Sunday, December 20, 2009

Smart power grid, 1980s style

Obama's style of talk about building a smart power grid was not as evident in the 1980s when I worked as a janitor in the restaurant called Pizza Haven, here in Bellingham.

I like Obama, but even back then, we had what was called a "smart power meter" installed at Pizza Haven by the power company. It could also be called a "demand meter."

Our smart meter ran at different rates, depending on situations it encountered. The goal was to make power more expensive when it's being used during times of peak power demand on the grid.

Internet connectivity between what some might call "energy brains on the grid" was less evident back in 1980s. Still, the goal of making power more expensive during peak demand times was fairly straight forward.

Of course, the world keeps getting more complicated, but back then there was a consistent peak demand.

For instance, in the morning when folks get up, turn on lights, push up the heat, take hot water showers and heat up their stoves for breakfast power demand is high.

The meter had a clock in it so as to charge more for power during certain morning hours.

I don't know if this was true, or not, but I guess one could even put a thermometer in such a meter. With a thermometer as well as a clock, the smart power meter could not only tell what time it was, it could estimate how cold weather was here in the Pacific Northwest.

Colder temperatures could mean more people making their heaters and furnaces work harder across the land. The smart meter could jack up our power cost even more, if our restaurant was using power during that peak demand time as well.

You ask, what was the advantage of having such a meter for us at the restaurant?

We got lower overall cost of power throughout the whole day. As long as we behaved ourselves and tried to avoid adding our power demand during peak power demand hours on the grid.

That meter could be seen as kind of a little threat, to help us remember "The big picture."

The big picture being our power company's struggle trying to keep everyone's lights on through the peaks and valleys of demand. "Through thick and thin," so to speak.

Now, we live in a more complicated world than ever. Obama talks about hooking all the brains, on the power system together. The brains like our little smart meter.

Maybe it's not that big a deal over what we could already do, but the tasks seem to keep getting more complicated. Also we have some new tools, such as more internet connectivity.

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