October 19, 2009
‘Smart’ seems to be the solution to climate change these days: smart cars, smart meters, smart grids, smart cities. PWR has produced a position paper on smart grids and their cousin smart meters, and it is in the context of this paper and the statement from the article on smart meters (below) that I write.
Easy-to-use and pervasive metering devices embedded in specific home electronic equipment – such as televisions, washing machines and computers – or applied to the overall energy consumption of a household are believed to play a crucial role in increasing awareness among citizens and reducing energy consumption, with beneficial effects on climate change.
Smart meters will not achieve the desired result (lower energy consumption and hence lower CO2 emissions) because the solution they offer (providing energy consumption data to households coupled to time shifting of appliances) cannot address the core issues associated with household energy consumption. Furthermore, the meters have minor relevance for ‘distributed generation’. Whilst bi-directional meters are required to export power from the household to the power network, these do not need to be ‘smart’, as the case of Germany and residential photovoltaics has shown.
Residential electrical demand consists of three types of load: autonomous (central heating pumps, fridges, freezers), instantaneous (lighting, cooking, TVs, computers), time-variable (dish washers, washing machines, tumble dryers).
Residential electrical power consumption accounts for roughly 30% of EU electricity demand. Within that (and excluding the special case of electric space heating – mostly in France) lighting and food refrigeration account for around 30% (i.e. 10% of total EU power). The ONLY approach with respect to saving energy for autonomous appliances is energy efficiency. Nothing else can work. Smart meters are irrelevant to this segment.
Furthermore, a Swedish study (covering several hundred houses) showed that domestic lighting is the key contributor to the ‘evening peak’ in electrical power consumption. Thus moving the residential sector to high-efficiency lighting (CFLs or LEDs) will crack a problem of considerable importance to the power generators. Smart meters bring nothing to this issue.
In the case of computers, TVs and cooking: is anybody seriously suggesting that people will wait until power is cheaper before switching on their TVs or cookers?
This leaves washing machines, dish washers and tumble dryers. There is a benefit to having these running in off-peak periods. Timers and something called dynamic demand management could accomplish this at a far lower cost than smart meters.
The reduction of electrical power demand in the residential sector is key to reducing CO2 emissions. The issue is one of energy efficiency amongst the electrical appliances and products in a given household. It is not about looking at smart meters or using smart meters to switch things on and off.
In some cases one can justify the deployment of smart meters. The Italian business case was based on theft reduction and was successful. It is possible that a similar business case exists in other EU member states. However, justifying smart meter deployment on a pan-European basis using the rationale that it will save energy shows delusional thinking of a very high order.
Smart metering as a subsidy exercise for European companies active in this market is an excellent idea. It will gainfully employ many people. As a solution to household electrical energy consumption (or generation) it is a joke. In the context of the climate change challenge faced by humanity, it is a waste of both human and material resources. In short, a disgrace.
Mike ParrLetters to the EurActiv editor