AGING ELECTRICAL GRIDS are
due for an overhaul as overtaxed power sources
and obsolete technology lead to blackouts and
breakdowns. Smart grid technology is being
heralded as the cure-all—but some critics are
already labeling it a dumb idea, questioning everything from security risks to cost effectiveness.
At the heart of the system are so-called “smart
meters” that wirelessly send real-time energy
consumption data to and fro between the utility
and the end-user. Armed with that information,
utilities could introduce more sophisticated
billing, with the price of electricity changing
minute by minute based on availability and
demand. Users could then presumably
adjust their usage accordingly to benefit
from lower rates.
In the United States alone, there are
more than 2 million smart meters currently
in use—and President Barack Obama has
called for 40 million to be deployed as part
of his plan for a “bigger, better and smarter
grid.” The mass technological upgrade will
be funded in part by the recent stimulus
bill. In April, Vice President Joe Biden
announced the package will include $3.3
billion for a smart grid investment program
and $615 million for smart grid demonstration projects.
Similar moves are taking place around
the world. The European Commission
launched its own initiative aimed at boosting
the use of smart grid technology. And the
U.K. government has already set a goal to
install smart meters in every home and business by 2020.
In Australia, global energy management
company Landis+Gyr inked a multiyear
contract with CitiPower and Powercor
Australia for what it’s calling the single
biggest smart meter rollout yet in the
country. The deal calls for Landis+Gyr
to provide smart meters to more than
1 million users in Victoria.
No matter the location, the price for
building a smart grid is fairly steep. The
meters can be expensive, and those charges
are typically passed on to the end-user.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported
that when CenterPoint Energy Inc. in Houston,
Texas, USA began billing its customers an extra
$3.24 a month for smart meters, the move was
met with “howls of protest since the charges will
continue for a decade and eventually approach
CRACKING THE GRID
The projects are also plagued with security issues.
In March, evidence was uncovered that spies from
China, Russia and other countries separately hacked
into the U.S. electrical system and left behind software that could be used to map the U.S. grid and