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Top 5 Smart Grid Trends of 2014

Top 5 Smart Grid Trends of 2014

Enabling smart meters, connecting the smart home, and making distributed solar and storage an integral part of the grid

Jeff St. John
December 30, 2014

At first glance, 2014 wasn’t such a great year in the world of smart grid, with slowdowns in deployment of smart meters, distribution automation and other key new grid technologies, a lackluster record of VC investment compared to years past, and growing uncertainties over the financial viability of traditional utilities.

But these challenges also helped define the opportunities for companies, utilities and regulators working on building the next stage of smart grid — a “smart grid 2.0,” if you will. From building on the prior wave of investment in AMI networks and grid intelligence, to bridging the gaps between utilities and their customers, and laying the groundwork for a marriage of distributed energy and utility operations, 2014 saw some key developments that help indicate where the industry must go from here, if it’s to grow.

  1. Enabling the smart meters, from back-office analytics to in-the-field intelligence. Some 50 million smart meters have been deployed across the United States so far, and tens of millions more are coming to Europe, Japan, China and other big international markets. But are they being put to their fullest use? The past year saw a continued focus on enabling the first mass-deployed smart grid systems for uses beyond essentially functioning as a digital cash register. Some of the advances are operational, starting with the core data aggregation and network management capabilities to make sure the meters are functioning as expected, as we highlighted with San Diego Gas & Electric’s new AMI analytics effort, or the work Cisco is doing with AMI partner Itron and software startup Bit Stew. Others are expanding to using smart meters as voltage optimization sensors or transformer health monitors. On the broader analytics front, startups like C3, AutoGrid, DataRaker (bought by Oracle last year) Verdeeco (bought by Sensus in April) are lining up utility customers and metering partners with promises of advanced theft detection, energy disaggregation and other data-heavy applications now being tested in the field.
  2. Utility-engaged consumers and a utility-grade smart home. But customer-facing applications are the most popular way for utilities to put smart meters and their data to use today, according to GTM Research. The smart meter is a critical utility link to homes and businesses, and companies like Silver Spring Networks, Itron, Siemens’ eMeter and Toshiba’s Landis+Gyr are enabling more advanced load forecasting, consumer engagement, and demand response, as well as linkages to smart thermostats, solar inverters, electric vehicle chargers and other key distributed energy assets. Meanwhile, startups like Tendril, Opower, Ceiva, and others are tapping their home automation and connectivity expertise to deliver more energy insight and control to customers, and potentially to utilities as well. It’s all part of enabling more interactivity with customers and their energy systems as they become an increasingly important part of the grid equation.
  3. Renewable power and energy storage — and the smart grid to marry them.  Among the biggest energy storage developments of 2014 is the marriage of solar PV and batteries as a potentially cost-effective grid-tied solution. GTM Research projects that the U.S. solar-plus-storage market will grow from $42 million in 2014 to more than $1 billion by 2018, mainly behind the meter, with companies like SolarCity, Sunrun, Enphase, SunPower, Sonnenbatterie, Sunverge, Solar Grid Storage, Panasonic and Sharp getting into the game. While these systems rely on building-side benefits and revenues to justify themselves today, we’ve seen efforts to link these behind-the-meter batteries as aggregated grid assets, with megawatts set for deployment in California, Hawaii and Japan. Smart solar inverters, now being run through their paces in pilot projects in California and Hawaii, could expand the capabilities of distributed solar systems as well. And utility-scale solar and wind power are starting to come with energy storage built in, as power quality, ramping capability and other “dispatchable” grid power capabilities become more important to utilities and grid operators.
  4. Microgrids and virtual power plants: From islands in the storm to nodes of the transactional grid? The term “microgrid” can mean many different things, from a simple backup power or onsite generation system at critical facilities like hospitals and military bases, to a complex interconnection of local solar power, batteries, combined heat and power (CHP) systems and integrated building energy management at more modern sites. GTM Research predicts that these more advanced microgrids will become an important part of the urban smart grid landscape, driving total U.S. capacity from 1,051 megawatts today to 1,843 megawatts by the end of 2017. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts have launched multi-million-dollar microgrid initiatives, and green-powered projects are starting to come on-line. Meanwhile, there’s another kind of microgrid meant to more or less always be connected to the grid — call it a virtual power plant, or VPP, for short. A new form of utility software platform, the distributed energy resource management system, or DERMS, is being created to manage this close connection between the utility’s distribution grid operations, and the energy and load control devices at the edges of the network. The past year saw some important strides made on projects of this nature, from community-scale microgrids at Toronto Hydro and Duke Energy, to DERMS deployments from SDG&E and New York utility Consolidated Edison, to regional VPPs like Canada’s PowerShift Atlantic project or France’s Nice Grid project. Providers of this software and integration expertise range from major grid players like Alstom, Siemens and General Electric to quiet specialists such as Spirae, Causam’s Power Analytics, Toshiba’s GRIDiant, and Integral Analytics.
  5. The virtualized distribution grid: Planning ahead, making it real-time. All of these technical capabilities will be important to the next challenge facing utilities and regulators on the grid edge. That’s adapting the nearly century-old rules for how grid and energy assets are built and paid for, and how the benefits of those investments are shared, in order to include distributed and customer-owned energy assets. In California, this process has taken the form of innovative long-term investment plans that allow utilities like Southern California Edison to sign power-purchase agreements with providers of distributed energy and aggregated energy storage systems, and a revamp of the distribution grid planning process that governs some $6 billion per year in infrastructure investments. Hawaiian utility regulators are taking similar steps, and New York state’s Reforming the Energy Vision process represents the most radical restructuring effort underway in the United States today. Other states are working on new value-of-solar tariff structures to create new ways to share the costs and benefits of rooftop solar. Meanwhile, solar-rich countries like Germany and Japan are facing similar challenges and working on their own sets of solutions.

