As Bay Area communities continue to oppose smart meter installations, Sunroom Desk sent a few questions to Glendale Water and Power about this city’s upcoming installations. Below are the questions and responses from GWP. If readers want more information, GWP is holding two more community meetings on this subject September 29 and September 30.
Q: First, a number of scientists and professionals believe current FCC radio frequency emissions guidelines for wireless devices and transmitters are inadequate to protect public health. Cordless phones, baby monitors, and cell phones, which the Itron literature says its smart meters are comparable to in frequency and non-ionizing radiation levels, are called out as potential hazards by some in this group. Will GWP insist on installing devices whose technology has not been proven safe, in its customers’ homes, if those customers object on the grounds of possible adverse health effects?
A: We have never seen a scientific peer reviewed journal article documenting negative health consequences resulting from non-ionizing RF exposure below the limits set by the FCC. This is despite the fact that many researchers have looked very hard to find such consequences. Additionally our radios transmit at power levels that are a tiny fraction of the FCC limits. It is possible to find scientists who have contrary opinions on any number of subjects. We have to base our actions on solid research and not opinion. The positions taken by the World Health Organization and EPRI are very clear on this topic.
As to whether GWP will be replacing all meters in Glendale , the answer is yes. It would make no sense for GWP to maintain two separate utility systems. The cost and administrative burden would not be justified. Further the benefits of a smart grid cannot be realized by a piecemeal approach.
Q: Why does the device have to transmit data wirelessly? Glendale owns its own wired utility network – couldn’t the meter usage information be transmitted via power lines? Is the choice of wireless v. wired a matter of cost? How much?
A: GWP looked at a number of technologies before choosing the Itron system, including power line carrier (PLC) and broadband over power line (BPL). For cost and technically reasons, GWP did not choose these options.
First, though PLC type systems are being used by some utilities in Germany and Italy , but they do not work so easily in North America . Additionally, there is a misconception that these European systems are 100% wired. This is not true. As greentechmedia.com reports, the Italy system actually uses data concentrators to collect data from the smart meters and send that data back to the utility via standard IP wireless networks.
As to the cost differential between the Itron electric and water smart meter system that GWP is installing, the Itron system is expected to be around $28.5 million. (A substantial amount of this estimated cost would be required regardless of the type of communication system). Estimates for a GOOGLE type system are hard to make. The cost to GWP to install fiber for utility purposes is about $30 a linear foot. GIGAOM.com estimates that the final cost of the GOOGLE fiber project will be between $60 million to $1.6 billion, depending upon the final size of the selected city. If Google chooses a city of 100,000 homes, the cost is estimated at a half a billion dollars. This suggests a cost of about $5,000 a home/meter. Glendale has 84,500 meters so that this translates to a total cost of $422 million dollars, or close to 15 times more than the cost of the system GWP is installing. That said, it is unclear as to whether a GOOGLE type system would be totally wireless. Rather, it would most likely be a system where the fiber is connected to a wireless router inside the home so that it can communicate with other devices so even the “wired” option would not be 100% wireless. http://gigaom.com/2010/02/11/google-fiber-network-cost/
Unlike the European grid, North American systems have a greater number of low-voltage, step-down transformers located close to customers’ premises. These transformers (also substations, vaults, etc.) all cause problems for data transmission. One smart meter company, Echelon, is modifying its European system to better fit the U.S. market, but the fix is to put cellular or Wi-Fi enabled collectors before each transformer to send data back to the utility. So the PLC option is not 100% wired. It also raises costs and doesn’t necessarily reduce cellular or RF in neighborhoods. For context, GWP has over 9,000 transformers on its system. This modified Echelon system could therefore require the installation of up to 9,000 cellular or Wi-Fi enable collectors throughout the city.
Q: At the September 1 meeting, GWP consultant Terry McDonald … said that a wired network would actually be superior but would cost more. So my followup question is how much more, and if it reduces potential health risks, why not go this route?
A: In response to the question about wired versus wireless systems, the GWP consultant was not responding to whether wired systems “reduce potential health risks.” In fact he pointed out that the GWP systems meets all Federal standards for safety, and that he knows of no credible research that wireless systems cause health risks. His response was limited to whether a fiber optic system such as the one proposed by GOOGLE last year might be technically superior because it would provide 1 gigabit data transfer to each home and business.
Q: Monitoring appliance usage within private residences amounts to an invasion of privacy. Could more energy be saved if GWP customers just turned off appliances that are not in use, as Ms. Beety suggests?
A: Certainly customers can save energy by turning off appliances by hand, but this does not amount to a practical option, and it is an open question as to whether an energy efficiency program that relied on customers manually turning off equipment would save energy over the long term. That said, GWP has no plans to mandate customer participation in smart grid enabled energy efficiency or rate programs. These programs would all be voluntary.
The research on sustained energy savings does strongly suggest that an automated approach is the most effective approach to energy savings for most people over the long term.
The benefits of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) include energy savings and much more.
Optional programs that provide GWP with the ability to reduce demand when necessary will help us improve reliability, reduce consumption of the most expensive electricity, support sustainable generation by wind and solar and avoid the cost of system reinforcement or new power plant construction. All of these benefits reduce costs and help to hold down rates as well.
AMI is also a component in the larger smart grid which is needed to support electric vehicles, distributed renewable generation, distributed storage and improved power quality and reliability. One feature of the smart grid development GWP is working on will improve our power factor which will save electricity that is being wasted as heat generated by power lines. This will help to hold down rates while reducing our carbon footprint.