New York Times on in-home energy monitoring technologies

Lynne Kiesling

Boy, the New York Times is on a roll! First they have a great article on British home electricity technologies and retail price signals last week, which I mentioned in my post that critiqued Rebecca Smith’s recent Wall Street Journal article on Texas electricity markets.

Now they have a really good article on in-home energy monitoring technologies:

“We have all the technology we want in our cellphones and plasma TVs and cars, but in electricity we’re still like our grandparents were,” says Ahmad Faruqui, an economist at the Brattle Group, a consultancy based in Cambridge, Mass.

Possibly coming to the rescue are home automation networks, which can help monitor all of our power-sucking devices (the typical American household has 27 that are always on, according to the Electric Power Research Institute, an energy research and consulting firm).

Some analysts expect so-called “smart metering” to boom nationwide. ABI Research, a technology firm, estimates that the market will jump to 52 million by 2013, from 560,000 this year — which would be more than a third of the nation’s meters.

Good home automation networks, which run all of the electronic and technologic gizmos in a home, have traditionally cost more than $30,000. Now, thanks in part to companies like Control4 and Colorado vNet, these systems can be had for as little as $5,000, says Sam Lucero, an ABI analyst.

This is what has happened over and over and over again in technology; Moore’s Law, scaling up of production, and other effects lead to falling prices over time. Now is the time to recognize that as technology gets cheaper, and if fuel prices stay high, it will increasingly make more economic sense to invest in digital smart grid technology instead of building new generation plants and new transmission and distribution wires.

Bits are cheaper than iron.

My only quibble with the article is that it doesn’t point out the one-two punch that technology + dynamic pricing would provide. Look at the screen captures of the in-home portals in the article. It would be easy to integrate electricity price signals in those displays, and to set them up so that the consumer could program in their own demand functions to enable autonomous response to price signals from their own devices, without their having to be there to do it.

See also Toby Considine’s excellent comments on the article.


9 thoughts on “New York Times on in-home energy monitoring technologies

  1. I find it interesting that this is about the 4th article that uses AMI and residential EMS interchangeably. They are related, but one is not necessarily needed for the other.

  2. Bits are not cheaper, apparently.

    “Good home automation networks, which run all of the electronic and technologic gizmos in a home, have traditionally cost more than $30,000. Now, thanks in part to companies like Control4 and Colorado vNet, these systems can be had for as little as $5,000, says Sam Lucero, an ABI analyst.”

    Wow … only $5,000. Where do we sign up for that hose job?

  3. How long before it’s mandatory? Do you really want some dorky govt wonk forcing you to decide between sunday football and clean clothes for the week?

  4. More interesting to me are home-sized UPS battery systems that are engineered so that you can fill them with cheap off-peak power, then drain them during peak hours.. Once you have a UPS battery, then even more interesting things become more feasible, such as solar/wind power and cogeneration (during the winter), all providing power to the home battery, so that you don’t have to worry as much about utility outages or variability of renewable power.

  5. The key to the process is the “cheap off-peak power”. Regulators must expose customers to real time prices for the economics to be attractive.

  6. Folks who won’t spend $10 on some weatherstripping and $5 on a light bulb won’t spend $5k on a bunch of devices which basically turn control of their AC and heating over to the electric company.

  7. Folks who won’t spend $10 on some weatherstripping and $5 on a light bulb won’t spend $5k on a bunch of devices which basically turn control of their AC and heating over to the electric company.

  8. Local energy generation, storage, and conversion. That is the end game. That is the point where rapid innovation becomes possible. That is the point when reliability, including reliability and quality good enough for digital world becomes a reality. And when the grid is freed from the responsibility for reliability, the grid can be reengineered to deliver more power for less.

    The problem is that we have a large dose of “You can’t get there from here” to overcome. Part of that is due to the passive attitude encouraged by the price and risk arbitrage long performed by the big utilities. Part of that is internalized models that each of us has based upon the way things have always been. Making costs and interactions visible is an essential first step.

    Lynne is quite correct that pricing is the missing piece. Why would I willingly accept any inconvenience in scheduling if the benefits accrue only to the power company, someone who most people secretly dislike? With live pricing, easily displayed, the benefits begin to accrue to me, on my schedule. I think the likelihood of displacing power use is overestimated; more likely, there will be markets in displacing power purchases. Local storage.

    But local storage is the one item that will most benefit local generation. If I acquire local storage because of the direct observable effects of buying power at the right time, then immediately all unpredictable on-site generation technologies become more desirable. Off-peak energy purchases and un-predictable local generation go hand in hand. Local energy generation and storage.
    will likely be swamped

    Local energy conversion is tantamount to local energy recycling. Local energy storage can occur before or after conversion. For example, I can store off-peak energy purchases in batteries or I can store it as icy slush. If the end goal is on-peak air conditioning, these batteries may be interchangeable. If I live in the humid south, night-time batch computing may be the source of my day-time reheat loop. Local energy storage, and conversion.

    It all starts with visibility – and prices must be visible, too.

  9. Local energy generation, storage, and conversion. That is the end game. That is the point where rapid innovation becomes possible. That is the point when reliability, including reliability and quality good enough for digital world becomes a reality. And when the grid is freed from the responsibility for reliability, the grid can be reengineered to deliver more power for less.

    The problem is that we have a large dose of “You can’t get there from here” to overcome. Part of that is due to the passive attitude encouraged by the price and risk arbitrage long performed by the big utilities. Part of that is internalized models that each of us has based upon the way things have always been. Making costs and interactions visible is an essential first step.

    Lynne is quite correct that pricing is the missing piece. Why would I willingly accept any inconvenience in scheduling if the benefits accrue only to the power company, someone who most people secretly dislike? With live pricing, easily displayed, the benefits begin to accrue to me, on my schedule. I think the likelihood of displacing power use is overestimated; more likely, there will be markets in displacing power purchases. Local storage.

    But local storage is the one item that will most benefit local generation. If I acquire local storage because of the direct observable effects of buying power at the right time, then immediately all unpredictable on-site generation technologies become more desirable. Off-peak energy purchases and un-predictable local generation go hand in hand. Local energy generation and storage.
    will likely be swamped

    Local energy conversion is tantamount to local energy recycling. Local energy storage can occur before or after conversion. For example, I can store off-peak energy purchases in batteries or I can store it as icy slush. If the end goal is on-peak air conditioning, these batteries may be interchangeable. If I live in the humid south, night-time batch computing may be the source of my day-time reheat loop. Local energy storage, and conversion.

    It all starts with visibility – and prices must be visible, too.

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