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utility control of power distribution

in researching home automation technologies, i came across an interesting article from way back in 1991, which described several methods to decrease consumer energy loads at any given time:
1. local control
2. direct control
3. distributed control

local control is essentially allowing the consumer to time-shift energy requirements from peak to off-peak times, i.e. cheaper energy at night and more expensive during the day. direct control (which is in effect here in austin, and can also be considered a form of california’s rolling blackout implementation) provides a financial incentive to the consumer in return for the utility to have control over specific appliances. for instance, here in austin the utility will provide a programmable electronic thermostat of $200 value in return for the ability to cycle your AC off for 15 minutes at a time if the utility’s energy load is too great.

as i understand the description of distributed control, the utility has the power to change the cost of energy at any given moment based on the actual current demand. so if thursday at 6p suddenly has higher demand than wednesday at 6p, the cost of electricity on thursday at 6p may suddenly increase. this is in contrast to the generally accepted time-zoning of electricity (am/pm rates). the only way that this model is possible is if there is a home automation system on the consumer side that maintains preferences in order to dynamically adjust to the ‘spot-price’ of electricity (Wacks, 170). Wacks maintains that in order for distributed control to work the following needs must be met:
• customer inconvenience must be low.
• the system should minimize intrusion.
• customers should not perceive undue control by the utility.
• customers must perceive that cooperation is in their economic interest.
• any equipment located at customer premises should be unobtrusive.
• physical access by utility service personnel should not be required, except for installation and very occasional maintenance.
these are all true, but i think that even this amount of intrusion is too much for the consumer. i know that i would not want to suddenly be alerted that i must choose which appliances must shut off if the electricity rate has gone up, or the shock/irritation of knowing that an appliance has just been shut off.

i think that rather than allowing the utility control of which appliances are turned off (with the exception of AC in the summertime), the market would be better served by a home automation system that gives full control of appliance shut-off to the user. during setup or some sort of obligatory education intro, the user would learn of the myriad ways that typical appliances ‘leak’ energy (leaving anything plugged in, even if it is off, uses electricity – only 5% of your phone charger’s electricity draw is actually used to charge the phone, the other 95% is wasted as a constant draw of electricity). at this stage a user could program appliances to turn on/off on schedule. additional control can be given to the consumer in the form of true on/off switches, such as that found on a typical power strip. this would equivalent of actually turning an outlet off, thereby saving the consumer a noticeable amount of $, and the utility a considerable amount of energy.

Kenneth P. Wacks, PhD, Utility Load Management Using Home Automation, IEEE Transactions on Consumer Electronics, Vol.37, No.2, 1991.

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