Monday, February 28, 2011

Smart meter, utility bills and other energy related issues...

Smart Meters are a convenient way to monitor utility bills, allowing consumers to observe and calculate consumption rates and use objective methods to cut household utility costs.

They come equipped with a radio to send data from a meter to a utility on regular intervals; it can act as part of a mesh network, sending collected data from a neighborhood to a central point, by transmitting quick bursts several times an hour averaging about a minute and a half transmission per hour, providing quick outages information and gauging demand occurrence.

In some western countries the public blame the smart meter for higher bills because of the performance fact, the dispositive stays full-time plugged, but the culprit is actually the rate strategy currently in place based on tiers.

Tiered rates are like the alternative minimum tax—it. There are unintended risks linking smart meters with the issues of rate design and other utilities. In short breaking down the tier rates concept, for example under the US current rates design is, "the more energy you use the higher the unit cost for that energy", and rates range from 12 cents to 50 cents per kWh. Baseline Rates start at 12 cents per kWh but the baseline quantities are set based on the average use for residential customers in an area, they can vary by geographic location, or baseline territory, also vary between summer or winter and based on home's heating sources.

The PG&E website is a useful source of rate information and the tiered rate design structure to understand electricity bill charges in the U.S.; but North American general consumers still feel the burden, even knowing that smart meters do not cause higher utility bills, but acknowledging that they are part of the "last mile", thanks to the current tier rates system.

Smart meters are being considered for large scale installation in most developed countries, as a tool to implement a more energy consumption efficiency and market discipline of utility rates. As an example from the DistribuTech Utility conference in San Diego is expected several announcements for packages of home energy management systems which will include network thermostat, energy displays, and Internet gateways for brokering communications between consumers and utilities, this items can provide information such as during critical peak period, where utilities are struggling to meet energy demand, consumers can get alert that the price for electricity has gone up, allowing them to log into a automated system using a web application and adjust thermostat's and/or turn of some items remotely.

Other contributions have been acknowledged such as the licensing of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Smart Charger Controller by Zap Electric Vehicle, which targets directly the 2nd biggest driver of Greenhouse gas emissions, product first launched for the American market demand where cars CO2 emissions are higher than Europe's, Japan's,China's and India combined.

The smart charger enables car owners to tap into lower electricity rates and help utilities minimize strain on the grid. It connects to a smart grid through wireless technology, in which other automakers and startups are readying and shaping up their technology. ( The platform can be installed in a smart power cord, in a charging station or in a vehicle.(

For generations power plants construction costs have defined utility rates, the combination of inflation and nuclear power plant construction cost escalation changed the game driving up average costs and thus rates. Leaving coal plants as the cheapest, but the levels of carbon dioxide emission are higher than alternatives, as a result now China builds them at a rate of 2 coal plants per week, U.S. consumes 1 billion tons of coal each year, and coal represents the 52% of all U.S. energy.

Concern about global warming heightened in the last decades, utilities are faced with changes in power plant technology, equipment and emissions limits; fact that have produced policy bias against coal, but despite this still not much support for new clear nuclear power plants have been achieved to cover baseload needs. Concerns about renewable energy reliability to meet grid needs given its intermittence and the limited availability in many cases due to lack of transmissions to bring the wind and solar energy to load centers.

China, recognized as one of the top pollutant through carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, is now investing on "clean coal", going on a buying and production spree of the latest innovative procedures for carbon capture and storage. Fact mentioned on the article" The Dragon in search for Clean Energy". While as a practical drive the U.S. is becoming more dependent on natural gas to meet it's needs as the default fuel.(