Smart grids, smart meters and newspeak

Posted by Mike Parr, PWR on November 16th, 2010
Organization: PWR
In reaction to the EurActiv article:

Smart grids could save Europe €52bn

Sir,

Regarding ‘Smart grids could save Europe €52bn‘:

The linking of ‘smart grids’ and ‘energy saving’ is often done by those with an interest in selling equipment that ranges from remote-controlled meters (the people that design these are smart, the meters themselves are pretty dumb) through to capital equipment for power networks (similar comments on people and smartness apply).

“In which the writer positions himself”

I’m a power engineer involved in various projects that aim to improve the ability of power networks to absorb more renewables. This transition of power networks is commonly referred to as a move towards active network management and the components which accomplish it as active network components. I have also worked as a factory services engineer responsible for energy reduction activities.

“Energy Efficiency – Industry”

In November 2008 two Fraunhofers published a report on electrical energy efficiency in German manufacturing industry. They estimated medium-term efficiency gains of around 30%, all without smart grids or smart meters. The same savings and perhaps greater could apply to other EU member states. Furthermore, most factories (if the engineers know what they are doing) will already monitor, in real time, electrical energy consumption. Score: SGs & SMs 0 Energy Efficiency in Industry 1

“Energy Efficiency – Residential”

A PWR position paper has shown that there are only three types of energy consumption in homes (autonomous, instant and time shift). Autonomous refers to things like fridges, freezers and heating circulation pumps. Instant are items such as lights, cookers etc. Time shift has three items: dishwashers, clothes washers and clothes dryers.

Energy saving with respect to autonomous products can only be accomplished by replacement with more efficient ones. As a class this can account for up to 50% of a household’s electrical energy budget. It is quite possible through replacement to cut consumption in this class by more than half. Example (fridge freezer – 215l/60l): Class A++ = 137 Kwhrs/yr, Class C = 522Kwhrs/yr. A 75% reduction in energy consumption by replacing the Class C with a Class A.

Instant accounts for around 23% of electrical power consumption with, lighting accounting for between 12 to 18%. Lights are amenable to replacement with LEDS (which would cut consumption by 90% in this category). Time shift appliances account for less than 10% although smart grid proponents often emphasise the importance of this class.

The unresolved issue of ‘who pays for smart meter roll-out?’ can be answered quite simply. So far, the only country-wide installation of smart meters in Europe was done in Italy by ENEL. The financial justification was theft reduction. The project paid for itself in two years and was funded by ENEL. If power companies feel there is a need for ‘smart meters’, let them pay for the installation themselves.

Alternative systems to smart meters which also provide timely consumption information to the residential sector are rarely mentioned, for example Alertme in the UK (PWR has no commercial links to this company). When your only tool is a hammer (smart meter) every problem (energy consumption) becomes a nail.
Score: SGs & SMs 0 Energy Efficiency Residential Sector 1.

“Power Networks & Smart Grids”

It is claimed that using smart grids could reduce losses in electricity distribution networks. Losses in networks arise from two areas: transformers and cables/overhead lines. There are three ways to reduce losses. Replace old transformers with new, low-loss ones, re-configure the network in a more energy-efficient topology and change transformer tap settings to deliver a more accurate voltage. The latter two can be accomplished with more widespread instrumentation on a given network. Smart Grid? Hardly.

No doubt Mr Chris King (“utilities will also be able to lower the system voltage level”) is aware that distribution companies have a regulatory duty to deliver voltage within specific limits. Depending on the network, some struggle with both over and under-voltage. PWR is working on projects in this area. However, the core challenge facing power networks (both transmission and distribution) is absorbing more renewables. I would suggest this comes first and reducing system voltage a poor second.

“Saving Money.”

The Smart Energy Demand Coalition claims that smart grids and meters could save 52 billion euros. The residential sector spends around 103 bn euros per year and industry spends around 120bn euros on electricity. The Fraunhofer report indicates non-smart grid savings of around 30bn euros for industry. The residential sector could save (on a non-smart meter basis) around 40bn euros. In total, this amounts to 80bn euros without either smart meters or smart grids. I would be interested to hear in more detail about the hypothetical 53 bn euros that smart grids and smart meters would bring.

“Standardisation”

John Harris was quoted as saying “the first thing we need to do is to define what an intelligent system and meter is,” and noted that European standardisation bodies working under an EU mandate are a good starting point. Perhaps they are, but tell me John, how long does it take to make a meter standard (smart or otherwise?). The Open Meter project has been going for two years: what are the results so far???.

Let’s put this into context: Groupe Speciale Mobile took two years to put together a mobile network standard capable of supporting calls across a continent. Two years after that, the first commercial network went live. PWR does not see a similar level of urgency with smart meters and in any case, many member states are already rolling out smart meter systems. Possibly a case of closing the standardisation door after the smart meter horse has bolted?

Conclusion

In George Orwell’s 1984, the end of the book discusses how ‘newspeak’ will remove the ability to think certain concepts. Trite phrases such as ‘smart meters’ or ‘smart grids’ do likewise. They simplify to the point of meaninglessness complex energy systems and networks. Such an approach is useful if the intention is to eliminate clear thinking and open debate. It is also useful if the aim is to gloss over the complexities and the alternatives with the hope that politicians will be sufficiently bamboozled to simply hand over lots of money.

Mike Parr

PWR

2 Responses to Smart grids, smart meters and newspeak »»

  1. Comment by Christophe Dalle | 2011/02/19 at 11:17:46

    Congratulations and thanks to Mr Parr for an informed and balanced contribution. He adresses the core of the question : how do we manage to get reliable and accurate information across to the public and therefore to the politicians.

  2. Comment by EFried | 2011/05/07 at 17:56:28

    reasoning about the best suited non orwellic appraoch I have ebayt a three phase meter. I don’t miss information flow to the ustility, the meter give me a lot for the small price:
    - current power consumption on either phase
    - easily readable digital display
    - S0 interface

    The only thing which I don’t like is the bright display and the power consumption of the device.
    Also it is hard to get a S0 to TCP/IP interface, the device should have an embedded web server
    It is perfectly sufficient if the users are using their data to optimize- and up to the utilities to introduce tariffs motivating user monitoring and control.


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