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eMeter's Chris King: regulation, consumers, Zigbee

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Please click on "eMeter's Chris King: Regulation, Consumers, Zigbee" for the first part of this two-part interview. Below is the second half of the interview.

IU: What's on your to-do list this year?

King: I just met with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Ann Cavoukian. We know there's a problem and there's a relatively straightforward solution, as long as you think about it upfront. Cavoukian's "Privacy by Design" is an international standard adopted by privacy commissioners in multiple countries. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. I'll be talking about this in my industry meetings this year.

The other topic I'd highlight is Zigbee. People ask whether there's something that could catalyze things quickly. Very few things can do that, but one is for the industry to agree on a standard for appliance automation. To me, Zigbee is that de facto standard. We have 40 million meters already installed or planned for installation that have Zigbee. You could put Wi-Fi into appliances because it's already in the home, but it's more expensive and more complex.

Some major companies, particularly GE, have come out in favor of Zigbee. Version 1.0, the Smart Energy Profile, is up, it's working, it's live in Texas. Nevada is going to go live with it. I mention that because utilities, notably in California, are saying they're not going live with that until 2.0 is commercially available. That's still in development and may not be available until 2013. In California you have 6-7 million meters with Zigbee in it that could be turned on today at no cost to open that market and allow people to manage and conserve energy. One of my initiatives this year is about communicating that to policy makers. 

IU: What's the concern about 1.0?

King: There's some security concern about sending data back through the meter to the utility, but I haven't had time to fully understand that. I don't know how serious an issue that is. My sense is that it's not, because 1.0 is in use in Texas and I don't think Texas would have done that if it was a serious issue.

IU: What's on the landscape coming up? What do you keep your eye on?

King: In 2010, internationally and in Idaho, we saw renewable energy starting to cause operational problems. It's intermittent, difficult to control. That shows up first in the wholesale market when the price goes negative. At that point, your power plant operators are paying people to take their energy so they can keep their plants running, because the system has to take all the wind and solar energy coming off the grid. In Spain, Germany and Idaho, they're saying, we need to slow down the incentives for renewable energy or change our schedules for implementation. That problem is going to increase going forward as the percentage of renewables on the grid goes up.

IU: Can you clarify the implications of this problem?

King: When the price goes negative, power plant operators would rather pay money to get the market to take their power rather than turn off generating plants, because there are startup and shutdown costs.

IU: Basically, base load generation can't come offline economically.

King: Right. Say you have a fleet of 10 generating plants and so much wind power you only need nine plants running. Nine would have to pay money to allow the tenth to shut off. In Germany their proposed solution, which seems like nonsense to me, is to turn off solar production and, essentially, throw away that free power. The solution, if you had the price signal going out to retail customers, is that they'd reschedule their energy-consuming activities. It's a little confusing, but it would be reverse time-of-use rates. During the peak, the price would go down, so you'd turn on your appliances.

That issue ties into one of my focus areas this year, which is federal legislation. We thought it was dead after the election. We know any legislation around carbon emissions is dead. But both the Republicans and President Obama are interested in doing things with clean energy. The president has his new proposal to have 80 percent clean energy by 2035, where "clean" includes nuclear, natural gas and, potentially, "clean" coal. The adoption of renewables would be a part of that. I don't know if the president has released the details of his plan, but certainly wind and solar will be a major part of that. Because he's bringing in the nuclear industry and the natural gas industry, there seems to be a chance of getting some legislation through.

And there's some expectation of getting smaller energy bills through that might deal specifically with renewables or with energy storage. One of the proposals we have on the table is a peak demand reduction standard. Actually, we should be calling that a peak efficiency standard. The way it's written is you don't necessarily have to reduce the peak, you have to flatten the profile.

IU: Doesn't that imply shaving the peaks, filling the valleys?

King: That's one way to do it. Another way is to keep the peak where it is and bring new load on at off-peak times. Electric vehicles could help us do that.

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily


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