Tag Archives: smart meters

Ontario gov launches $50,000 contest, challenges app developers to put smart meter data to good use

Now that nearly 5 million Ontario homes and small businesses have smart meters, the province has access to a tsunami of energy usage data. The question now is what’s the best use of it? As part of efforts to open up this data store and make it available to third-party developers — part of the “green button” initiative — the Ontario energy ministry issued today a challenge to app developers. Come up with a mobile app that makes the best use of this data and win part of $50,000 in cash that is available for prizes. Developers have until Jan. 7 to submit their app, and the winners will be announced in early 2014. “Awards include Gold, Silver and Bronze, Best Student App, Best App Created Outside of Ontario, and People’s Choice,” according to the ministry.

Will be interesting to see what emerges from this contest.

Time for Ontario to widen peak/off-leak rate gap in TOU pricing

Results from a pilot project in Oklahoma show that having a wider TOU price gap will encourage more peak-period conservation and shifting of electricity use, a finding that contrasts with the experience in Ontario, where the price gap and the market signal it sends is very weak. In the Oklahoma trial, pricing ranged from 4.2 cents (U.S.) for off-peak times and up to 46 cents for critical peaks, compared to a range of 5.1 to 9.9 cents at an Ontario utility such as Toronto Hydro.

Some participants in the Oklahoma pilot achieved a 57 per cent reduction in energy use during peak periods compared to a control group, while the average reduction was 33 per cent during highest-price periods. Widening the TOU price range in Ontario is crucial to realizing the benefits of smart meters and to enabling competitive services from third-party retailers, including storage services.

Energy policies may depend on boomer buy-in

My Clean Break column for Friday (published online today) explores the importance of demographics when creating and implementing energy policies, such as time-of-using pricing. My observation over the past few years is that those most vocal against green energy and time-of-use plans tend to be folks on fixed incomes — i.e. mostly seniors — who are understandably worried about higher energy costs and how they, along with other costs of living, are rising relative to incomes. If the baby boomers are just beginning to enter their retirement years, staying at home more (meaning using air conditioning and heating more) and many are struggling to survive on fixed incomes, what does this mean for energy policy?

I asked demographer David Foot, author of the well-known book Boom, Bust and Echo, and he confirmed there is a strong tension between the wants and needs and concerns of baby boomers and the kinds of energy policies and program we so desperately need. But, as he said, boomers occupy the largest voting block, they tend to vote more often than generations after them, and this means politicians can’t ignore their concerns and need to design programs carefully and equitably. As you’ll read in my column, as people age they tend to use more energy per capita. Our aging bodies, quite simply, need to be kept cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. If energy prices are rising and a greater per cent of the population will be spending their days at home, how will this impact the silver tsunami and attempts to get a handle of greenhouse gas emissions?

Not to generalize. There are plenty of folks in this demographic willing to make the sacrifice, even if it affects them more than others. But those wanting equal treatment have a point and they should be heard. Food for thought.

NOTE: I see the folks over at Wind Concerns Ontario have seized on the column and misinterpreted its message, suggesting that I am “eagerly awaiting boomers to die off.” They’re a venomous, very angry bunch over there — at least those who do the postings and comments — but this only undermines their own efforts. There’s no room for mature debate or constructive comment over there. Either you support their view or you’re an idiot, a word they frequently label on me. And people want them to be taken seriously?

Of course, my column is actually pointing out the legitimate concerns that baby boomers have and how current policies are failing to appreciate them. I actually wrote the piece because of concerns my mother, who is a retired first wave boomer on a pension, expressed regarding the difficulty of paying rising power prices. The message of the column is that blanket programs can miss the mark and more care must be taken to craft them.

Smart meters are here…. Get over it

My Clean Break column, which now appears Friday in the Toronto Star, questions whether we have the capacity as a society to invest in long-term infrastructure transitions that don’t bear fruit right away. The knee-jerk reaction by some in Ontario (and other jurisdictions) to smart meters and time-of-using pricing is unfortunate, because it reveals a state-of-mind that will also end up impeding other necessary infrastructure transitions. It’s short-sighted and ultimately self-destructive. I will be the first to accept that Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program has problems with its design and price structure, and that in some scenarios there are certainly better ways to reduce CO2 emissions and stimulate jobs. It’s a good program in principle, but delicate adjustments will be needed and much more emphasis must be placed on conservation and co-generation/CHP.  But the smart meter program is right on the money. It helps lay a  new foundation for the electricity system, the same ways digital technologies and cable modems unleashed the Internet and wireless communication services.

As smart grid evolves, closer attention is needed to security and privacy

My Clean Break column yesterday takes a look at an overlooked issue on the smart-grid file: privacy and security. Last week Toronto Hydro disclosed that 179,000 customer online accounts had been illegally accessed, along with some personal information. Now, this could have happened to any Web site that gives online access to billing — retailers, banks, your phone or cable company — so this isn’t directly a “smart grid” issue. What it highlights, however, is that utilities are a target like anyone else, and could increasingly be a target as they deploy smart meters and begin to offer energy-management services through the Web. How much energy we use at various times of the day can, surprisingly, say a lot about you and your home. For one, it can tell someone you’re not home. And it can allow someone to track your activities throughout the day. As I point out in the column, the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week showed just how easy it can be to remotely infiltrate a network of smart meters and seize control. Of course, we also have to worry about the upstream as well, keeping security issues top of mind  as we modernize our transmission systems. This is critical infrastructure, and with more and more points of access being created to enable the “smart grid,” this infrastructure will be increasingly vulnerable to attack.