Power Monitoring

New Ways of Getting the Most Out of the Amps

Th Power 01

New Ways of Getting the Most Out of the Amps

Th Power 01
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By Billie G. Blair, PhD

It’s a well-established fact that the ways we have approached energy conservation, to date, simply haven’t worked. Even though millions of dollars have been spent on educating the public about the need to conserve, energy use has actually increased in recent years. In response to these limited results, there are now newer and more promising ways of achieving over-all energy conservation.

Better methods of energy conservation seem to be possible through a combination of increasing the tendency toward conservation, or the active steps that individuals take to reduce energy use, in conjunction with approaches of energy efficiency, or utilizing built-in devices that can act passively to save energy. There are two “smart” terms that make these new ways of saving possible: the “smart grid” and the “smart meter.” Both ideas will contribute to energy savings in the future, but each is guided by slightly differing philosophies and constructs. One drives the savings from a combination of external arrangements to integrate them on the external power grid; and, the other relies on internal, customer-based devices and agreements to initiate energy conservation and individual change at the reception points of offices and houses. The two approaches are complimentary and the actions related to both are intended to merge to form a full circle of energy conservation.

Interacting With the Power Grid

The Smart Grid strives to move us away from a transmission system of simply providing energy to one where there will be individual choice and greater competition that allows for the achievement of a true energy market. The idea is to redirect our energy output from that of solely a transmission system to that of a more amorphous system where energy producers and customers work in conjunction. In the current transmission system, power is generated and flows in one direction— toward the customer. The new system proposes a two-way approach to the electricity grid, where homes or businesses can sell their surplus power back to the grid or, alternatively, sell power that they, themselves, have generated. The Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 set the foundation for completion and promotion of the Smart Grid. What remains for this far-reaching energy conservation practice to become fully functioning is that states must now set rates in favor of its deployment as well as decouple utility profits from power generation. As well, it must be understood by all involved— consumers and producers of energy, alike— that this new form of energy interchange initiates a practice that will need to be combined with other efforts such as smart, green buildings and smart metering of current electrical usage.

Monitoring Single Units of Power Usage

Smart Meters are being instituted to provide technology to measure real-time power usage, provide power outage notification, and quality monitoring of power delivery. These Smart Meters are being supplied to both residential and commercial customers and link to, among other things, a billing notification that informs the power user of the time and date when the power was used as well as the charge differentials for each of the specific time periods. Because some times of day carry higher use charges, this is the latest attempt at educating the public and promoting their becoming power-wise in their usage.

This form of monitoring power usage provides an opportunity to match consumption with generation. Traditional electrical meters measure total power consumption and, thus, provide no information to either the power generator or the power user as to when the power was used. The advent of Smart Meters has provided an economical means of measuring this information and has provided opportunity for power agencies to set different prices for consumption based on time of day and season.

Peak power usage is predictable both by day and by season. When this information is tied to power generation constraints, prices can be set higher for the more expensive times of power acquisition, such as when power must be acquired from other sources or when more costly generation is brought online. The idea behind the use of Smart Meters is that devices can be placed inside the home or business to provide input to the power consumer. Conservation is then brought about in one of two ways. The first way is to anticipate that the customer will observe different billing structures and adjust power usage to conform to lower power rate periods. A second way is to secure the approval of the customer so that power usage is automatically deferred or drastically reduced during times when the system is signaling high power usage or high chance of power transmission failures (brown-outs or black outs). It is anticipated that these usage and price signals will achieve the conservation necessary to be able to avoid additional power generation, or that they can at least result in more effective use of power supplies currently available.

Smart Meters are described as capable of:

  • Giving both an incentive to save energy as well as helping achieve this reduction without interrupting the ongoing processes in the home or office;
  • Communicating with appliances to achieve energy and money savings;
  • Linking individual electric meters with the power grid to allow overall efficiencies in power usage and reduce chance of power emergencies; and
  • Providing sound budgeting and planning information through printed materials reflecting power usage, time-of-usage, and cost-of-usage.

Toward an Integrated Monitoring System

This new system of power monitoring and pricing was formally acknowledged in the spring of 2007 when six Smart Grid leaders were recognized by the Department of Energy. Through their use of the small, powerful computers and communication systems (Smart Meters), major energy suppliers have begun to provide the means to provide the ability to charge for real-time pricing of electricity and thereby create powerful incentives for customers to save money by shifting power usage to off-peak hours.

A number of countries now participate in similar programs. For example, Italy has enrolled all 27 million customers in a program that uses the Smart Meters to transmit bi-directional communications and generate advanced power measurement and management capabilities that provide, among other things, the ability to remotely turn power on or off to a customer, read usage information from a meter, detect outages or the unauthorized use of electricity, alter the maximum amount of electricity that a customer can demand, and change the meter billing plans (for example, from credit to pre-pay and flat-rate to multi-tariff).

New Zealand, Turkey, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and the United States are at various stages of instituting wide-spread use of Smart Meters. In California, following on the July 2006 energy regulators’ agreement, all major energy suppliers have begun programs to retrofit conventional meters with the Smart Meters’ communications co-processor electronics, to allow reporting of energy usage on an hourly basis. Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Sempra all have plans in progress to begin full-implementation of the Smart Meter concept. All power generators agree that this approach allows customers to receive the information needed to reduce monthly power consumption, as well as to achieve a reduction in monthly bills, while at the same time participate in a program that can contribute to global energy conservation.

Orchestrated monitoring of power usage and the active, collaborative interaction of power providers and consumers offers a new, promising view of the future of power use and promotes high expectations that efficiencies achieved in this way can negate the need for expanded levels of power generation.


About the Author:
Dr. Billie Blair is a licensed organizational psychologist and President/CEO of the LA-based management consulting firm, Leading and Learning, Inc. The firm provides strategy and change management services to large corporations around the world. Dr. Blair’s latest book is entitled:
All the Moving Parts: Organizational Change Management.

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