Thursday, March 20, 2008

Not So Smart Meters?

I'm not so sure about the “smart” meters being installed to tell consumers what their power is costing at any given time of the day. This sounds like a perpetuation of night rates electricity; the aim of which was to increase power consumption at night. A time at which people wouldn't otherwise use it but so that the coal fired power stations had a more even load. This was needed because coal fired power stations aren't very responsive to fluctuations in demand - they need hours if not days of notice in order to vary their output.

If our aim is to increase the use of sustainable sources of electricity then we want to encourage hydro, wind, biomass and solar. Hydro electricity can be very responsive to fluctuations in demand and solar is mainly generated during the day - solar thermal of course being the most effective on hot days.

So instead of asking consumers to time their demands why not charge the consumers a flat rate for electricity - $ per kilowatt the same no matter what time of day - so people will use the power when it's convenient and they won't use any more than they have to because it all costs money.

But we should pay producers of electricity a variable rate depending on the level of demand they are serving - so they would get paid very little to produce electricity in the middle of the night when activity is minimal. And they would get paid heaps on a hot day when the air conditioners are running flat out.

A household with photovoltaic cells on the roof is both a consumer and a producer of electricity. This system automatically sets the feed in tariff at a better level than the rate customers pay when they are home and the wheels of industry have slowed for the night. It would be up to the government to set the differential rates of payment to encourage more flexible electricity supply.

Similarly any new building could have a cap set for its demand on peak power supplies – encouraging new buildings to approach energy neutrality and sustainability. So “smart” meters are smart if they operate “backwards” with a variable rate and “forwards” at a fixed rate.... are they that smart?