Kate Mackenzie Those evil smart meters

The US government’s allocation of $3.4bn in stimulus money toward upgrading the electricity system for the most part went down a treat, niggles about timingexcepted. Smart grids and smart meters, after all, are good for integrating renewables and improving efficiency.

But just to prove that nothing in energy is ever easy, there’s a tiny hint of rancour around about the smart grid, too – or smart meters in particular. Allowing customers to save money is only part of the rationale for smart meters, and some electricity users could resent the sense that they’re being pushed to change their consumption patterns, not to mention being monitored. This is presumably the sort of thing that GE’s marketing blitz on the smart grid earlier this year was designed to head off.

It hasn’t worked everywhere. Executives from smart hardware and software companies are quite familiar with arguments against their products. Eric Wesoff at Greentech Media, who was on a panel with several of them, writes:

All chimed in with the warning that:

  • A $2.2 billion meter deployment would have a questionable ROI if most of the savings came from reduced truck rolls
  • The smart meters were not smart enough
  • Consumers don’t want Big Brother controlling their thermostat and appliances

Wesoff also notes reports that some Fresno residents are up in arms about PG&E’s smart meter rollout there. At a recent meeting they argued that their bills were shooting up as a result of the meters. Power bills can rise for all sorts of reasons (and a PG&E spokesman apparently pointed out that the company’s two rate rises might be among them), but as these meters don’t yet give real-time information that users can read, perhaps a little suspicion is to be expected.

In the meantime, Italy’s 30m-odd smart meter users seem to be coping fine.

Related links:

Get Smart: Team Obama’s $3bn smart grid push (WSJ Environmental Capital)
Smart grids, dumb customers? (FT Energy Source, 30/09/09)
Do smart meters actually save energy? (FT Energy Source, 11/05/09)