Thursday, July 14, 2011

Midnight Laundry

The following appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the July 13th edition of the Naperville Sun:

A recent survey by North Central College Students shows that 57% of Naperville electricity buyers do not understand the benefits of the $22 million smart grid now under construction by the city. Allow me to give you the Cliff Notes version: You'll save money on your electricity bill if you are willing to do your laundry in the wee hours of the night.

The purpose of the 50,000 'smart' meters is to tell the city when you are using electricity. Electric rates will then change, with high rates during peak times (typically days) and lower rates during slack times (typically nights). If you're willing and able to shift your electricity use to nights, you might save money. If you don't fancy showering, baking, vacuuming, etc. at 3a m the smart grid will probably not save you any money. Worse, if you're unwilling to change your ways, the smart grid is likely to cost you even more money than today.

Oh sure,.the city promises, via their 'Smart Grid Bill of Rights', that you can continue to pay a flat rate for your electricity and skip the variable rate plan. But the Bill of Rights says nothing about how high or low that flat rate can be relative to the variable rates.

It's important to remember that President Obama promised us that “electricity rates must necessarily skyrocket”, that he is directing the EPA to make sure that happens, and that his administration is paying for half the cost of Naperville's smart grid initiative. There is a connection.

When the flat rates and the day rates start to rise precipitously, the night rates will be touted as a way for consumers to 'save money'. Of course only a tiny percentage of Naperville residents will actually be able to shift their electric use to take advantage of the lower rates, but that doesn't really matter to Obama and the so-called green movement. They want electricity rates to skyrocket and the smart grid is just a fig leaf to cover their naked assault on your electricity rates.

City residents have spoken on the wisdom of the smart grid. They said no. Sixty-six percent of residents in the North Central College survey said they do not want a variable rate electric plan, which is the whole point of the Smart Grid. The question is why weren't residents consulted before the city committed $11 million to this boondoggle? And with two out of three residents opposed to the initiative, why does the project continue?

Wayne Cummings

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  1. Extremely well said. What in the world is wrong with those weenies on your city council?

  2. Not sure. If given the opportunity to dry clothes at night, for example, I'd do it if there was a savings involved.

    It really does cost something for utilities to provide high capacity. Consumer prices should reflect this to make the system work.


  3. JB,

    Likely you wouldn't change your habits. The stats show that smart meters provide only about a 2% savings even for those who make a concerted effort to time shift. I think you would soon tire of letting the tail wag the dog.

    Utilities exist to provide us with power when we need it, not for us to fit into the utilities mold.

  4. Make no mistate LW, utilities exist to extract money from people, and make donations to politicians who allow them to extract more money from people. Providing customers with things that they need is an occasional by-product.


    I tire of a lot of things, but if there is money in it, I do it regardless. If it was 10% or so, I would take them up on it.

    It is not that hard to start a drycycle, or dishwasher overnight, or charge a mobile phone etc.

  5. JB, you express disdain for the utilities and pols, yet are willing to knuckle under to their time-shifting tyranny? Am I missing something here?

    The examples you provide are cases in point as to the minimal worth of smart meters. Most dishwashers come with timers. I already set mine to run overnight for the sake of the noise. I suspect many folks do the same. Maybe you can dry whites and the like overnight, but many fabrics are better hung up while they are still warm. By the time one factors out the time shifting already going on and that which is not practical to shift, there is very little left for a smart meter to do for you.

    All of the above are but a rounding error on the air conditioner utilization. Here again, thermostats with timers are de rigueur. Homes where the people work are already being time shifted. Who's left? The retired, elderly, and disabled (like me) who are living on fixed incomes and who would suffer from hotter daytime tempts in their homes.

    Smart meters are the dumbest idea to come down the pike in a long time.

  6. I trust them not LW, but it still makes sense to shift electricity use rather than build huge excess capacity.

    I would much rather allow 100 providers to duke it out on a grid run by a network service provider that runs sort of like the internet...a dumb pipe with smart content, as the Smart Meters themselves are not necessarily evil...rather the circle of crooks who control electrical generation and power has been fundamentally corrupt since Sam Insull got out of the business.


  7. Excess capacity is needed, smart grid or no. Smart meters, on their best day save 4% off a peak day. Demand for electricity has been growing 3.5% per year for some time. So even if smart grid works, it's a one trick pony, saves a year of growth, and we're back to building new coal, nat gas, and nuke plants.

    I do agree with you about an internet model for the power grid. I just don't see smart meters of the sort being rolled out now facilitating that day.

    Thanks for a a good dialogue. You obviously know the industry.

  8. Remember the natural gas fired "peaker plants" that were beginning to get popular back in the 80's and 90's? ComEd would not like that you remember those. It represented capacity adjusting to demand rather than demand adjusting to capacity. Which sounds like a free market response, and which sounds like a centralized state planning response?

  9. My limited understanding is that, among other things, smart meters will allow power companies the feedback to adjust rates to reflect demand more accurately, meaning adjust rates higher when demand is higher. Right now they do that crudely with daytime rates. Now, if everyone sets their dishwasher for 3am, that smart meter system can read the bump in demand and trigger the higher rate to match the higher demand.

  10. Anonymous, nationwide, the electric grid has no capacity problems except on extremely hot days. If smart meters would facilitate smart pricing on only those peak days, I might endorse the idea. But that's not what the utilities are proposing. They are going to use our present flat rate as the rate for nighttime use of electricity and then they are going to charge a premium rate for daytime use. Any daytime. Even the daytimes in the spring and fall when there is no supply/demand imbalance will cost more than they do now.

    Folks, this is not about green energy, energy conservation, or any otherwise noble purpose. This is about providing a fig leaf to utilities so they can charge more for electricity, except at night when you use the least amount of electricity.