Much of the focus on climate protection up to now has been on what government can do--or should do. Of course, that is myopic since government is just a small piece of the big picture. A couple of weeks ago, a worker rang my doorbell and told me he was going to install a "smart" gas meter. Being a techie myself, I was fine with that. Here it is:
"Smart" gas meters aren't all that interesting because the gas company gets all of the benefits of the new technology. Then Friday, my doorbell rang again and a worker said "I'm going to install a 'smart electric meter' ". Now we're talkin'. Electricity is something I can manage more actively and possibly even generate myself with solar panels.
Smart electric meters are good for PG&E because they won't have to send a meter-reader to every house on the street every month. In the short-term that may be bad for the 11.9% California unemployment rate, but over the longer-term efficiency is good for utilities and their customers (i.e. us). So he popped in a new "smart meter" that looks like this:
If you look very closely near the top, you can see a company name of "Silver Spring Networks" that has its technology embedded in the meter. The meter is made by a traditional electric meter company (Landis + Gyr, which you can see at the bottom). Silver Spring is from Redwood City and has a couple of hundred employees at the moment. They are PG&E's "smart meter" of choice because they are thinking bigger than just letting PG&E read the meters without walking up to your house.
Embedded in the meter is the wireless ability to talk to PG&E's substation and to "smart appliances" in your house. You don't have any smart appliances now but that is OK since this is a "chicken and egg" situation. No need to buy a smarter appliance if there is nothing for it to talk to. This week I got the meter the appliances-of-the-future can talk to right here in Burlingame. You probably did, too. The door hanger they leave says "Your meter just got smarter" which explains why your digital clock is blinking.
It will take awhile, but eventually this gizmo will talk over WiFi or Zigbee to my clothes dryer, dishwasher or other hungry appliance. Silver Spring is particularly excited by the idea that some of us will buy electric cars because if we do, PG&E would choke on the electical surges without Silver Spring's smart meters.
I'm mostly excited by the idea that this will let me be more green--meaning I can eventually decide whether to buy expensive peak hour electricity or wait and dry the clothes at 9:30 pm for half as much money. Me and PG&E negotiating mano a mano over price and convenience without the city, state or feds getting in the way. Sounds good. Now I need to go reset my digital clock.