Design Con 2015

Smart electric meters are smart at ripping us off. Goodbye electric cars.

-January 29, 2010

The NY Times has a nice article about consumers revolting against smart electric meters. Add me to the list. The simple facts:

My November gas and electric bill with old meter: $73.82

My December gas and electric bill with “smart meter” $144.49

This may be because I work from home so I use a large percentage of electricity during the day, when PG&E can really stick it to me, but I don’t see any time-of-day rates on my bill. In my mind these smart meters will eliminate any hope for electric cars. As I pointed out, the electricity to run a car is not free. Now think about how little anyone will be willing to put up a charging station for you to use during the day.

My bill shows that I am paying 11.5 cents for baseline electricity, 13.1 cents for 100 to 130% of the baseline and 26.1 cents for 131 to 200% of my usage. Sorry folks, at 26 cents/kwhr, that is about the same cost to run a 36mpg gas car on 3.60 per gallon gasoline. And when you charge your electric car, you will push yourself over the baseline limit pretty quickly. PG&E unilaterally has decided what you baseline limit is based on the climate where you live.

Of course, there are also winners too, like solar power. At 26 cents, the payback time for your solar installation shortens up considerably. Lowes is selling panels with those cool Enphase micro-inverters. The panel costs — well maybe not, I can’t find the Akeena panel anymore—so OK, they have a Sunforce 100 watt kit that looks like it has an inverter and costs $691. So at my latitude you will probably average 50 watts for 8 hours a day. (If anybody can unravel this taxpayer-supported festival of software incompetence, please leave a comment.) So that is 146kwh over a year. With 26 cent electricity, that panel will save you 38 dollars a year, so you pay the panel kit off in…..18 years. If you know of a cheaper panel inverter combo with more power, please advise in the comments. The only problem I have with 18-year payback is that the electrolytic capacitors in the inverter will probably die long before that— so you will never pay the investment back. But if it makes you feel good or gets you dates with those willowy blond communists that now inhabit the green movement, go right ahead and bolt one to your roof. The best part of solar is that it is so visible that you care. Also watch the Southpark episode where Kyle’s dad buys a hybrid, so you know how to act at parties. The good news is that we are all engineers, so we can figure out how to get a 200 watt panel from eBay for about the same price and rig up our own inverter—that cuts the payback to 9 years, and you only have to design, prototype, build and test an MPPT controller(pdf) and inverter.

Since the NY Times is going  behind a pay-wall soon, I will selectively quote from the article based on Fair Use:

Customers in California are in open revolt, and officials in Connecticut and Texas are questioning whether the rush to install meters benefits the public.

Some consumers argue that the meters are logging far more kilowatt-hours than they believe they are using. And many find it unfair that they will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings could be years away.

Power companies say the meters will allow utilities to vary the price charged to their customers by the hour to correspond to what those utilities are paying for energy in the wholesale market. This can help consumers save money, they say.

So there you have it, as the Emperor used to say in Amadeus. Let us know how your solar installation is going in the comments.

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