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Smart meters: The easy part and the hard part

Uploaded: Sep 26, 2021
There’s an easier part and a harder part to a smart meter rollout. The easier part is installing the new meters and radios and associated software. I say this part is (relatively) easy because it’s hard to mess up too badly. The harder part is developing time-based rate plans that are widely adopted, fair, and will help customers and the utility save on cost and emissions. This part is pretty easy to mess up; it’s happened many times. I will talk briefly about both parts here.

Many of you reading this already have smart meters and are getting started with time-of-use rates. I’d love to hear your experience so far. Palo Alto is late to the game. The City of Palo Alto Utilities (CPAU) will begin replacing all 30,000 legacy electric meters in earnest in two years, along with 9,000 older water meters. They will also retrofit all 45,000 gas and water meters to detect and transmit hourly usage information. The rollout will be complete by the end of 2024, at which point the utility will be able to roll out time-of-use rates in 2025.

I am really looking forward to this change. The main reason for my enthusiasm has to do with electricity rates. The cost (and emissions) of electricity vary significantly throughout the day and the year. A time-invariant rate does not price power correctly, which means that we are not using power efficiently. If we want an affordable and clean power supply that closely matches our demand, then our rates must include a time component, and smart meters are the infrastructure that enables that.

Demand in California (blue) varies by hour and season as does the amount of solar (yellow) and wind (green) available. Summer has greater demand, increasing through afternoon and evening. Winter has less solar and more wind than summer. The result is steep differences in “net demand” (red), which is demand minus solar and wind. We want to even out (and lower) that “net demand” curve to reduce the amount of peak capacity we need to build. Source: CAISO

Once we have well-designed pricing plans, there are many benefits we can expect from these smart meters. There are even a few benefits we will derive automatically. Here is my list.

1. The utility and residents can buy more inexpensive power. Power is generally more expensive in the evening and less expensive midday. When power rates better reflect the true cost of energy, residents can choose to shift their use, as convenient, towards cheaper hours. Residents and the utility will then save on cost. For this to work well, the rate design has to be effective, which is covered in the second part of this post.

2. The utility will be able to reimburse power contributions from residents more accurately. A resident can contribute power to the grid from rooftop solar, a home battery, or even an EV battery in time. Power contributions are more valuable when supply is scarce, and reimbursement rates should reflect that. This should help to make home batteries, for example, more affordable.

3. Residents can save money when the utility alerts them to potential water leaks or other significant anomalous use. During the roughly four-year pilot program for these meters in Palo Alto, water leaks were detected in 30% of the homes!

4. Residents can save money by doing their own analysis of their use, which will be reported on an hourly basis (or finer if they request a ZigBee radio). A resident might be surprised to see how much power they are using at night, for example, or how much water for irrigation, and be able to make some cost-saving adjustments.

5. The grid will become more resilient because the utility is better able to detect, locate, and respond to voltage deviations and outages. Furthermore, hourly usage profiles help the utility more efficiently maintain and enhance its distribution networks for power, gas, and water.

Example of a power grid management display. Source: Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Commission report, 2021

6. The meters enable more conservative management of voltage on the distribution network, which can reduce overall energy consumption by 0.5% to 1%.

7. There are some smaller benefits as well. For example, service transitions can be done without the need to make an appointment to read a meter. And the new meters are more accurate than some of the older (and slower) meters out there. (1)

While the utility will save on the cost (2) and difficulty (3) of manually reading meters, I don’t count this as much of a benefit because they will need staff to manage the new metering infrastructure, and those staffing costs more or less balance out. (4)

The trick to realizing many of these benefits is a well-designed rate plan that is aggressive but fair, one that allows most households to save money but all households to break even. Such a plan will likely have these characteristics:

- Off-peak rates are less than half the peak rates, to better motivate customers to make changes that are convenient for them.

- The peak (high-rate) period is relatively narrow (e.g., four hours rather than six).

- Customers are made aware of tools they can use to help schedule their power use when convenient (e.g., an appliance scheduler).

