Utilities are too top-down, command and control


Photo Credit Mikey aka DaSkinnyBlackMan

Utilities are top-down.

Whenever I talk to utilities about Smart Grids and Smart Meters they always trot out the same speech. They want to use Demand Response for peak shaving and they want to implement it by having a mechanism whereby they can come in to their customer’s houses at times of maximum demand and turn down the settings on the aircon, immersion heater, etc.

Unfortunately this kind of traditional top-down, command and control attitude is more likely to turn people off Demand Response programs than to sell it to them.

I know that as a consumer I want to be able to program my appliances myself so that I decide when they turn on/off in response to price signals from the grid. The same is true for fridges/freezers and water immersions – I want them to change thermostat settings to take in electricity at times when energy is cheap and not when it is expensive by MY definitions of cheap and expensive.

I want control of my appliances. I do not want the utility deciding to come in and adjust or turn them on/off for me because it suits them.

Demand Response programs will be hugely beneficial to the utilities and consumers alike but they are complex to explain. If you couple that with the utility having control of your appliances they suddenly become a far harder sell.

Give customers more control of their electricity bill. Allow them reduce costs without reducing usage, by owner controlled, programmatic, time-shifting of consumption and suddenly Demand Response programs becomes an easy sell.

And when you couple that with how Demand Response will stabilise the grid facilitating greater penetration of variable supplies (i.e. weather-based renewables like wind and solar) and you have a win, win, win!


  1. says

    Tom, in the true spirit of capitalism and ‘buy low, sell high’, do you think we’ll get to a point where we will purchases excess electricity and store it locally, so to benefit from off-peak savings?

    And if so, isn’t it opening a pandora’s box to having consumers purchases expensive ‘last-mile’ technologies (batteries, converters, etc).

    I see an analogy to the constant centralization/client-server ‘wars’ happening in IT since the 80’s. And constantly switching model has a cost, expecially in terms of hardware and grid-refactoring to accomodate for delivery models, no?

  2. Andreas M. Antonopoulos says

    Funny how the utilities don’t inherently trust capitalism

    At a very basic level, the only “signal” needed for consumer behavior to change is the energy price. If they trusted markets, they’d understand that price is enough to create demand response.

    But they don’t trust markets. On the one hand they are insulated from real competition by virtue of regional monopolies and on the other hand the only markets they have experienced are heavily manipulated speculation markets run by Enron. No wonder they would rather trust their own central control more than a market.

    Bottom line: Consumers won’t agree to handing over control. As much as utilities try to present this as a “softer” form of control than rolling blackouts, most consumers see blackouts as service failure, not demand control. Every time I’ve seen a utility presentation on smart meters, the VERY FIRST audience question, is “but what about consumer control”.

  3. says

    I’m all in favour of putting the intelligence with the device rather than anywhere else in the chain. It is definitely not the decision of the utility when my devices are on or off, “I turned by dryer on now because I need that shirt in 5 minutes so don’t you dare turn it off now “, and I don’t think it’s the smart meter playing command-and-control either. I want to see the individual devices making decisions (or us overriding them). The Dryer knows I want that shirt now so it stays on, but at other times, if it sees the price go above a certain level, it turns off.

    The devices get the data they need via the internet in some form, so smart meters don’t need to be smart at all. All they need to do, in my view, is record usage by the quarter hour and send it back to the utility. That’s all.

  4. says

    @andreas good point about markets. The utilities know that the demand is inelastic due to monopolies etc so prices changes will have little impact on demand.

    @tom what are companies like Trilliant and GridPoint doing in America? Are they top down control?


  1. […] have made no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of Smart Grids and Demand Response programs (properly rolled out, of course!). I have also spoken at various international conferences propounding the benefits of […]