Future of Wireless Metering: Reader Poll Has Some Surprising Results
(Transmission & Distribution World Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) There has been a fairly small but growing consumer resistance
against smart meter installations based on 1) potential health
effects, 2) security and privacy concerns and 3) unclear immediate
customer benefits. The loudest concerns have been around wireless
health effects. Wireless security concerns also keep popping
Because most of the push-back against smart meters has focused
on wireless meters, we've been running a poll to find out how readers see the future of
wireless smart meters.
Our readers include power industry leaders and thinkers from all
over the world – here's what they're saying:
A little less than half think that wireless smart meter
deployment will continue at the current rate. Customer push-back
will remain small, local and distributed and may leave significant
"holes" in deployment.
• Surprisingly, less than 15 percent think communications
platforms will expand to include more fiber, power line carrier and
• The remaining 40 percent are split between two extremes
– half believe that better identification of smart meter
customer benefits will overshadow any perceived risks and
deployment of smart wireless meters will actually accelerate.
• Most surprising - the other half, about 20 percent of
all responders, believe that governmental agencies will put the
brakes on further wireless smart meter deployment while safety and
security concerns are evaluated.
The last two bullets are curious – there are about the
same number of super-optimistic folks as there are those who
predict a dour outcome for wireless.
Here are my thoughts -
Given that smart meters and Advanced Metering Infrastructure
(AMI) provide the primary data foundation for smart grid goals and
distribution management in general, there's little doubt that smart
meters are becoming permanent components of the utility/customer
system. Smart meters continue to be deployed at the rate of about
10 million per year. As of May 2012, almost one in three U.S.
households had a smart meter. At that rate, more than half the
households in the country will have a smart meter by 2015.
With few exceptions, installations rely on some form of 2-way
wireless communication platform.
One thing's for sure, the smart meters we have today will evolve
quickly – that's just the nature of modern technology cycles.
Along the way customer reaction to wireless technology and other
factors may push the industry to greater use of fiber, power line
carrier (PLC) or other yet-to-be developed communication. Also, as
several readers pointed out both in comments and emails, PLC is the
economic choice in rural areas. But deployment of these options
will be the exception, particularly in densely populated areas.
(Fiber in particular got a big black eye when the Boulder,
Colorado/Xcel Smart Grid City project fell apart largely due to 200
miles of fiber-optic cable that cost $20 million to install. In
hindsight, if the main purpose of the project was to demonstrate
"smart city" capability, wireless communication would have been a
whole lot cheaper. I live right outside Boulder and got to watch
the messy project come apart: The fiber overrun was explained as
being due to the unexpected amounts of rock that that stalled the
trenching. Well, pardon me, but the name of the place is, uh,
BOULDER for Pete's sake!)
Anyway, as to potential health effects of wireless meter
transmissions, advocates of wireless point out that the AMI
transmitter on the side of the house or even a smart thermostat on
the wall is hardly comparable to a cell phone held an inch from the
brain. And the National Cancer Institute concludes that there are
either no significant increased risks due to cell phone use, or the
results of studies are inconclusive, depending on which type of
tumor is being discussed. A better comparison would be the
household wireless router, which no one seems particularly worried
Undaunted, critics of the potential health effects of smart
meters point out that the transmission bursts from the meters every
15 minutes produce a broad spectrum of frequencies beyond the main
carrier frequency, and the effects of this health phenomenon is
unknown. (Who'd a thunk EEs would have their Fourier spectrum
theory used against them ).
The controversy may stabilize to a dull roar, but it won't go
The biggest challenge for the industry is still to demonstrate
quantifiable benefits of smart grid technology to the consumer. At
the same time the customer needs understandable and credible
research-based information on safety and security issues. But
getting the correct information in front of customers requires that
the utility industry put more muscle into what it has never done
particularly well - communicating with and educating customers. And
we'd better get with it before it’s too late. Without a
palpable end-use customer demand for smart grid technology,
progress could slow down due to intervener energy and volume backed
by anecdotal evidence and pseudo-science.
Then we might indeed see legislative action to ban wireless
smart meter deployment.
© 2012 Penton Media
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