- Customers are opted-in by default.

- There is a no-risk period that allows customers to try out a rate and back away from it if it doesn’t work for them.

- Customers are allowed to opt out of time-of-use rates entirely.

Palo Alto ran a poorly designed pilot of time-of-use rates from 2012-2017 that resulted in virtually no change in usage or bills for residents. The best and worst rates differed by just 5-10% for much of the year, with power being slightly cheaper from 11pm to 6am. Even at the height of summer, the highest power rate (noon to 6pm on weekdays) was just 50% higher than the lowest. The peak period to avoid was a lengthy six hours. And because few of the EV owners were charging during that interval anyway, they had little opportunity to save.

The time-of-use rates for CPAU’s pilot were not well designed based on what we know today. Source: Palo Alto Finance Committee report, 2012

The new time-of-use rates will be very different. They will encourage midday use and discourage evening use. (Mornings and nights will be somewhere in between.) The new rates will be much more aggressive. CPAU spokesperson Catherine Elvert explains: “The expectation is that the time-of-use period rate differential will be larger than that developed in the 2013-14 period because the market price differential is larger now.” More people now have electric loads that they can easily move (e.g., EVs or electric cooling/heating), and more tools are available to help shift those loads (e.g., scheduling thermostats).

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District did a pilot with aggressive time-of-use rates -- 27 cents between 4-7pm vs 8 cents other times -- and found they were able to shift 8-10% of their load off of peak. And that was almost ten years ago. Peninsula Clean Energy more recently found that they were able to decrease peak charging energy by 50% among EVs enrolled in a managed charging pilot. It is clear that we can shift demand significantly, and therefore reduce costs and emissions, with the right incentives and tools.

CPAU is working with experienced consultants to help design the smart meter rollout. They have done multiple deployments and should be able to help residents and the utility get the most value from the new meters.

I would love to hear your questions or comments about the smart meter rollout and potential new rate designs. I just wish it were happening sooner.

Notes and References
1. To be fair, this may not be viewed as a benefit by the residents living with those older meters! But it is a benefit to the rest of us. CPAU spokesperson Catherine Evert says that the utility “does not anticipate this will be a prevalent issue.”

2. The utility will be allowing residents to opt-out of smart meters, and those opt-outs will continue to incur meter reading costs.

3. City documentation indicates that injuries to meter readers are not uncommon.

4. The city estimated in 2018 the measurable annual financial benefits as follows:

And the estimate of the measurable annual financial costs (mainly additional staffing) is as follows:

5. The utility provides customer-facing documentation on smart meters here. The results of the earlier pilot study can be found here (2017). Relevant reports can be found here (2018 plan approval) and here (2021 funding approval).

6. This presentation by Strategen Consulting reviews some smart meter pilots around the country. Each region has different constraints and goals, but there are still lessons to be learned. The Rocky Mountain Institute looks at time-based rate designs here. The Brattle Group has a brief overview, though not everyone agrees with the author.

7. Gennady Sheyner wrote about smart meters a few months ago when the Utilities Advisory Commission approved funding for them. His article has more information about the deployment.

Current Climate Data (August 2021)
Global impacts, US impacts, CO2 metric, Climate dashboard (updated annually)

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What is it worth to you?


Posted by John+Sack, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 6:19 am

John+Sack is a registered user.

Thank you for all this detail and for links to additional information.

I applied to be part of the previous smart meter pilot and was turned down because I had solar. Apparently, back then, customers with solar could not be included. Is it safe to assume that this has been "corrected"?

When I asked at the time why the differential between peak and off peak use was so little, I was given an interesting (and to me plausible! :) explanation that because Palo Alto was geographically more homogenous (in terms of weather) than, say, PG&E, it wasn't possible/likely that there would be much difference in our weather-based usage (e.g., for heating and cooling) across customers, so the incentives to cut load couldn't be much. This would still seem to be the case, so I'm wondering what makes today's situation much different from before.

