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Should We Want a Smart Grid in Houston?

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Arguments against smart grids are arising, and the Mayor’s Electric Reliability Task Force’s Report may find some detractors.

I believe that the smart grid (mid grid) designs for Houston make a great deal of sense. If you read the previous post on this topic, you may find little to dispute. Fewer power outages and lower electric costs sound great. If everything is rosy, why are smart grids seeing opposition? Most opposition focuses on the cost of creating these grids around the country. I have seen the figure of $8 billion a year for the next twenty years mentioned. The problem with this figure is that we do not really know what will be installed in various smart grid projects. Not knowing what these task encompass leaves any talk of cost up in the air.

A pretty good summary of a considered argument against smart grids was stated in the Las Vegas Sun:

Those opposed — including NV Energy and several legislators on the Senate Energy committee — say distributed generation is less efficient economically and more costly than building utility-scale solar and wind plants. A mandate to require it would be an unfair giveaway to solar photovoltaic manufacturers who produce rooftop panels rather than the rows of curved mirrors common in utility-scale plants, they argue.

Opponents also wonder what happens if not enough people or businesses want to install the panels, and NV Energy gets stuck with the entire bill.

This argument is interesting because it touches upon a section of the plan proposed in Houston: distributed generation. Although power could be produced by a homeowner by various means, solar will be the most likely candidate for homeowners in Houston (and the mayor’s report acknowledges this).

Can a power plant be more efficient than home solar? Well, yes, based upon a couple of factors. First, solar panels are not really efficient at producing energy. The technology is improving, but they really are not the best at efficiency. Second, power plants are better maintained, and ineffective parts will be replaced sooner than what a homeowner will accomplish. Part of the smart grid should be a control center that would provide information on equipment to owners, but this may not be in all homes. Even if they are aware, a homeowner could put off repairs if funds are not available or there is no immediate need. If I am getting power off the grid, do I need to make repairs to my solar panel right away when it is not working? Probably not.

We miss a point of a distributed generation if we take the efficiency factor as a sole guide. No energy production is fully efficient. Although solar panels are pretty bad, they can produce the energy needed for a home. With future advances in this technology, we may find that these units can become quite productive. (Advances are being made fairly quickly). The real benefit from having many different power sources than one central one alone is that power can always be produced to some degree. What if a terrorist attack or a hurricane destroys the main power plant for an area? By having both main power plants and a distributed generation system we can take a step to ensured power production. I personally believe that energy providers will be the main suppliers of renewable energy to our homes, but after living through power outages, having local homes and businesses to meet a community’s requirements appeals to me.

The next point made in the paragraph above is about the cost. Anyone who has considered green options for your home is probably well aware that “green” means expensive. The payoff frequently does not come for many years with the more expensive green equipment in our homes (solar panels, in-line water heaters, and smart green appliances). The Task Force for Electric Reliability has a proposal which I find quite acceptable (but you may have an objection, which I would love to hear in the comments section): a loan will be give to the homeowner to pay for the equipment involved in the generation system (ie solar panels), and this loan would be paid through our property taxes. The loan stays with the home, not the homeowner, since it is to the benefit of the home. The advanced meters will be paid for by an increase in our bills from CenterPoint.

I can see some of the arguments against this payment method (who wants to pay more on a bill or in property taxes), but there is one concern with this plan which I have. Low income families will likely opt out of such methods, which can pose a problem to creating an effective smart grid. I am sure programs exist to help low income families afford these enhancements to their home, but we will need to market this well. My personal experience is that people do not always take advantage of programs which could benefit them, because they feel a stigma attached. Planning will have to be thorough to make solar panels seem like an affordable option on low income homes.

A smart grid (or a mid grid) is quite feasible in Houston, and I would sign up for the distributed generation system in a heart beat. Until our technology advances, green tech will be expensive. We have to remember that innovation does not happen over night. The next ten years will be exciting, because their will be so much focus on this sector. What are you thoughts about these arguments?

« « Pitfalls for New Real Estate Investors in the 2009 Housing Market| Standby Natural Gas Generators to Survive Houston Severe Weather Power Outages » »

2 Responses to “Should We Want a Smart Grid in Houston?”

  1. Insteon Says:

    I’m watching the smart grid initiatives closely, but I fail to see how willing people are going to be to allow the power companies access to their thermostats, as has been mentioned in several whitepapers. Monitoring: sure. Control: Nope.

  2. The possibility of control is there, if the software was in place. At this time, utility companies and manufacturers of equipment have only spoken of monitoring in order to display information concerning your home. For control to happen would also mean that we would have to upgrade our appliances to be connected to the smart grid (most homes do not have this type of computerized equipment).

© Frank Schulte-Ladbeck Professional Home Inspector Houston, Texas
Frank Theodor Schulte-Ladbeck
home inspector, TREC# 9073
Houston , Texas , 77063 United States

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