Blown Fuse - Smart grids aren’t so clever


Our resident grumpy old man turns his attention to smart grids this month, just in time for Christmas. We don't think he'll be getting any presents from electricity suppliers

There is a widely held proposition within the electrical sector that I have largely left alone, since my blood pressure is already sufficiently elevated without further exacerbation. That topic is the notion of ‘smart grid' technology.

For anyone who has yet to pick up on this clever nonsense, the idea is devices are plugged into homes and then appliances are plugged into the devices. This then gives the electricity supplier the opportunity to charge more for power used at peak times and also to turn off any appliances to avoid brown outs or black outs on the grid.

Don't get me wrong, I have been blathering on about reducing energy consumption for nearing three decades now. Those arguments that once had me labelled a pioneer, now have me tagged as an old moaner. In that time I have seen energy saving lamps installed alongside ever increasingly powerful air conditioning equipment, powerful outdoor lighting and electric doors. I have also witnessed a far greater appreciation of carbon reduction, but little actual reduction!

I suppose I am suggesting until governments make their carrots and sticks more effective, nothing much will happen. I just hope the carrots get bigger but that the sticks don't become too unwieldy. For this reason, I see no reason why we shouldn't have some limitations imposed on our electricity usage. In France and Italy consumers subscribe to a limit on their maximum supply - once this limit is reached, the main incomer pops and will not reset until an appliance is turned off. The higher the maximum supply demanded, the higher the unit price of the electricity purchased.

As plans stand, smart grids - like so many ill thought out ideas - would probably do little to affect electricity consumption. The better off would simply groan each time their bills arrived and then turn up the air conditioning to cool their furore; the poor would likely get cut off or have their consumption limited to what they can afford.

What I really object to however, is not that my electricity usage might be monitored and controlled by the electricity supplier, but rather that they, not me, would be able to determine which of my appliances is switched off, and when. Even across the Channel that's a power Electricitié de France doesn't exercise!

It may be no coincidence in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts where the first practical smart grid system was tried, the regulators insisted the system disallowed in order to protect low income customers.

Of course, idealists voice that smart grids enable control over peak demand and therefore a reduction in dirty old coal fired power stations. I hate these nebulous arguments because one can dream them up to support any premise you like. I know, let's restrict the use of telephones because that way we could remove lots of poles and masts from our environment. It might make my old mum think twice about calling me, but it wouldn't stop yabbering salesmen interrupting my dinner to ask if I pay too much on my mobile phone bills!
I have no issue with limiting total power to the consumer. I have no real problem with charging for electricity at different rates according to total consumption - heavy users of electricity after all contribute more costly environmental damage. I firmly support the design of energy efficient appliances. I am firmly in favour of technology that enables us to better understand and control our energy usage - provided it is us that decide what to control.
I am neither technophobe nor philistine when it comes to energy technology. It's just I have a deep distrust of anything that enables further draconian interference with how I choose to live my law abiding life.