By now, we’ve all heard about “smart” electric meters and a “smart” power grid. While some might see the concept as nothing more than a new way for Big Brother to stick his nose in our personal business, others see a natural continuation of technological evolution that will ultimately lead to cleaner, more efficient power systems and lower utility bills.
One thing about which most will agree is that our power infrastructure is outdated and inefficient. Composed of a patchwork of technology from different eras, there are portions of the power grid that can be dated back as far as 1890! As our power lines and substations have aged, new technologies have emerged. Why, then, should we be concerned about advancing this technology forward?
|Most have probably heard about the “smart” meters power utilities are installing across the nation. As could be expected, there have been some concerns about health and privacy associated with this new technology. The health concerns center around the RF radiation generated by the meters’ communication with a central computer system. The radiation generated is similar to that generated by cell phones or Wi-Fi routers, and there are people who believe that this type of radiation can contribute to cancer and other health problems. Verifiable research thus far has been inconclusive, but since the meters are located outside – unlike phones and routers – and are communicating less than 1% of the time, any potential danger is significantly less than that posed by these other technologies (cellular and Wi-Fi) that most people have willingly accepted.
There are others who are concerned about privacy issues. Smart meters are designed to both send and receive information, and some citizens are concerned about the meta-information that power utilities will now have access to as a result of smart meters. For instance, metered data can be used to learn about the kinds of devices individuals use in their homes, to map movements of individuals from one room to another, or learn about when people are not home and for how long. Privacy has become a sensitive issue with the advent of “green” technology, and it is not an insignificant concern. In truth, however, with the progress made in satellite imagery, the implementation of public cameras and face-recognition technology, the vast databases of personal phone calls and emails retained by the NSA, and the numerous other intrusions into our personal lives, smart meters may in fact be the very least of our privacy concerns.
How will smart grids work?
When we move beyond the perceived dangers, there are a number of very real benefits proposed by smart grid technology. A smart grid can diagnose problems and automate solutions. For example, power outages can be reported automatically as soon as they occur. A work order can then be automatically generated and assigned to the nearest technician. In fact, some problems can be discovered and corrected before an outage even occurs. This could significantly reduce the cost of system maintenance and increase service recovery time in the event of an outage. That mean better customer service and lower cost.
Usage data collected by smart meters can also be used to help consumers understand their own usage patterns and find ways to reduce energy consumption and lower their bills. That means lower bills and energy conservation.
A smart power grid will be more efficient, more cost-effective, and less wasteful.
There are so many benefits to employing smart grid technology that there is really no reason to expect the power grid to simply stop evolving and maintain the status quo.
If you consider the advances already made in the last century, many of which were accompanied by health concerns and concerns over property rights, the burgeoning smart grid is really nothing more than a continuation of the progress we have already made. If you were not concerned about the waste created by power plants or the radiation generated by the high voltage lines running through nearly every town, it doesn’t make much sense to be concerned about today’s advances, particularly in light of the fact that they are likely to lead to a cleaner, safer electrical infrastructure.
New advances will happen, and the technology that enables these advances will continue to evolve as well. If a person wants to draw a line in the sand and say “this far and no further”, it could be said that the line should have been drawn long ago.
Many will continue to maintain that there is no point in using electricity – or doing anything for that matter – if we are not interested in doing it to the best of our ability.