Becoming part of the process

This is a good example that technical solutions are not typically energy solutions.

In the article “Becoming Part of the Process”, a new smart appliance technology is described. Considering the fact that prices in electric markets change every hour, appliances can be connected when energy prices are low, and disconnected when energy prices are high. An electronic instrument (a smart meter) transmits such prices to the appliances, so they can either automatically be turned on when low prices are registered or homeowners can do it manually.  This technology could reduce grid peak demands and electricity bills, together with the “financial and politic costs of building additional power plants” to meet such peak demand. Although appliance functioning cannot depend on energy prices (such as A/C, and water heaters),  “researchers have found that the power required to heat, cool and provide hot water for most households accounts for only about one-half of energy consumption”, according to the article.

This technology also has other benefits. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) registers negative prices due to demand curves and wind power production are not complementary. (In other words, energy demand goes up when wind does not blow). These smart meters could also indicate wind power production peaks, and some peak energy demand could be consumed in high wind generation periods. Thus, smart meters could not only reduce new peak power plant investments, but also reduce wind uncertainties in power grids, and help large scale penetration of renewables.

Though this technology presents the benefits described above, a large scale implementation of smart meters leads changes. First, most energy that houses consume is provided by retailers (which are “sales covering energy suppliers for residential, commercial, and industrial end-use purposes,” according to the Energy Information Administration, a statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy). Most retailers dispatch energy at fixed price, which is not compatible with the new technology. Fix energy prices is yet an issue under discussion. Second, the final decision is made by homeowners. The new technology require that homeowners be willing to change some of their habits (turn on the dishwasher or the washing machine at certain time), which might affect the quality of life of people who would complain if this technology were implemented in its automatic version.

Most energy issues involve different aspects, and this is not the exception. Generally, energy solutions depend on end-use entities (people), and most of the time technical advances must deal with people decisions. No one likes electricity transmission lines, nuclear power plants, damps, nuclear waste depositories, or routine changes, but all these things make people’s life possible. “In the world of tomorrow, we will become (must be) part of the process.”


Jim Pearce. 2009. “Becoming Part of the Process.” America’s 10 Energy Challenges. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review. Volume 42, Number 2. Available:



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3 responses to “Becoming part of the process

  1. briancfloyd

    The process definitely has to start somewhere!

    Like anything new, it’s going to take time to catch on, but when it does, this is going to be a huge contributor to the reduction in commercial and residential energy consumption. Any lifestyle change starts off small, with only the most dedicated taking the plunge. Then as popularity grows and more people join the movement, momentum takes over and it becomes almost taboo to remain status quo.

    Recycling is an example of how a relatively small lifestyle change can grow into a social norm. When my family first started recycling, there was only one other house in our cul-de-sac recycling at the time. Since then, every one of my neighbors now recycles regularly. It’s taught in school and my nieces and nephews have become full-on recycling enforcers—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Twenty years ago there was only 1 curbside recycling program in the US, noted the National Recycling Coalition. There are now over 10,000 such programs and are responsible for recycling 1/3 of our waste. Recycling still has a long way to go, but it’s here to stay and will continue to grow and improve as more join the cause.

    This is just one example of how people have embraced lifestyle changes that positively impact our environment. I only hope it doesn’t take 20 years for this smart appliance technology to become a social norm.

    Reference: “It’s Working.” National Recycling Coalition. National Recycling Coalition, Web. 30 Jan 2010. .

    • Hector Chavez

      I hope so too!
      The only thing I’m afraid of is the fact that people are not “that” (it is just an opinion) willing to change their lives. The problem is that most countries use models of development based on an improvement of the quality of life, which leads such increasing in energy consuption that I’m not sure (I’m guessing again) the world could sustain it. An energy use reduction, most of the time, means a sacrifice, a reduction in people quality of life. Most advancements in this matter are focused on trying to reduce energy consuption without reducing the quality of life, but the point will finally be a reduction in the actual energy each one consumes.
      I’m not sure society would accept this.

  2. rhallenbeck

    Smart meter deployment combined with Time-Of-Use pricing and Home Area Networks offer a terrific set of opportunities to place electricity consumption information in the hands of consumers, enabling them to save money and reduce their overall footprint. CenterPoint, the Houston-area electric utility, recently installed a smart meter in my house in Houston. Once I am able to access the data, I will have the information I need to implement cost-savings opportunities. This is a particularly elegant example of how energy and economics should work, by letting “people respond to incentives.”

    However, Smart Meters and demand-side responses are only part of the overall solution. As we add more intermittent generation sources to the grid (i.e. wind & solar), we will require greater grid integration to achieve reliable, inexpensive and renewable power. This can be accomplished through improved short-term intermittent resource forecasting, connecting grids across larger geographic areas, locating intermittent energy generation resources across a wider area, utilizing synergies present in different intermittent resources and improved energy storage technologies. While several technologies are proposed for longer-term energy storage, the only currently cost-feasible solution is to tie a wind farm to a hydro plant, thereby converting intermittent power from a wind farm into dispatchable power. With wind and hydro resources in close proximity, Portugal is actively exploring this option.

    Several temperature-based options exist for short-term peak-shifting. For instance, many solar thermal power plants use sunlight to generate steam, which is then used to generate electricity. However, instead of generating steam, they can melt high-temperature salts and store the thermal energy for several hours. This allows matching electricity generation with late afternoon & evening peak demand use. The beauty of this approach is that the revenue from the additional evening electricity generated offsets the capital costs of the salt storage system, keeping the cost per watt for a solar thermal plant with salt storage the same as a one without salt storage.

    Working in the other direction, several companies are implementing solutions that use Air Conditioning compressors to create ice using night-time power and then use the ice to cool the refrigerant as it passes through the tank during the day. Combined with Time-Of-Use pricing, shifting operational time for the AC can reduce consumer electricity costs and cut down on the need for peak power generation.

    Plug-In Electric Vehicles offer an additional opportunity for peak shaving. By plugging them in the grid, utilities can access a buffer of electricity during peak times. By providing this flexibility to utilities, consumers could receive a credit, thereby reducing their cost for charging the car. Also, owners will be able to charge their vehicles in the evening, allowing them to make use of lower-cost night-time power.

    Smart meters will provide consumers with more detailed knowledge of their electricity consumption, providing them with the data to make the right decisions. However, we also need the implementation of new technologies combined with the correct financial structures to implement a more sustainable future energy future.


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