Hydro could do better than smart meters

Re: Playing Monopoly with BC Hydro, B.C. Views, Aug. 17, 2011.

Re: Playing Monopoly with BC  Hydro, B.C. Views, Aug. 17, 2011.

Tom Fletcher makes many good points in his column. One place where his usual skepticism missed an opportunity is the smart meter plan.

Once the political decision was made to eliminate time-of-day rates, smart meters stopped making any sense. There is nothing that the meters do that cannot be accomplished by far fewer meters. An alternate system which uses one smart meter for every 30 homes (some number — could be more, could be less) compares very well with the one-smart-meter-per-customer design.

On initial cost, having 30 times fewer meters reduces the up-front cost by a factor of 30. With this much lower initial cost, how are the proposed benefits affected?

Let’s review those benefits, as outlined in the BC Hydro business case.

First: stolen power (namely grow-ops). Individual meters do not help here directly. The meters do not say someone in this house is stealing power. It is only by adding up a bunch of meters and comparing to the power entering an area that they can detect loss. But they don’t need to do this in real time. Comparing the 30 home readings to the monthly bills will do the job just as well.

Second: internal energy savings. By having more information about exactly where energy is used, BC Hydro can improve their network efficiency. Again, knowledge of individual home power usage is not the issue, since the swings are small. They would have to aggregate on an area-basis anyway.

Third: meter reading. There are 400 meter readers in the province. Meter reading over 20 years is expected to cost millions.

Fourth: customer usage changes. People move high-usage activity to off peak time. Gains here are arguable, but with time-of-day pricing now no longer an option, customer usage changes might have happened at this level.

By mandating more efficient electrical devices many of these savings can be achieved without a meter. Annual power consumption stickers should be required once again on all electrical devices. Why were they removed?

The dream of a super-efficient green province, a dream that made sense during the power brown outs in California and rapidly increasing energy prices, has lost its justification in an era of cheap natural gas for local power generation. A vestige of the dream lives on with the smart meter program.

Brent Beach




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