Could Smart Meters Harm The Smart Grid?

While we’re not quite to the point where machines are under the control of the artificial intelligence of Skynet and sending Terminators through time, a new study from MIT that was originally presented at an IEEE conference suggests the real-time price fluctuation of smart meters could cause consumers to radically adjust usage habits that could damage the smart grid.

We recently reported that smart meters are rolling out in the millions worldwide, and that in at least one Houston, Texas trial, the majority of customers changed their usage habits after interacting with the technology. And in California, the state has adopted guidelines that require utility companies to disclose variable rate data (in the image below, the color changes in the map reflect the changes in rates over a period of just five minutes), including wholesale information, to ratepayers so that they can take advantage of off-peak prices.

MIT, Smart Grid, Smart Meters, Electricity, Rates

image via Mardavij Roozbehani

In the paper presented [PDF], the researchers note that if large portions of ratepayers suddenly shift to charging electric vehicles, running washing machines, etc. at the start of off-peak hours, then that instant jump in electricity demand could lead to outages because the grid cannot handle a huge increase in such a short amount of time, especially if relying on solar and wind resources.

Ever the clever thinkers, researchers at MIT have already begun to study [PDF] the potential effects of renewable recourses as well as peak and off-peak usage within the smart grid, and believe costumers working with utilities to find when the highs and lows will happen within the system could help avoid potential problems.

Aaron Colter is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Purdue University, he has worked for the NCAA, Dark Horse Comics, Willamette Week, AOL, The Huffington Post, Top Shelf Productions, DigitalTrends, theMIX agency, SuicideGirls, EarthTechling, d'Errico Studios and others. He is also the co-founder of BananaStandMedia.com, a free record label, recording studio, and distribution service for independent musicians.