Commentary

Markowitz: Smart meters, smart grid and smart consumers

Editor’s note: Deb Markowitz is the secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources.

A postcard arrived in the mail the other day from my power company to let me know that a smart meter was going to be installed soon at my home. I can’t wait! With a smart meter we’ll be able to track our electricity use more accurately (particularly important with a house full of teenagers) and help us save money. But what really excites me and other environmentalists about the smart meter is that it is the technological innovation needed to enable us to integrate more renewable energy into our system and reduce our contributions to global warming.

But what really excites me and other environmentalists about the smart meter is that it is the technological innovation needed to enable us to integrate more renewable energy into our system and reduce our contributions to global warming.

Smart meters will help our utilities create a “smart grid.” The smart grid uses wireless meters and computer technology to allow utilities to see how much and where energy is being consumed. Electric utilities need this information to integrate renewable energy sources into the existing electrical grid structure, since most are intermittent (i.e. solar works best on sunny days, wind energy is produced only when the wind is blowing).

For this reason, smart meters and the smart grid are essential if we are to meet our goal of increasing the percentage of renewable energy to 90 percent by 2050, as called for in the 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan. Smart meters will also let our utilities adjust their pricing to discourage energy use during the peak periods of the day and reduce it during non-peak so that we will be more efficient in how and when we use the energy we produce.

Vermont is a rural state, so it is not surprising that over half our greenhouse gas emissions — the pollution that contributes to global warming — comes from cars and trucks. A promising solution is transitioning to electric vehicles. Indeed, electric cars (battery only or plug-in hybrid) are available now from several major manufacturers and as production ramps up, technology improves and prices come down they will become a viable option for regular households shopping for their next vehicle.

In order to manage this new demand for energy without resorting to building more power plants, the tools must be in place to ensure that most charging occurs during non-peak periods.That is why those of us who are working on creating an electric vehicle network across the Northeast see smart meters as an important first step.

Let’s think about the future possibilities that come with smart meters: You may have already seen commercials showing the fully web-connected smart home, with appliances and lighting that talk to both the electric grid and your cell phone. This technology is coming and promises to revolutionize the way individual households manage their energy use, providing more convenience and more opportunities to save money as well.

Of course, smart meters and a smart grid won’t save us money and reduce our carbon emissions alone. Indeed, the most important part of the equation is the smart consumer. I’m planning on being one of the smart consumers. How about you?

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