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Report: Smart Meters "Take Us Down Wrong Road - Away from Smart Grid"

PHOTO: An NREL model of U.S. energy grid at 80% renewable sources in 2050. Courtesy: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
PHOTO: An NREL model of U.S. energy grid at 80% renewable sources in 2050. Courtesy: National
Renewable Energy Laboratory.
December 10, 2012

BOULDER, Colo. - Sixty percent of the energy in America is provided by investor-owned utilities that usually require powerful market forces to embrace change. Right now billions in stimulus money are driving a rapid and controversial buildout of so-called smart meters, which are supposed to reduce energy consumption by providing utilities detailed and time-sensitive data that ratepayers are eventually supposed to use to reduce their consumption.

The problem is, according to a Colorado engineer and policy consultant who's worked with the technology for decades, smart meters are not actually helping reduce energy use. In addition to raising health and privacy concerns, he says utilities are promoting the meters instead of prioritizing renewable energy. In a new report, Dr. Tim Schoechle examines what he says is our real priority: updating the nation's electrical grid. He calls the many billions spent on smart meters "a misappropriation of public resources."

"Well, I think that it's diverting resources and creating vulnerabilities. It diverts resources and technical development from the direction it should be going."

Schoechle, who is the author of "Getting Smarter About the Smart Grid," says a real "smart grid" would connect the utility with a neighborhood micro-grid that can balance energy production with usage locally.

Building a more intelligent grid is critical to balancing supply and demand using renewable energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, NREL, says it's feasible to get at least 80 percent of our energy from a mix of renewables - like solar, wind, geothermal or hydropower - by 2050. But it will take a more intelligent grid, says NREL engineer Maureen Hand.

"It's a matter of acknowledging the need to adjust our operation and planning practices in order to move in the direction of a much more flexible electric system."

Xcel Energy selected Boulder to become the world's first "fully integrated Smart Grid city" in 2007, and in March 2008 the City Council agreed to put aside research on forming a municipal utility to meet Boulder's greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. That ended in 2011 at the ballot box when Boulder voters decided Xcel Energy wasn’t moving to renewable sources quickly enough and authorized the city to study municipalization.

Engineer Schoechle says the goal is integrating renewable sources locally.

"They're just getting there. But there's a lot more needed, because to integrate those with the electric grid, you have to have a smart grid. A real smart grid."

While supporters say community-based power systems can more quickly and effectively adopt renewable energy sources, city leadership is clear that all options are still on the table.

Meanwhile, Boulder has 20,000 smart meters installed (as of May 2012).

Schoechle's report is at; NREL data are at; Boulder latest is at

Kathleen Ryan/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CO