Microsoft, which is invested in the Smart Grid with its own Microsoft Hohm energy monitoring app, recently surveyed about 200 utilities to get some insight on how fast smart meters and other Smart Grid developments are being rolled out. The answer? Not even close to as fast as you think or hope.
The survey found that only 8% of the utilities are actively using Smart Grid tech and equipment, only 37% are even working on related projects, and more than half have done exactly nothing. The reasons are actually incredibly complicated, as you might expect from a shakeup of this size in an industry as massive as the energy industry.
The standard explanation from those not affiliated with the utilities is that the change is difficult, expensive, and would result in smarter energy consumers–and thus less revenue from thoughtless energy use for the utilities. So why would the utilities even bother? But utilities see it differently, blaming onerous government regulation and the high level of difficulty involved in adopting the new system. Besides, the utilities claim, they do want to encourage smart meters: they’d eliminate the cost of meter readers and data gathered would better equip the utilities to avoid costly blackouts.
The situation gets even more complicated when you try to examine further, as this The New York Times article does with a specific area (New York City), company (Con Ed), and program (an hourly pricing plan in certain large buildings). There, you can see that the problems are widespread, with problems from consumers, utilities, and government. The story involves third party energy services companies (ESCOs) that essentially read the meters and predict prices for landlords, state tax advantages for ESCO contracts, a utility lukewarm on the whole idea in the first place, arcane and possibly corrupt meetings to set energy prices, and sheer laziness on the part of landlords to bother studying an hourly system and adjusting energy use appropriately.
It is, in short, a complete mess. And while there’s been much discussion of adopting a smart grid, the survey and the Times article show the truth: it’s not happening as fast as we think, and it’s going to be a rat’s nest to sort out.