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The Government and the Grid

The Obama administration is spearheading an effort to streamline the nation’s energy grid. This is a much-needed overhaul, especially considering the age of most energy infrastructure. “A Policy Framework for a 21st Century Grid” was announced in June 2011, and concentrates efforts on upgrading efficiency and providing security from potential threats.

Most of the overhaul concentrates on upgrading technology and overlaying a computer and communications system onto the grid, improving reliability, and giving greater access to individual and locality electric usage. This will allow energy providers to more effectively route electricity through the network and monitor for unexpected surges or demand. With a more flexible system, operators can route power away from areas using minimal energy and send it to areas experiencing spikes in usage.

The smart grid plans include using updated meters that provide consumers with a more detailed analysis of their power usage, showing usage for particular times of day so consumers can track how much power is required for different household tasks. Consumers can occasionally lock into an off-peak pricing schedule that lets them perform activities such as laundry and dishwashing at off-peak hours to save money on their electric bills.

The policy documents usage of smart grids and smart meters in various localities around the United States. On a small scale, these projects have helped to conserve power and prevent surges in demand from overloading the system. Attempting this on a national scale is a complex endeavour, but it promises an excellent return on the investment if the smart system will save money for both consumers and power companies.

A key component of this type of detailed analysis is installing smart meters on household appliances. The smart meters are integrated into a system that tracks your appliances and thermostat. In theory, this is a good idea: you can track exactly how much power something is drawing and control your expenses. In practice, this allows the power company to know when you’re using different appliances, and it can potentially tell them what kind of appliances you use as well.

Privacy laws are strongly recommended to prevent utility companies from providing or selling that usage information to insurance companies, appliance manufacturers, or even law enforcement personnel. Otherwise, if you have UV grow lights in your greenhouse, and your power bill is higher than average, you could get a visit from the police…or if your refrigerator starts running inefficiently, you could receive unsolicited mail from an appliance manufacturer trying to gain your business.

While there are drawbacks to having smart meters installed on your appliances, consider the benefits of logging in from your vacation destination to check your house thermostat or energy usage. With this level of control, you can adjust your thermostat online or even turn on some lights — providing they are hooked up to smart meters — to make it look like someone is home. If you install this type of wireless smart system, use appropriate computer and internet security tools to protect your smart network. The administration’s plan also addresses cyber-security issues at the grid level and spells out principles for handling potential hacking threats.

Along with these upgrades, utility companies are planning to run a year-long experiment with the nation’s power grid. Tentatively scheduled to start in July, utility companies will adjust the frequency at which electricity is sent out along power lines. This is part of an effort to adjust for variations in power flow, especially with more alternative energy sources being wired into the grid. The utility companies state that allowing for a bit more variance will help ease out occasional drops or spikes that are routinely seen with the current setup.

This experiment has one potential drawback: electric clocks use the frequency set by power companies to give an accurate time. Any clock plugged into and depending on that frequency will wind up running faster than usual. North American Electric Reliability Corporation oversees the nation’s grid and electricity-generation facilities. Their presentation on the project states that “If the grid averages just over 60 cycles a second, clocks that rely on the grid will gain 14 seconds per day.” However, the effects will vary depending on locality. The East Coast will experience a slightly faster speed than the West Coast, and thus the clocks will be off by different times depending on the region.

There is no official word on when this change will begin, so monitor the clocks on your stove, microwave, and other appliances to ensure they’re telling the correct time. Since computers and many new cellphones go by Greenwich Mean Time and automatically check that on a regular basis to ensure accuracy, this will provide a useful baseline for the clocks in your home.

During this time of record heat sweeping the nation, it’s becoming obvious that something must be done about the aging electrical grid. We are experiencing brownouts and blackouts, and excessive heat warnings and watches stretch from New England into the Plains states, as well as the entire South. Grids are failing, people are becoming violent, and folks are dying. Perhaps instead of waiting for the government and power companies to come up with solutions, it’s time for all of us to begin the change from total dependence on the grid to more self-sufficiency.

After all… when has any government endeavor ever worked out the way it was presented?