My understanding from the installer of our heat pump heating system -- which works very well! -- is that you don't want to turn it way way down on winter nights (setback temp) the way you might with your gas furnace. I think the explanation was that heat pump systems would use more energy recovering from, say, a 10 degree differential from inside night temp to inside day temp (e.g., from 60F to 70F) than they would maintaining a more moderate night temp (e.g., from 64F to 70F). I don't know if this is true, but I certainly found similar advice online elsewhere. If this is the case, those of us with heat pump systems might want to use electric energy overnight more (less of a setback) so we don't have to consume a lot to reach acceptable daytime temp.

I can't tell from the pictures, but for the water meter is it possible to read your own usage somehow? I rely on that to test and tune my drip irrigation system.

Finally, and this IS a small thing... not having a water meter in the ground in the "parking strip" means we can park cars over the meter and not get notices from the city that they couldn't read the meter! Nice!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 1:07 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@John, great questions! A couple of responses.

- Yes, the meters will work for all homes, including those with rooftop solar.

- The prices for peak and off-peak electricity should align with the cost to the utility. That is how you get efficient use of power. My guess is that in the past, with our low-cost hydropower and older (more expensive) solar contracts, there wasn’t so much of a difference. That has changed now. Renewables have gotten cheaper (and we have newer solar contracts), our hydropower has gotten more valuable, etc. The rate differences can now reflect that.

- I would guess we will be able to read meters manually but I didn’t ask about that. They do say that hourly or daily reports will be available within 24-48 hours online. (I hope the city aims for hourly data within 24 hours for all three of power, water, and gas. They are only promising hourly data for power right now.)

- Yes, you are right about heat pumps. The variable speed heat pumps (which most are) work more efficiently when they don’t have to recover a big temperature gap. They can work harder when needed, but their efficiency might drop from 4x to 3.5x to 3x or even lower depending on the gap. You can use less electricity by avoiding big swings in temperature settings. It’s a good idea to turn down your heat during peak rates, or at night if you want, but not by a lot. The details depend on the manufacturer, the thermostat/controller, the building envelope, the specific outdoor and indoor air temperatures, and the rate differential. So you could go with a 5 degree difference, or take the time to run experiments.

The heat pump water heaters are a little different. The popular hybrid water heaters here are not variable speed, so their efficiency changes only when the resistance element kicks in. I think the Rheem lets you schedule temperatures down to 110 but not lower, so you could specify 110 or 115 during the peak rate interval to reduce your energy use. (Water coming out will generally be warmer than that due to temperature stratification in the tank, where the warmer water floats to the top.) I believe they’ve designed the heaters so that temperature doesn’t trigger the resistance element in either “heat pump” or “energy saver” mode.

Posted by Allen+Akin, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 6:14 pm

Allen+Akin is a registered user.

Smart meters have a lot of advantages, and I'm looking forward to using them.

To the extent that large-scale load shifting can be automated, variable pricing seems like a good idea. But if everyone is forced to deal consciously with a lot of added complexity (just look at your reply regarding heat pumps!), psychological factors are going to work against variable pricing's efficiency. Do I really want to have to know the actual prices and hours-of-the-day those prices apply before I decide to do a load of laundry?

As an aside, if infrastructure ceases to function in the absence of complicated decision-making, it becomes more fragile and vulnerable to manipulation. Grid reliability is already an issue.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 7:02 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Allen, oh my gosh, can you imagine if the utilities gave instructions like that? These rates would be dead on arrival, everyone would opt out!

I expect that the utility will offer a few suggestions that are easy to do and/or make a big difference and leave it at that. You can see PGE's guidance here (tips near the bottom). You can see SVCE's guidance at the bottom of this page.

I also think it's important that the utility point to a few tools that can help, like the managed charging that Peninsula Clean Energy tested. The Brattle Group found a 25% reduction in peak demand when TOU rates are combined with such "smart" tech compared to a 10% drop without.

Thanks for the great comment.

Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring), a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 26, 2021 at 8:30 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

Just wanted to make one comment. I've seen lots of references lately, not just here, that conflate consumers and utilities vs producers of energy. The reality is that the consumers stand alone vs. the upstream entities whose only interest is in squeezing money from said consumers. Smart meters will be used to that end first, though there may be a short term reduction in cost to consumers. I'd trust CPAU more if it wasn't for the other article on them in this issue.

Posted by Rachel+G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 27, 2021 at 5:54 am

Rachel+G is a registered user.

Hi Sherry -- Thank you for writing such informative columns! I always appreciate reading what you write.

I live in Mountain View and thus got a smart meter in 2010, and recently PG&E switched everyone to time-of-use, so I have some experience.

First, a story about how "the easy part," (installation) can go wrong. At the time, I was renting a cottage behind the house of my landlords. We had separate meters. My cottage used methane for heating, stove, and water heater, so I didn't have much electricity usage, usually averaging around 6kWh per day. When I got my first bill from the smart meter, my usage jumped to around 10kWh per day. I called PG&E and they said something like this, "Your old meter must have been faulty, nobody uses only 6kWh per day, that's like what an unoccupied house would use." So I just figured the new meter was correct.

About a year later, my electricity bill went way up, practically tripling. I didn't know what could be causing it, so I got a Kill-A-Watt electricity usage monitor to try to see what was going haywire in my place. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. I was also very busy and couldn't devote much time to the issue so I just paid the bill. Meanwhile -- and not close to the time when I got the large bill, so I had forgotten -- my landlords had a party and at the party they were saying how their electricity bill didn't go up at all even though they bought a Nissan Leaf and were charging it at home! It was the greatest thing ever!

It's obvious now, and the way I'm telling the story I'm sure you're seeing it, but it took about another three months for me to figure out that the smart meter installer had linked their meter with my bill and my meter with their bill!

That's why my electricity usage initially jumped from 6kWh/day to 10kWh/day, and then tripled when they got their electric car!

(running out of characters, continued in next comment -- how I got reimbursed)

Posted by Rachel+G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 27, 2021 at 5:58 am

Rachel+G is a registered user.

(continued from above)

It took about 3 months to get things sorted out with PG&E. They never fully reimbursed me for the extra money I paid, which was about $1,000 over the year and a half that the meters were switched. I got about $800 back from them, and it wasn't worth fighting for the last $200. But my landlords only had to pay 3 months of back charges for having underpaid that whole time.

Long story short, if you have multiple meters where you are living, make sure the meter serial number matches the one on your bill!

Posted by Rachel+G, a resident of Rex Manor,
on Sep 27, 2021 at 6:15 am

Rachel+G is a registered user.

(side note -- how can I insert paragraph breaks into comments? The whole thing gets squashed into one paragraph and is hard to read.)

About time-of-use billing:

1. Another important reason to reduce electricity usage during peak hours (4pm to 9pm for PG&E) is that it reduces the need for peaker plants to get fired up. These are almost always burning fossil fuels and have very high GHG emissions. If we can avoid spikes in usage, we can avoid firing up these plants.

2. My electricity rates are 27 cents per kWh off peak and 35 cents per kWh peak. I actively try to reduce electricity usage during peak hours. For example, I never charge my electric car during those hours. However, I'm an energy geek and I look at my bill every month to see my usage. I'm guessing the majority of Palo Alto residents have their bill paid automatically and they don't pay much attention to the total, perhaps not even looking at the number. Will they be sensitive to the price difference for peak electricity? Not sure. Honestly, the price difference isn't why I am adjusting my usage -- it's the GHG emissions that make me care, so maybe that would be something for the electricity providers to communicate better.

Posted by eileen+, a resident of another community,
on Sep 27, 2021 at 10:49 am

eileen+ is a registered user.

Like Rachel+G our home has smart meters and we have been switched to TOU in the opt out manner Sherry recommended. BTW, I did see a live meter reader last Friday. In response to Alan+Akin, I am not an energy conservation geek, but I certainly do think about when to do the laundry, the dishwasher, and charge my little old EV. It's no big deal and easy to get used to.

