Public input being sought on smart grid
EASTHAM — You never want to have an electric grid smarter than you are.
Or do you?
Cape Light Compact is running a series of forums for the public, traveling from select board to select board (they were in Eastham Monday night) and conducting a public survey on their website, all this to ascertain consumers’ feelings on a smarter electric grid. But how smart does a grid need to be, is it just nuts and bolts – or kilowatts and volts?
Well, as it turns out, it is the smarter consumer who makes the grid smarter. All electricity isn’t priced the same. If the electric customer buys his power (smart-metered by time of day) at the right time he can save money as the electric company will as well since it won’t have to pay peak power prices which can be quite a bit higher than down times.
Massachusetts’ electricity providers, Eversource on Cape Cod, National Grid elsewhere in the state, have submitted five-year plans to the Department of Public Utilities. While National Grid is planning to add smart meters to much of their region, Eversource is not, although they have proposed spending $496 million to upgrade the system.
“In terms of smart meters, we ran pilot programs, and looked at research from around the country showing it’s tough to get customers to participate in smart meter programs and the cost of running the program was much higher than the benefit,” Rhiannon D’Angelo of Eversource said via email. “As a result, we’re proposing an innovative opt-in approach, engaging our customers in a meaningful manner, and giving them a choice, while achieving the majority of the benefits of an opt-out program at a fraction of the cost.”
The Compact plans to intervene in their role as consumer advocate for Cape Cod, and so is soliciting opinion on what to tell the DPU.
“The electric grid is built for one-way communication,” Maggie Downey, Compact Administrator, told Eastham’s selectmen. “It delivers power from centralized plants to the home. Grid modernization uses digital intelligence to provide for two-way communication and two-way power flow. Tomorrow is about power flow two ways. It is about developing mini-grids that can isolate if there is a disaster.”
So for instance, if power was out the grid in Hyannis around the hospital might keep running. Battery technology is being developed by companies like Tesla that can allow electricity storage in the home, either from solar panels or the grid itself. You could download power at off peak hours and use it during the day.
“Smart energy management would use a smartphone to control what happens in the home,” Downey said. “You could control temperature, find the price of energy and determine what time to use the dishwasher. You could change from a consumer to a ‘prosumer’ who is very much engaged in what is happening to electricity in the home and have more control. A smart grid provides more opportunity for energy efficiency and local control.”
Eversource has filed their grid modernization plan which “balances many customer priorities while also taking into consideration costs for customers,” according to D’Angelo.
“We as consumers will be paying for this,” Downey said. “This will be built into our electric rates. The DPU’s goals are to reduce the effect of electrical outages and optimize demand reducing systems and customer cost. You don’t want to just build for peak demand. You want to build a smart infrastructure to meet demand.”
Eversource’s $496 million includes $171.9-million to improve grid reliability (smart grid and integrated grid), $150 million for resilience to reduce outages, $108 million on customer engagement and $66.3 million on enabling investments.
“A smart grid is not just about adding smart meters to customer homes,” D’Angelo explained. “Eversource is an industry leader when it comes to the deployment of a smart grid already — mainly the addition of “smart switches” to our system. These switches ensure there is more than one way the electricity can reach our customers, which means customers see fewer and shorter outages. This technology has already significantly reduced outages on the Cape since we began installing them ten years ago.”
“Eversource’s plan is a very conservative approach,” Downey countered.