RELATIVITY MADE EASY: Iconic "Renaissance man" and father of late night television Steve Allen used to don a fedora and read the angriest of the Letters to the Editor culled from various New York City newspapers, adding that "the names have been changed to avoid a punch in the nose."
It was one of the first things we thought of when we read a certain paragraph regarding the always annoying topic of "smart meters" in the LTE section of Sunday's local newspaper
We'll follow suit, calling the writer "Einstein." He wrote:
"Here’s a novel suggestion from a customer/owner of KIUC. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars or more for smart meters, let’s spend that money to purchase a new, modern grid for our island."
Although it was April 1 it was apparently meant seriously.
For those who don't get it, smart meters are the central element of "a new modern grid," aka- the "smart grid." Whatever people may think about safety or "violations of privacy," by definition, this is what smart meters are and do.
We shouldn't really pick on poor Einstein but his letter does show the schizophrenia that exists over the modernization of the electrical grid as typified by the opposition to these devices.
The fact is that, alleged issues of health, privacy and the rest aside, those who want to see Kaua`i participate or even lead the way in alternative, non-carbon, non-fossil fuel energy had better just give it up if the smart grid- and so smart meters- is not part of our energy future.
People can forget about lower electric bills too because we will always be dependent on expensive fossil (and other carbon-generating) fuels for energy generation without the smart grid.
Let's see if we can make this as simple as possible.
Anyone who spends more than thirty seconds thinking about alternative sources of energy will realize that the most abundant and least environmentally disruptive sources here in the islands- solar and wind- are what they call "intermittent." The sun doesn't shine at night and is severely diminished when there are clouds or even rain storms. And the wind doesn't always blow.
It cannot be counted on unless we want to be without electricity at different times. And few will disagree that they want enough electricity to make sure it's there when they flip the switch.
That is why there are limits on how much of this alternative, "free" energy the system can use- because the other side of the equation is how much electricity people want or need.
That's where the "smart grid"- and so smart meters- comes in.
We've finally reached the technological sophistication to allow a computerized system to maximize the amount of intermittent electricity that the grid can handle. With the increasing sophistication of storage mediums, while we may not fully eliminate the burning of fossil and other carbon-waste fuels including bio-fuels, we can reduce them significantly.
But in order to do that, the computer needs to know up-to-the-second supply and demand for electricity.
And yes, that means that we need to know what the demand is from each user, which is where the smart meter comes in.
The other side of this is that if we don't install smart meters for just about every user, we will be limited in the amount of alternative sources we can integrate into the system. That's why there is no more "net metering" available for those who install photovoltaic systems, forcing them to sell back their excess electricity at lower prices than they pay when they take back from the grid, as happens when their intermittent source is not generating anything and they need electricity.
People make a big deal about the money we are spending on these smart meters . But the $11 million that is being spent on them is chump change because without smart meters to integrate all the various "supplies" with known, specific up-to-the-minute demands, it will mean is that we will need to build a new generation facility to meet future demand.
That means not only higher bills due to rate increases related to the investment in the new facility (whether it is "privatized" or not) as happened with the Kapaia plant, but a higher "energy adjustment" on your bill representing the ever increasing cost of a barrel of oil.
Those who go back a decade or so will remember local talk of building a new power plant. It wasn’t a matter of whether to build one but a matter of where and what kind we needed to keep up with future demand- regardless of any controls over our rate of growth or conservation measures.
Only with the advent of viable alternative technologies- not just dreams of the future but actual realities- did talk of building that new power plant cease.
But unless we can figure out a way to integrate all of the various sources of energy- solar, hydro, wind, perhaps waves and, most importantly, storage mediums like batteries, heat-retaining devices and others that are on the horizon- with the demand of the end users, we might as well forget a future of lower bills and higher use of non-carbon, alternative electrical sources.
A smart meter is simply that device that measures demand on a continual basis. Without them we guarantee a future of burning fossil or bio fuels and limited "clean" energy.
People can understand what science shows to be an innocuous use of RF signals, especially as compared with cell and cordless phones as well as countless other devices we use every day. Or they can rely on what they "read on the internet" and make a decision based on that.
Either way even if you "believe" whatever it is you believe about smart meters you'd better ask yourself if that is worth a future where the dream of non-fossil, non-carbon, alternative energy has gone to die.