Smart meters are lonely. They have so far not lived up to their goal of encouraging consumers to shift electric power consumption to lower cost off-peak hours, according to a report in the New York Times. Despite federal subsidies in support of the smart grid, customers are not ready to take advantage of dynamic pricing.
The main problem is that smart meters don’t have any smart appliances to talk to. Consequently, to take advantage of low rates, consumers must manually turn on their dishwashers, clothes washers, electric water heaters, and other appliances when rates are favorable. The savings generally aren’t worth the effort.
The Times article quotes John P. Hughes, the vice president for technical affairs at the Electricity Consumers Resource Council, as saying, “The smart meter giving people real-time access to price information is not going to make them get up in the middle of the night and turn their dishwasher on. Getting the enabling technology to do that is going to take a long time.”
The Times article contends that smart metering will become more important as more wind and solar power connect to the grid. That’s true with wind, and it’s easy to see that smart appliances could be turned on when wind power is strong. Solar, however, would seem to reduce differences between peak and off-peak prices.
A few people now are willing to put in the effort to take advantage of low off-peak prices. For example, Joe Godinsky of Sycamore, IL, determined that off-peak prices were so low that it made sense for him to supplement his gas heating with electric heaters in bedrooms overnight. But as he told the Times, “I’m an engineer. I like getting kind of geeky with things.”
Otherwise, smart meters seem to mostly benefit the utilities, who can needn’t hire meter readers and can remotely shut off customers who don’t pay their bills on time.