Posted by Mondoman, a resident of Green Acres,
on Sep 27, 2021 at 9:47 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

As change is in the air, I hope PA Utilities will include information about upgrading electrical service as they install new electric meters. Seems like a good opportunity to educate/facilitate people upgrading their service to enable future electrification.

Posted by staying+home, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 28, 2021 at 8:51 am

staying+home is a registered user.

Great article and really nice to see the many advantages of AMI being brought down to the smaller municipal utilities. Agree with StarSpring that although CPAU may be touting the benefit to customers, those are secondary to the benefit of the utilities. The additional near real time visibility of consumption enables the utility to make better decisions on the purchase of power in the spot market. To a larger utility like PGE this can be millions in savings. Also, given the age of the power grid and increase of fire/climate related events, these smart meters should give increased capabilities in responding to outages. Let's hope Palo Alto gets this right.

Posted by BobH, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Sep 29, 2021 at 11:04 am

BobH is a registered user.

Very nice and informative article!!!! A few comments:

It has taken Palo Alto Utilities a very long time to do this. The first pilot was in 2012 and they don't expect the project to be complete until 2025. Thirteen years. PG&E did their rollout in 2010. Why so long?

I will charge my EV during the off peak hours, the car can be setup to do that.

I hope that people with Solar and/or Batteries, will be reimbursed at the rates when they produce the power. Seems only fair. It will encourage more people to install Solar and Batteries, a good thing to reduce our reliance on purchasing power.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 29, 2021 at 11:34 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

These are really interesting and varied comments, thanks! A couple of things…

@Eeyore: I don’t share your distrust of our utility’s motives. That probably comes as no surprise :) On the whole issue about funds going from the utility to the city, that is *normal* for utilities in our state. For example, PG&E reported in 2020: “PG&E pays franchise fees to cities and counties for the use of public streets for its gas and electric facilities. The energy company is submitting the fees by April 15. PG&E's franchise fee payments totaled more than $131 million – almost $41 million for natural gas and over $90 million for electric service.” The idea was to do the same for municipal utilities. Palo Alto is appealing because this is a widespread precedent, it’s not just CPAU that does it, so it’s important that we get this right because it’s going to affect much more than our city if so.

On your other point, I have wondered many times why utilities do things like promote efficiency, which you would expect would hurt their bottom line. They are also going to promote electrification, and electric appliances are much more efficient than their gas counterparts. Why promote them? Sometimes it’s at least in part because they are told to do so. It is not easy being a utility in California, but the effect is that California achieves its climate policy goals.

@Rachel: Yikes, great story. I agree that some people will shift their loads to save emissions (you and I already do that), but most will do it to save money. So that’s why I emphasize that. You could also argue that since we buy zero-emission energy to cover our load, the shifting just reduces the cost so we can buy cheaper zero-emission energy. But then the afternoon/evening clean energy is available to others who need it, though, which can lower their emissions if they can pay for it.

@Mondoman: I sort of love that idea, but then I imagine all the people thinking that they need to pay $thousands to upgrade their electric service to accommodate the new meter, and then suddenly I love it a lot less :)

@BobH: Palo Alto already pays “avoided cost” for solar reimbursement, namely what they would have paid for energy at the time that residential excess was put on the grid. Midday energy is cheap, so that price is lower than what many other regions pay but imo it is the right amount. The meters will help us to figure out the right battery reimbursement, though. I’m glad about that!

Thanks again for all the great comments.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 29, 2021 at 7:57 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

Good post. I'd like to see PAU fully capture fixed costs for all utilities in the connection fees. When people start building zero net energy buildings that still lean on the grid, what's the right rate structure?

Regarding ToU - there's little value for decision-making if we can't see in real time the consequences of turning something on or off. We need to know before we press the start button if this is a good or bad time to schedule a dishwasher load or charge an EV. Tie it to Alexa?