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  1. Thanks for your informative (yet not radical alarmist) articles. It is undeniable that we are living in times of historical transitions. Our lives will not continue the same and as prudent people we must be willing and ready to adapt to changes that we see on the horizon. Thanks for being a sane and tempered voice of wisdom for these times. The Good Book of Wisdom says, “the prudent see danger and take refuge; but the simple (naive) keep going and suffer harm.”. Thanks again for your informative newsletter. Danny

  2. That was a pretty big leap; the one that went from the wonders of a smart grid to how our clocks will run slower or faster depending upon power usage. You need to explain how power usage and frequency go together, not just make a leap and hope that no one else understands it either, so it’s just accepted as fact.

    Smart meters on homes…NOT MINE! If it comes to that I’ll just unplug since I’m already 1/2 way there already it wouldn’t take much to complete the transformation.

  3. With the government becoming more and more involved with every aspect of the day to day lives of the people, the only way I see it is to get the government out of our lives. But that being improbable, and most likely imposible, then it is up to us as individuals to take the bull by the horns and remove ourselves from government as much as possible. My point here is, Become self-sufficient. I don’t want some power company telling me when I can or cannot wash clothes or whatever. If I have my own power generating system then the power company can go pound sand. And if they are really nice to me I just may sell them some of my excess power.

    • Oh, they won’t tell you when you can or cannot wash dishes. When it comes down to it, they will have the capability to cut off your power so you can’t wash dishes.

      My husband and I were just discussing the alternatives yesterday and will be looking into both solar and wind for our retirement home. And, with the economy the way it is now, we may be “retiring” there soon.

  4. I’m sorry but no matter how you spin it, more government intrusion is not a good thing. And behind all the wonderful greeny promises is still the same fact… This equates to more government control over you and your life.

  5. My families manufacturing plant exclusively uses electricity…in the old days we got a rebate for using a lot of electricity.Why?Because the power plants run 24/7 and the more electricity we used the less electricity was wasted.Not now!No,we are punished for using too much!What happened?Aren’t the power plants still running 24/7?Or are the electric companies just ripping us all off….Thank you ENRON!

  6. What are they thinking. Physics does not change. If you change a generation plant to some other frequency, even slightly, it will cause an overload of that plant as it is trying to overcome all the other generation facilities. That is why they are set at 60 cycles per second and phased with the rest of the grid. With out a synchronous system the generation facility will explode and burn up, useless. This is a good way to crash the grid. Stupid.

  7. You can take your gov controlled “smart meters” and go jump in the river with them.
    There is no shortage of energy, the main problem is a shortage of liberty in the country. Wanna know why there are brownouts happening,just search : epa shuts down power plants. This administration only allows power plants to come online that were built by his cronies and big money contributors,GE.

  8. well up here in maine they have been putting in replacement meters for a few years and they can tell you from the office how much power you are useing and when we found out that on saterdays we use more power than we use the rest of the week and we know its the washer and the dryer causeing the extra power useage thats the day that 2 of our kids stop over to wash there clothes my wife and i wash our laundry when ever we have a full load to wash so we dont do it that often we dont like to pile it up like our dishwasher we only run it when we have a full load in it id really like it if the kids would get there own washers and dryers so we could save on our power bill but both kids are single parents that have gotten devorced recently so its hard to say no to them

  9. I have learned that these ‘smart meters’ are not all they are cracked up to be or rather ‘more’ than they should be! It will allow for the government to also control our electrictrisity…I have seen it in my own house, as I have one of these so called ‘smart meters’ and it costs me more now in my bill to have it and does not save a thing..Many in California are refusing to have them put on their houses. Privacy issues are there too…they collect information on us and can use it on us too. Yep, sounds radical, but that is our government these days…radical people who are taking this nation to the brink and anyone that does not see it is being foolish. They are taking our freedoms faster and faster … no one. Check for your self and research things……they cut my electrictrisity every spring when the heat season is coming…..1/2 of my house shuts off and I have to go out and turn it back on…sometimes we go back and forth… until they see I mean busienss and leave it alone!! We are asked to not use large appliances between 3:00 and 6:00/…most folks are at work then anyway and don’t use it anyway, so that is foolish….besides when I have been here because of being out of work…for over a year, I only saved $6.84 by using that silly timing over six months! Looks like a way of rationing to me…..and they could easily do so with these meters… the “smart meter” and read up on them and see for yourselves.

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