So it’s not surprising he would say that he “fell in love” in 1998 with the gadgetry commonly known as “smart grid” technology — as Izzo puts it, “customer communication technology, real-time price signals and fantastic sensory capability.”
But 13 years later, Izzo says, “I have only now come to realize that what I really wish my customers would do would be to use more caulking.”
The smart grid has been one of the most talked-about issues in energy policy. Experts — and manufacturers of equipment and software — have promoted the idea that “smart meters” could enable utilities to flip household appliances on and off to ease the load of summertime electricity demand and that the devices would help homeowners manage their refrigerators, lights and air conditioning, even controlling them remotely with cellphones, laptops or tablets. Smart grid technology is also seen as critical for integrating renewable energy sources onto grids designed to carry power one way only, from big clunky generating stations to the home.
All this depends on software, networking devices and smart meters, tens of millions of which have been installed across the country. If the grid is modern society’s central nervous system, then the smart meter could become the brains of the operation.
Yet many utilities have come to the conclusion Izzo has: You can install smart meters in homes, but the homes probably still have dumb appliances and homeowners who are too busy to be bothered. At least for now, simple measures such as caulking might save more energy.
“Somehow all of us collectively decided to skip the low-hanging fruit and go for the top of the tree,” he said at a recent energy conference sponsored by The Washington Post.
Nonetheless, entire industries have sprouted up around the idea of a “smarter” electricity grid, one in which people would know more about their consumption, utilities would gain more power over the places hogging too much electricity at peak hours, and broken transmission equipment could be isolated and repaired more quickly.
Utilities say that more sophisticated meters will let them know which homes lose electricity in a storm without having to send a truck. That could speed the restoration of power.
“Empowering consumers with information about how much energy they use and when is huge and gives consumers, for the first time, the opportunity to adjust their own energy usage and be a lot more active in how they use energy,” said Lena Hansen, a principal at the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit think tank.
Improving the grid wouldn’t take much, given its condition. As Bob Shapard, chief executive of the Texas utility Oncor Electric Delivery, says, most meters being replaced date from the 1960s — “older technology than rotary phones.”