More importantly, if I recall correctly 60+% of PAU electricity use is office and commercial, and it would be great to focus ToU on those customers first. Don't really want to worry about when I run a load of laundry so Palantir can chill their SCIFs (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) all afternoon.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Sep 30, 2021 at 3:22 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Asher: I’d like to see something like that for electricity. It would help to address the cost problems with rooftop solar and it would also lower rates relative to gas, making it easier to fuel switch (which is inevitable, and more effective the sooner we do it). However, the fixed costs need to be assigned with some allowance for income because lower-income people generally use less power. I wrote about this some here. I’m curious what your interest is in doing this for water and gas?

Re time-of-use, afaik the rates would apply to business as well. Is there something that makes you think they wouldn’t be available to business? FWIW, I don’t think it’s an issue of who goes first or second. If a resident or business doesn’t think they can save money with time-of-use rates, just opt out.

Remember that the time-of-use hours are fixed, not dynamic. You don’t need to worry about the state of the grid (!) All you need to remember is something like “higher rates 5-9pm” or “lower rates 10-2”. The point is to make this as easy as possible.

There are also grid-connected appliances that take this one step further, automating the savings by turning energy use higher or lower automatically. Think grid-connected air conditioner or EV charger. But in no case does the customer have to worry about the state of the grid. As you can imagine, if this isn’t really, really easy, it won’t work.

Thanks for sharing your thinking about this.

Posted by Steven Nelson, a resident of Cuesta Park,
on Sep 30, 2021 at 5:05 pm

Steven Nelson is a registered user.

My Mountain View PG&E installed smart meter does have an instantaneous power usage readout (KW). It is like the old analog "spinning wheel" in the old meters. The more instantaneous usage (Kilo Watts) the higher the number readout.

It's slightly harder to 'gage' than the wheel because it cycles between total Power used (KWHr) and a few other readings. Extra cost-to-me $0.

Posted by Asher Waldfogel, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Sep 30, 2021 at 8:06 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

Fixed costs are an even bigger issue for gas and water. In the water system fixed costs are about 95% of our system. In all the years I looked at water rates on the UAC we never discussed to what extent the system is sized for fire fighting and how those fixed costs need to be allocated.

Gas is really interesting because as we encourage customers to electrify how do we set rates for the (possibly lower income and renter) residual customers? Do we cross-subsidize their rates? Probably better to subsidize electrification. The right operating strategy, think, is to sunset upgrades on gas distribution districts at some point in the future. We have to decide soon if current gas customers get charged a "stranded asset" fee for shutting down gas service while their distribution district is still depreciating, or if we just let them go.

Do you know if current ToU rate discussions apply to business customers? When we discussed them 10 years ago my recollection was they only applied to residential customers, and business customers were paying a single electric rate tier that was lower than the highest residential tier.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Oct 2, 2021 at 11:55 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Asher: Great questions. None of this is easy! Totally agree that it is important that we get the end-of-gas pricing and incentives right. And I agree that we are better off subsidizing electrification for the stragglers than easing gas rates for them, but we don’t want to reward delay either... I do expect the utility to incentivize full disconnection sooner rather than later. What I would really like to see them doing is gradually raising gas rates and using the proceeds to help low-income customers transition off of gas. It is legally challenging to do, but I really hope they are looking at this with persistence and creativity, in collaboration with the many others in a similar boat. I’m not sure what to do about landlords, many of whom have ample assets and don’t pay the energy bills. That may end up being more stick than carrot. We also need the Planning/Building department firmly behind these goals.

Re time-of-use rates I don’t know what Palo Alto is currently thinking when it comes to businesses. But I do know that PG&E offers time-of-use to businesses of all sizes, and I don’t know why Palo Alto wouldn’t do the same. Businesses want to save money like anyone else. The question imo isn’t so much if it’s offered as if it’s effective. It may be hard for restaurants, for example, to use less electricity 5-9pm, especially if their kitchen is all-electric. So maybe they will get an option for a different plan.

Thanks for the great observations and questions.

Posted by New PaloAltan, a resident of St. Claire Gardens,
on Oct 2, 2021 at 6:21 pm

New PaloAltan is a registered user.

