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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The smart grid dream

To me, it’s a nightmare.

On the surface, it looks like it would make perfect logical sense. Tie all the grids and all the devices in a single network. That would allow the most efficient use of power. Rather than have to build more power plants to deal with peak loads, the smart grid makes sure those loads never happen. To reduce power, it could do things like turn off a select number of water heaters for 15 minutes or so. Looks good on paper.

Unless you want to use a lot of hot water at that time.

The thing that really creeps me out it that some central organizing agency knows exactly how you are using electricity and can regulate that usage. I’m just leery of that level of information gathering and control.

I’ve been arguing against the whole idea of a grid in the first place. It makes a lot more sense to generate power as near the point of use as possible. Ideally, that’s at the individual home level. In some areas, it might make sense to have neighborhood, town or small regional grids. The best way to avoid transmission losses is to avoid transmitting power long distances.

Security is a concern. Imagine a national grid that get hacked. It’d be a window into every home and business in America. In a diffuse energy arrangement, hacking would be very limited. For example, my home solar electric system isn’t connected to the Internet. It stands alone. It’s not connected to the local power grid either. A national system could be shut down all at once.

Many people report their electric bill goes up when a smart meter is installed. The old meters have a mechanic aluminum disk. A big electric spike, like a motor starting, isn’t fully registered as the disk has a bit of inertia. By the time the disk spins up to speed, the surge is past. Smart meters are electronic and catch every electron that slips past.

People sensitive to electromagnetic pollution complain that the smart meters make them sick. The meters communicate using a wifi type system, so that might be a valid complaint.

Off grid people are used to dealing with different demands in energy usage. Rather than size an alternative energy system to the absolute peak possible load, they watch how they use it. It goes like this. You could calculate the size system that would be needed if every electrical device was on at once. That would be a pricey system. Instead, the prudent person decides things like not vacuuming the house at the same time they are doing laundry. Maybe they don’t run the microwave, toaster, and coffee maker at the same time. They can do everything, just not all at once.

An off grid person makes those decisions all the time. A smart grid would make those decisions for him. I’d rather be the one deciding how to use my power. The idea that some central agency could take those decisions out of my hands is unsettling. Right now I buy some power from my local grid, but they still have the old fashioned meters out here. If they ever come to pull it off, I’ll tell them to not replace it. The smart meter/smart grid is my line in the sand. That’s all the inspiration I’d need to go completely off grid.




  1. Six bears both myself and Mom are building small off grid systems. Mom has a bit more money and bought a mono 15 watt that is not powering up 2 6volt heavy duty batteries. We will be buying a poly 20 watt solar panel.($78.00 Amazon free shipping) Am I missing some thing the older 15 watt pannel should charge the batteries if given time. Or is the Amperage more important than I thought at first glance? I know just enough to be dangerous and my Dad is an ex Idaho power worker that seems to hate solar.
    I love my Dad and he is smart as a whip. But he seems to have a blind spot for solar. I'll be odering the 20 watt panel this weekend, monday at the latest. A little of your knowledge would be helpful.

  2. Here in Texas we have our own grid which is not connectoed to the rest of the country. I guess that is in case we want to secede.(grin)

  3. Adventures: amps is what gets the work done. Two 6 volt heavy duty batteries. (I assume they are golf cart type?) can easily handle 100 watts of solar panel. I'd want at least 50 if you want to charge them in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, there are many variables, but this is a rule of thumb sort of thing.

  4. The grid is a horribly wasteful thing, but great for corporate profits and government control. "Distributed generation", which is power generated on site, is much more efficient. It eliminates transmission line losses, transformer losses, not to mention the outages and other problems associated with large plants, transmission lines, and substations.

  5. It makes sense, but doesn't profit the big companies and allows for way too much freedom.