy Analyst for the Network for New Energy Choices. He says these days more states are smoothing the way for net metering.

“It started out looking like a very big patchwork quilt – where some states are doing well, other states aren’t doing well, other states aren’t doing anything – to more of a regional mosaic, now where we see, like, the northeastern states in the United States to really improve their net metering. States out West such as Colorado and California are leading the way.”

Some power companies block net metering where they can.

But Rose says as lawmakers watch neighboring states implement net metering, and then embrace the idea for their own states.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Google’s Power Meter

  • Google's new smart meter technology will eventually let consumers see how much energy each appliance (like a fridge) in their home uses, in order to help them find ways to reduce their monthly bill. (Photo by M. Minderhoud, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

There’s 11-billion dollars in the new economic stimulus plan for upgrades to the electric grid and so-called smart meters. These smart meters hook up to your home and give the utility company real-time feedback on how much energy you’re using. Rebecca Williams reports Google is working on a way to let you see that information:

Transcript

There’s 11-billion dollars in the new economic stimulus plan for upgrades to the electric grid and so-called smart meters. These smart meters hook up to your home and give the utility company real-time feedback on how much energy you’re using. Rebecca Williams reports Google is working on a way to let you see that information:

Google’s system is called PowerMeter. It’s in beta testing right now but the idea is: if you get a smart meter, you’ll be able to see exactly how much energy your TV, fridge and computer use.

The system will hook into the info utility companies draw from your home. Then, you can log into your secure i-Google website, for free. And get real-time feedback so you can figure out how to spend less on your power bill.

Kirsten Cahill is a program manager at Google. She says they’ve been testing the PowerMeter around the office:

“I think people are surprised about things like their oven; how much the oven uses or the microwave. Things that you using every day that are actually, you know, pretty huge energy users.”

It’ll probably be a year or more before the Google system is open to everybody.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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The Logic of Parking Rate Hikes

  • Cyrus Haghighi owns a food and gift shop in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, which has become a retail hot-spot in recent years. Haghighi worries suburbanites will avoid his shop once Chicago hikes its parking prices. (Photo by Shawn Allee)

Nobody likes to pay more than
they need to for parking, but a lot
of cities are bumping up the price
lately. Chicago’s going with one
of the biggest hikes. In most
neighborhoods prices are doubling,
and they’ll jump again and again
for years to come. Shawn Allee wondered what might happen to
businesses when parking gets pricier:

Transcript

Nobody likes to pay more than
they need to for parking, but a lot
of cities are bumping up the price
lately. Chicago’s going with one
of the biggest hikes. In most
neighborhoods prices are doubling,
and they’ll jump again and again
for years to come. Shawn Allee wondered what might happen to
businesses when parking gets pricier:

I’m in a neighborhood miles from Chicago’s glitzy downtown, but there’re still
plenty of shops, restaurants and furniture stores to attract shoppers up here.

One problem the neighborhood has is parking.

Until recently, it only cost 25 cents per hour to park here. As you can guess, the very
cheap price for parking has meant very few parking spots available for people who
are driving through.

Now, the neighborhood’s going through a change. It’s bumping up to 75 cents per
hour, and in a few years it will cost 2 dollars per hour.

So, I’m here to see what businesses think will happen to their bottom line once this
price increase for parking comes through.

I’m gonna start at this grocery store.

It’s called Pars Grocery – the sign here says it serves up Mediterranean food, teas,
and gifts.

The owner’s Cyrus Haghighi.

Haghighi: “So of course nobody would come and it would be too expensive for them
to spend too much money for the parking, and I don’t know why they’re doing this
– it makes everybody worried.

Well, that’s one owner who thinks the parking price increase is going to scare
shoppers away.

But I went around the neighborhood to get some other opinions, and I’m now at
another store – the Andersonville Galleria.

I have a clerk here.

His name is Rafe Pipin

Rafe what do you think of the parking price increase?

Pipin: “With the parking meter rates being a quarter an hour now, what happens a
lot of times is that store employees or managers take up the parking on the street
and stay there all day, whereas this may might provoke them to look for parking
further away. So they wouldn’t have to feed higher meter rates all day and open up
space for people visiting the neighborhood to do some shopping.”

Okay. We have two opinions.

One, higher prices will scare people away.

And, another that higher prices might free up space for more paying customers.

Who’s got it right?

Well, I put this to a kind of parking guru.

His name’s Donald Shoup, and he teaches at UCLA.

I’ve told Dr. Shoup about how tight parking is in this neighborhood and where prices are
headed.

“The higher prices that drive away some people will attract other people who are
willing to pay for the curb parking if they can easily find a space. Well, who do you
think will spend more in a store or leave a bigger tip in a restaurant? Somebody
who will come only park free or someone who’s willing to pay the market price for
parking if they can easily find a vacant space?”

Dr. Shoup says cities often make parking too cheap.

He says this discourages public transit.

Plus, it wastes gas because meters fill up fast, and shoppers keep driving around to find
the few empty ones.

Shoup says politicians just don’t want to increase fees.

In Chicago’s case, the city privatized parking meters, so the city made one tough decision
that will last 75 years.

Shoup says there’s a better way – set aside some of the parking money and spend it in
neighborhoods that generate it. Donald Shoup says some people still won’t like parking price increases.

But he says there’s plenty of fuss at first, but then people eventually chuck over the
additional money and forget the increase ever happened.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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