I'm relatively un-educated and un-educatable due to some disabilities regarding the nuances of utilities and how they are calculated. So please go easy on me. I'm a very earth-conscious being, and try to use as little power as possible. The only appliance that runs all day is the refrigerator. The heating appliance is a gas-powered furnace that's on the wall of the living room. The layout is such that the only place the furnace can deliver heat without using fans is directly in front of the heater. Instead of using that, I have a couple of small ceramic electric heaters that I only turn on if the temperature is lower than 60. And they are portable, so I can move them to the room I'm in. I have turned the pilot for the heater off. What I object to is having to pay a monthly fee for a device I am never going to use. I realize the monthly fee is to "bring gas to the address". But that's a convenience, and not a necessity. I haven't lived here long enough to get an estimation of what it will cost to use the electric devices vs. the the gas unit, but so far, the cost is ridiculous conidering I am paying for the "convenience" of someday, should we begin to experience global cooling rather than global warming, having the option of having the equivalent of a giant candle standing on my living room wall that is incapable of efficiently heating the whole place without spending more electricity for fans to move the heat around. There should be an "opt out" for gas. I should be rewarded for being able to cut gas out of my life entirely. But instead I feel like I'm being punished, and forced to subsidize the utility company for something I'm not using.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Oct 2, 2021 at 8:13 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@New PaloAltan: Wow, it sounds like you are being incredibly careful with your home heating energy use. (I had one of those wall heaters years ago, and I know where you are coming from!) If you were committed to using no gas at all, and you own the home, I think you can call 650-496-6907 to have your gas service disconnected. However, you need to first check if you are using gas for water heating, for clothes drying, for cooking, etc. My bet is you do use gas for water heating at least. In that case, you need to continue to pay for gas until you convert any remaining appliances to electric. Your bill should tell you how many therms of gas you are using, so you can see if that number has consistently been zero. If you can't read your bill, you can call the utility's Customer Service line at 650-329-2161. I hope this helps...

Posted by Oculus, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Oct 10, 2021 at 2:03 pm

Oculus is a registered user.

TOU pricing should help avoid outages due to inadequate peaker plant capacity. I'd love to know more about this, because I suspect it's focal. My understanding is that peaker plants are very, very expensive to build, and are used infrequently. How much does a lack of peaker plant capacity explain the recent rise in warnings of potential power outages? Can the broad adoption of TOU pricing this year be expected to reduce the frequency of these warnings and outages going forward? (Was PG&E late to the party with this TOU rollout?)

For my part, as a MV resident, I adopted a TOU-C plan and am now more conscious of my electricity use 5-8pm weekdays. After some research, I also purchased a Kasa Smart Plug Mini (KP105), plugged a cooler I into it, and programmed it to turn off power to the unit 5-8pm weekdays. (The defaults on the unit allow this.) For other outlets where energy monitoring isn't important, I use the Kasa Smart Plug Mini (EP10P4). So far, they work great!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Oct 10, 2021 at 3:13 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Thanks for the questions and the pointers to smart plugs. Those are a great idea for decreasing energy use during the peak TOU period.

You can find a report on the root cause of the rolling blackouts here. Those had nothing to do with any lack of peaker capacity. (I am not aware there even is a lack.) The causes were: (1) Unusually large/severe heatwave due to global warming; (2) Insufficient planning on an hourly basis (e.g., the 4-9pm period was underserved); (3) Some market problems that led to the scarcity being obscured, delaying actions to save energy.

What saved us big time was demand-response. We asked people/companies to conserve and they did, an enormous amount. Some even got paid for the effort. (That is what a true demand-response program does.) I think that time-of-use programs will save cost and emissions in general, by shaving the peaks. But for these unusually severe and widespread heatwaves, I think demand-response is what will save us. And of course better planning will help, and all of the new battery storage that is coming online.

BTW PG&E was not late to the game. The state mandated when time-of-use should roll out, and PG&E was right in there with everyone else. Palo Alto is the one that is really late to the game. No smart meters for everyone until end of 2024. That's just depressing.

Thanks again for the great comment and questions.

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