Monday, March 9, 2009

Socket to me: The much-talked-of smart grid prepares to enter the home

From The Economist:

READERS may recall a futile exercise your correspondent undertook last year to go solar (“Sunny side down”, Feb 15th, 2008). Despite having a large flat roof, an unobstructed view to the south, over 300 days of sunshine a year, and access to generous tax credits, it would have still cost him $600 a month for ten years to repay the $65,000 needed to install the necessary solar panels, inverters and control equipment.

All that just to save a mouldy $75 a month of electricity from the grid. When juice can be bought in southern California for 10.8 cents a kilowatt-hour, it is hard to make the case for becoming energy independent. If you are concerned about the pollution, buy a couple of tonnes of carbon offsets each year for $70 and have done with it.

But what if, instead of being charged a flat rate for every kilowatt-hour used, consumers had to pay a market price that fluctuated by the minute—as the utilities themselves have to do in the energy wholesale market? That is a distinct possibility when the much ballyhooed “smart grid”—with its two-way communication between producers and consumers—becomes a reality.

Thanks to its heavily insulated roof and double-glazed, low-emissivity glass throughout, Mayhem Manor’s electricity consumption is a modest 8,300 kilowatt-hours a year. Even so, your correspondent would like to know more about his pattern of electricity consumption.

He would then be able to maximise the benefit when his local power company started charging him a different rate for different times of the day. He has made a start by auditing his electrical appliances and gadgets. One of the simplest tools for doing this is the P4400 “Kill A Watt” meter made by P3 International ($23 from Amazon)....MORE