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Readers on meters, and apps

Two issues got our readers' dander up this past week. Or should I say that two issues sparked outrage among two readers. Let's check for a pulse. 

Last Friday I railed (again) on the affluent communities in California that wish to opt-out of receiving interval meters, but demand that the less affluent cover the resulting cost, which back-of-the-envelope involved tens of millions of dollars. 

See my personal issues on display in "IEE's Wood: Opt-out? Pay the Cost!" 

As long as opt-outs don't compromise the system, I'm okay with policies allowing folks to do so. But don't make others pay for your decision. Especially as there's zero scientific evidence that wirelessly enable interval meters pose any health risk. As for privacy, I'm in support of whatever technology choice prevents a utility or law enforcement or hacker to see what your load profile looks like in detail.

I also happen to think that if interval meters and supporting systems introduce significant efficiencies that the utilities should pay for the cost themselves. I digress. 

One reader was having none of it. This individual suggested several examples whereby a general rate base pays for services they don't get, the examples being rural dwellers who read their own meters, subsidizing underground lines when one has overhead lines, and the fees charged to wireless phone users to cover the Universal Service Fund that extends telecom into under-served areas. 

The disconnect, of course, comes from the fact that in the examples given, folks didn't opt-out of societal infrastructure, then refuse to pay. Frankly, when utilities provide opt-in dynamic pricing and higher flat rates for those who don't opt-in, to cover the actual cost of producing and delivering electricity, opt-outs are going to opt-in, quick. 

Of course, simple fairness was deemed by one reader to be part of my diabolical plan to punish those who disagree with me. 

"Phil, cut the hyperbole," our correspondent snarled. "It seems you want mechanical, watt-hour luddites to pay more. You and others want them punished because they disagree with your concept that just because someone (utilities and meter companies) repeat incessantly that smart meters will save everyone money later, but spend billions up front. 

"When in their minds they see costs, interest, doubtful benefits, health concerns, proven higher maintenance costs of this new infrastructure and a future bill that will punish them, and enrich the utility by charging them extra for usage at 18:00 hours, the exact time when everyone is using their AC."

Actually, as I keep saying, interval meters and associated programs should be sold on the basis of managing use and thereby managing costs—not "saving money." Costs will rise as we address the horrendous environmental and human health costs of burning coal—thereby rightly pricing the cost of that energy, rather than pushing the ancillary costs down the road to individuals and society's health care costs.  

Besides, we have no choice but to modernize the grid. Why not embed the means to make it more efficient and reliable? Meters play a key role besides the alleged economic enslavement and spying.  

The second issue that brought forth hyperbole this week was my column—"DOE's App Winner: $ Not the Only Motivator"—on a young man and his business partner who, with minimal knowledge of the utility industry, wrote a software application judged by a Department of Energy panel of industry folks to have high value. 

I suggested that Gen Y might be onto something and that we older folks (of "a certain age," I said) might go so far as to encourage youthful, innovative thinking and interest in the power industry's challenges. The scientific validity of the resulting app aside, I wrote, this is the start of something good.

But one reader didn't like that suggestion.  

"So why not just make stuff up?" our correspondent snorted. "People `of a certain age' with deep experience in science and engineering are rejecting this nonsense not out of some curmudgeonly resistance to change: we happen to know a few things about what makes things (and people) tick. We also know that the economics, micro and macro, matter.

"Try to remember that we `of a certain age' gave the ever-so-clever Gen What-evers the technical foundation upon which an app might be developed for some cause in 2012. To dismiss those `of a certain age' as unwilling or unable to embrace innovation is but another pathetic dip into the bottomless pit of progressive propaganda. It also nicely obscures the obvious fact that much of what passes for `innovation' in 2012 isn't."

Well,  as the power industry has focused on engaging its customers—indeed, on making "ratepayers" into "customers"—over the past two years, recognizing that a wide variety of threats  to its business models may overrun it, those "of a certain age" and all that sagacity around what makes people tick haven't really succeeded. I'm thinking we might not want to broach customer segmentation to this reader. I too love my generation, and those whippersnappers are darn lucky I paved the way. But it's just possible that listening to and learning from younger generations may have value. 

Call me crazy. 

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily





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