Google, Others Urge Obama to Push Smart Metering — But Is It Just for Techies?

A pack of more than 45 prominent corporations and organizations, led by innovation-hurricane Google Inc., sent a letter to President Obama last week urging the White House to lead the effort to bring energy-efficient smart technology to American homes and businesses.

The letter is just the latest in a flurry of announcements from the smart metering world in the last several weeks, as utilities and states start providing their customers with tools for monitoring–and reducing–their electricity consumption.

But there is some question as to whether those customers want or understand the new technology, as a number of controversies (here, here and here to start) show.

At the very least, the problems suggest smart metering will require an aggressive education program to expand its usefulness beyond the tech-savvy to ordinary Americans who are perennially suspicious of Change, or just startled by a larger-than-expected electricity bill.

Dear Mr. President…Sincerely, Google & Friends

Aside from Google, which seems to get all the credit for anything involving technology these days, the letter was signed by companies as diverse as AT&T, Whirlpool and Best Buy, and advocacy organizations like the NRDC, The Climate Group, and the Center for American Progress. The letter predicts big cuts in electricity bills and greenhouse gas emissions if smart metering technology, in combination with other efficiency measures, is rolled out nationwide.

These savings could be substantial when added up: if all U.S. households saved 15% on their energy use by 2020, for example, the greenhouse gas savings would be equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road and would save consumers $46 billion on their energy bills, or $360 per customer each year.

The letter essentially urges the creation of an appropriate regulatory environment to promote smart metering, smart appliances and general “end use” electricity efficiency, including weatherization–stuff that has already gotten some Stimulus cash funneled its way.

I don’t get it

But customers in some states are crying foul over electric bills that are higher than expected, and blaming new smart meters. As 3P reported last year, in one such a controversy in California, PG&E quickly determined increased bills had nothing to do with smart meters. Furthermore, because of a regulatory framework known as de-coupling, utilities do not generally make more money by selling more electricity, so it does not really make sense that they would be using the meters to trick customers into shelling out more dough.

Of course, rational common sense is not always evident in public discourse, and risks swamping the issue of smart metering without a strong counter balance from advocates, including the letter’s signatories, many of whom hope to profit mightily from increased sales of smart technology.

Thus the letter, and an in-person meeting in DC the following day, are just the first steps in a concerted campaign, promises Google.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.

2 responses

  1. Consumers will learn pretty quickly how to use smart meters. After all, people who grew up with rotary dial phones are now using iPhones. They just need to see a couple of vivid examples of how smart meters work — and how they can reduce electric bills.

Leave a Reply