Renewable energy | Ecotrope

Science Friday: How to shift the energy economy

Ecotrope | July 12, 2011 3:43 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:37 p.m.

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Installing a smart meter on your home puts you on a two-way street with the power grid and can help you decide when it's cheapest to run appliances. But according to one guest on Science Friday, the value to consumer so far is pretty small.

Installing a smart meter on your home puts you on a two-way street with the power grid and can help you decide when it's cheapest to run appliances. But according to one guest on Science Friday, the value to consumer so far is pretty small.

Science Friday reported last week on San Antonio’s massive effort to shift gears into renewable energy and smart grid technology. Interesting stuff! Host Ira Flatow asks, among other questions, when will we have smart appliances that help us choose the cheapest time of day to use electricity?

John Kelly, director of the smart grid project Galvin Electricity Initiative said appliance manufacturers are waiting for price signals to reach the consumer. Smart meters are what will enable those price signals to reach people in their homes, telling them when electricity is cheaper or more expensive and when it’s best to start the dishwaster, for example.

But some people think smart meters are an intrusion on their privacy, Flatow says. Kelly said having a smart meter is really no different from a lot of other wireless devices we already have in our homes:

“This is just another wireless device in your home that’s going to send usage data to you directly as well as back to the utility for them to use.”

Brewster McCracken, executive director of the smart grid pilot Pecan Street Project Inc in Austin, Texas, is looking for the value of smart grid technology to consumers. “At the moment, it’s not very much,” he said. But there is the potential to use energy information to make products better for consumers:

“Where we are right now on smart grid and clean energy is if it’s done right … is what telecom looked like in early days after deregulation. If you would’ve told AT&T executives in 1984 that by 2007 people would be lining up outside a store to buy a telephone you would’ve had to revive with smelling salts. And here we are with iPhones and Android devices. What we’ve seen with the Internet and telecom is that as you add information technology to the edge of the system, it makes it possible to develop new products and services for customers. I do think we haven’t seen that yet. I think people ask where is the killer app for clean energy and smart grid services?”

Hm…there’s something you don’t hear very often: There’s no app for that!

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