Tags: 2014, analytics, california, cisco, consolidated edison, derms, distributed resources, distribution automation, energy storage, germany, hawaii, investment, investors, itron, japan


Published Article: Symptom Development from Exposure to Wireless Smart Meters

Smart Meter Graphic AAn article was just published in the November/ December 2014  issue of the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, entitled:

Self-Reporting of Symptom Development from Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields of Wireless Smart Meters in Victoria, Australia: A Case Series,” by Dr. Federica Lamech, MBBS.

No health impact studies were ever performed prior to the deployment of  wireless smart meters.  This new article showing a correlation between the introduction of smart meters and the onset of adverse health outcomes strengthens the need for independent research on the potential health impacts of this technology on the population.

The abstract for this article reads as follows:

In 2006, the government in the state of Victoria, Australia, mandated the rollout of smart meters in Victoria, which effectively removed a whole population’s ability to avoid exposure to human-made high-frequency non-ionizing radiation.  This issue appears to constitute an unprecedented public health challenge for Victoria.  By August 2013, 142 people had reported adverse health effects from wireless smart meters by submitting information on an Australian public Web site using its health and legal registers.

The study evaluated the information in the registers to determine the types of symptoms that Victorian residents were developing from exposure to wireless smart meters.

In this case series, the registers’ managers eliminated those cases that did not clearly identify the people providing information by name, surname, postal address, and/or e-mail to make sure that they were genuine registrants.  Then they obtained consent from participants to have their de-identified data used to compile the data for the case series.  The author later removed any individual from outside of Victoria.

The study included 92 residents of Victoria, Australia.

Outcome Measures
The author used her medical experience and judgment to group symptoms into clinically relevant clusters (e.g, pain in the head was grouped with headache, tinnitus was grouped with ringing in the ears).  The author stayed quite close to the wording used in the original entries.  She then calculated total numbers and percentages for each symptom cluster.  Percentages were rounded to the nearest whole number.

The most frequently reported symptoms from exposure to smart meters were (1) insomnia, (2) headaches, (3) tinnitus, (4) fatigue, (5) cognitive disturbances, (6) dysesthesias (abnormal sensation), and (7) dizziness.

The effects of these symptoms on people’s lives were significant.

Review of some key studies, both recent and old (1971), reveals that the participants’ symptoms were the same as those reported by people exposed to radiofrequency fields emitted by devices other than smart meters.  Interestingly, the vast majority of Victorian cases did not state that they had been sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS) prior to exposure to the wireless meters, which points to the possibility that smart meters may have unique characteristics that lower people’s threshold for symptom development.

Reference: Altern Ther Health Med. 2014; 20(6): pp 28-39.
Author: Federica Lamech, MBBS, a medical practitioner in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Selected Article Quotations

The published article is copyrighted and for purposes of this blog article just seven short sections of the 12-page paper will be offered as “representative” content of the article and as “fair use” by SkyVision Solutions.   Others should not feel at liberty to quote what follows who have not purchased the original article or who have not received permission from the author or publisher to reproduce same:

“[B]elief is increasing in the concept that intermittent pulses of radiofrequencies, such as those used in the smart grid, are more biologically significant compared with constant-type exposures, even when the time-averaged exposure is miniscule.  This kind of signal is biologically active and not invisible to the human body and its proper biological functioning, because the unpredictable pulses disrupt the synchronized biological oscillations within cells.  The Austrian Medical Association recommends that such periodic signals should be critically evaluated, whereas nonperiodic signals may be considered more leniently.”

