Smart meters need smart policy

Lee Greenberg writes in the 2010.04.17 National Post (a Canadian conservative daily paper):
“A $2-billion program aimed at shifting home-energy use to off-peak hours is about to fail, says the province's chief environmental watchdog. Gord Miller, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, says millions of so-called smart meters will be useless unless the government changes course and sets a sufficiently low hydro rate to convince people to do their laundry and dishes at night and on weekends.”
Miller’s concern centers on the fact that the difference in on-peak and off-peak is only a factor of 1.9. Coupled with the fact that the weekday off-peak is between 9pm and 7am, there would appear to be too little motivation for a household to hold laundry and vacuuming until late in the day (or early next).

A 2007 study in Ottawa found households saving $1.44 a month through time-of-use pricing that differed by a factor of three! A $1.44 buys a small coffee at Tim Horton’s.

So is Ontario installing $580 million in smart meters so that each household can get save the equivalent of a free small coffee? Once a month? Can't be.

The social and economic performance of smart metering is a critical matter. We are fast approaching a time of smart metering for road use. A smart meter would meter time-distance-and-place of driving (anonymity guaranteed by performing and keeping all calculations inside the car) to calculate a replacement for fuel taxes – hardly a choice, given the move to the all-electric vehicle.

While road-use-metering, when it arrives, will be principally motivated by the loss of the fuel tax, it is also intended to manage demand for road space – exactly as the electric meter is intended to manage demand for power.

Couldn’t be simpler.

Cars increasing, fuel tax decreasing. Now what?
Or could it? If Ontario cannot figure out how to set the clock or price differentials for electricity metering, how can it figure out the time and place differentials for mileage-based road use fees?

If I can only save $1.44 per month by shifting my time of travel, I won’t. If I save $1.44 a day (to say nothing of a month) by taking the bus instead of my car, I will not. I had better be saving $5 per day, if you want my behavior to shift.

The policy that sets the rate differences between peak and off-peak travel, or between a pre-Gore SUV and a post-Gore EV, or between urban streets and highways and rural roads is called a pricemap.

Since the Province of Ontario has not until recently permitted its Ministry of Transportation to even discuss road use charging, it is easy it understand that there has been no discussion of starting the work needed to design this pricemap.  Even the more forward-thinking Dutch flopped around this pricemap design business for some time.

Worse, if we cannot set the pricemap correctly for our critical power supply, how will we do that for our even more critical road supply?

In other news: Germany is having the same tolling discussion Toronto is and Ontario should be!


Darleen Witmer said...

How can we shift our time of using hydro or using roads? We work 10 hour days, are away from our homes 12 hours a day. We have to do when we can and demanded of us by our employers.

What about seniors and stay at home moms? One of the benefits is that can do chores during the day, but now it costs more.
Seniors living in seniors condo apartments are discouraged from doing laundry after 9 pm. So have to do quickly in off peak times. And often seniors pay for house cleaners - that only work during the day, running vacuums etc.

It does not make any sense to our current culture - what it does do is cost the average worker more, making them poorer.

Please post a recommended schedule for hydro use and road use for the average person working 8 am - 6 pm, with at least a 30 minute drive to work.

We cannot work from home, as then we are using more hydro during peak times - would be perfect to get laundry done during day, while working from home. Or guess we could hang it out to dry?

What about shift workers? If we are not even home during off peak times, why should we be charged extra?


Bern Grush said...

Darleen, with apologies I should have responded to this months ago. I will provide a longer response, but there is a related (not the same, for sure) post here: http://grushhour.blogspot.com/2011/01/road-pricing-fairness-for-disabled.html
You can judge from there that I will respond similarly, BUT there are many additional elements. A book I am writing will include both your post and Margaret's.