Miami's Stimulus Smart Grid

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Miami's Stimulus Smart Grid

Postby StephanieCutts » Tue May 26, 2009 10:00 am

Miami, FL

The city of Miami said Monday it was seeking $200 million in stimulus money to speed up installation in homes and businesses of one million “smart meters” ­ devices that permit electricity customers to get much more detailed information about their energy use. Florida Power & Light, the electric company in the area, already has 100,000 in service in Broward County, north of Miami.

The Miami announcement, made with the chief executives of General Electric and Cisco Systems, comes amid a flurry of activity around the concept of a “smart grid” ­ a term describing an upgraded, digitally enhanced power delivery system that permits much more precise monitoring and control of electricity distribution and, in turn, saves power.

Last Thursday, Vice President Joseph Biden, speaking in Jefferson City, Missouri, described plans to distribute more than $3.3 billion allocated in the stimulus bill for a smart grid.

Some of the money is for sensors on the high-voltage grid, and the distribution network, including transformers, power lines and switches, to give operators a clearer idea of the condition of the equipment, and earlier warning of problems that could lead to blackout.

FP&L likes that function, and two others: the new meters transmit their data back to headquarters, without the aid of a meter reader, and could be used, with a customer’s permission, to remotely manipulate energy-using devices like air conditioners.

For example, the utility could, by pre-arrangement with a customer, turn off some customer equipment on the hottest days, to limit the electricity peak.

Some utilities do that already, without the aid of smart meters. But another function for the meter would be telling the customer, hour by hour, what the price of electricity is, thus giving the homeowner or business owner the ability to limit use during peak periods, when power is more pricey.

That, of course, requires pricing power by the hour. FP&L has a tariff on file now that allows this, but according to Lewis Hay III, the chief executive of FP&L’s parent company, the FPL Group, the utility has never had the technology to use it, and will probably have to develop some new rate structure for that purpose, Mr. Hay said.

John T. Chambers, the chairman and chief executive of Cisco Systems, said that while manufacturers had tried before to install “smart” appliances and other equipment that could be digitally controlled, it was not practical until the Internet was more fully developed. “God could not make this work over 350 different protocols,” Mr. Chambers said.

Now, he said, technology would allow a standard communications protocol so that the grid and appliances could talk to each other.

A smart grid, advocates say, would allow an electric system to absorb more intermittent power sources, like wind and sun, and stay balanced, by smoothly shedding load as required. And simply having detailed information about use and price will lead many consumers to shut off devices they are not using, advocates say.

Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, said, “if we’re going to have 10 percent renewables or 15 percent renewables, it’s going to happen.’’

Scott Lang, the chairman and chief executive of Silver Spring Networks, which makes some of the electronics in the meters, said that they cost between $125 to $145 ­ or about $100 more than a typical mechanical meter. The electronic ones will last 20 years, he said, because their software can be updated by remote control.

Miami planned a five-year program of installing the meters, but will do it in two years if it can get the funds from the stimulus package, officials said.
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