“As Figure 2 shows, the most common symptoms [in this case series] were:
(1) insomnia, sleep disturbance, or sleep disruption — 44 people (48%);
(2) headaches, head pain, or dull head — 41 people (45%);
(3) tinnitus, ringing in the ears, or buzzing/noises in the ears — 30 people (33%);
(4) tiredness, lethargy, or fatigue, including chronic fatigue, exhaustion, or weakness — 29 people (32%); and
(5) cognitive disturbances, inability to concentrate or think, disorientation, or memory loss — 28 people (30%).”

Five Smart Meter Symptoms

“Interestingly, only 8% of the participants in the current study stated that they had suffered from EHS prior to exposure to smart meters, which suggests that the threshold for symptom development appears to be significantly lower when it comes to wireless meters compared with that for other wireless devices.”

“Of an initial 142 people who had formally registered their adverse health effects from smart meters related to the current study, 92 consented to participation.  The author considers this number to be significant and most likely to represent the tip of the iceberg in terms of total numbers.”

“The main limitation of the current study is that, being a case series, it is a descriptive, retrospective study that does not have a control arm and can therefore help formulate a new hypothesis, but can only make limited statements on the causality of correlations observed.”

“The author of the current study offers the hypothesis that some people can develop symptoms from exposure to the radiofrequency fields of wireless smart meters.  This hypothesis cannot be disproven without further assessment of the affected individuals and the electromagnetic fields in which they live.”

“Until more knowledge is accumulated and until this type of wireless technology can be proven safe, the author believes that communities should use a cautionary approach, asking for a moratorium on deployment of wireless smart meters and smart grids and for the use of safer technologies for smart meters, such as hardwiring, fiber optics, or other nonharmful methods of data transmission, including reading of meters by meter readers.”

A Perspective by David O. Carpenter, MD via Another Published Article [*]

“The report by Lamech is valuable for several reasons.  It provides support for the possibility that a sudden increase in RF exposure — in this case from smart meters — results in the development of EHS [Electrohypersensitivity].  This observation is consistent with [other] reports … and suggests that the syndrome can be triggered in susceptible individuals by an unusual or intense exposure to EMFs and perhaps to electric current.  The Lamech report also raises the important question of what characteristics of smart meters, compared with other sources of RF, may be responsible for provoking EHS.”

[*] Reference: “Excessive Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields May Cause the Development of Electrohypersensitivity,” by David O. Carpenter, (Altern Ther Health Med. 2014;20(6):pp 40-42.) Refer to:

Smart Meter Public Health Nightmare versus the Nocebo Effect

The Lamech article itself makes mention of an article written by Don Maisch, Ph.D. published in 2012, entitled, “Smart Meter Health Concerns: Just a Nocebo Effect or an Emerging Public Health Nightmare?

Dr. Maisch believes that there are two reasons for the “dismissive attitude to the possibility of adverse health effects from smart meter RF emissions.”  The first reason deals with the continued reliance on outdated government exposure guidelines that only recognize thermal effects such as burns and electrical shocks.

The second is based upon the findings of poorly designed provocation studies conducted on people who self-identify themselves electrically sensitive.  Such studies, as stated by Dr. Maisch, “limit the definition of electrosensitive persons to those who claim that they can feel when they are being exposed.”  This means, like a light switch going “on” and “off,” the person is expected to have a particular sensation that will suddenly be sensed and then not sensed in response to a specific RF signal used in the provocation study.  Again, as stated by Dr. Maisch, “This definition excludes the possibility that there may be people who are adversely being affected by EMR exposure but cannot feel when they are being exposed.”

Most importantly, Dr. Maisch concludes:

“From a public health perspective, the suggestive evidence that smart meter RF emissions may be having an adverse health impact calls for an urgent research effort. Even if the number of affected people is small, the sheer number of people exposed represents a potential significant public health risk.  To simply dismiss this possibility as just a nocebo [harmless] effect without a serious research effort is inexcusable.”

Other Studies

Although there have been no health impact studies demonstrating the safety of wireless smart meters prior to deployment, there have been at least limited studies subsequent to deployment indicating ill-effects from smart meter exposure.  One such study is the Australian study just highlighted.  Two other studies are listed below with associated links:

Call for Moratorium on the Deployment of Wireless Smart Meters

Partially on the basis of the Lamech  case series work (and before the peer-review process was complete for the now published article), the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) last year called for a moratorium on the deployment on smart meters in favor of using safer technology.  Refer to “Wireless Smart Meter Case Studies.”

Commentary: I would suppose at this point most people are still waiting for that moratorium to be put into effect.

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