Smart is dumb

Plans to spend trillions on ‘smart grids’ will collapse by Lawrence Solomon, National Post

Power companies around the world are planning to spend trillions of dollars building smart grids — next-generation marvels likened to the transcontinental railroad and the Internet because they are seen as revolutionizing society.

It won’t happen. The smart grid is nothing more than a politically driven fantasy that has no economic rationale other than to support politically favoured technologies that themselves have no economic rationale other than to save the world from global warming. And on global warming the public in most developed countries, public opinion polls show, has already spoken: Global warming is a non-problem.

To understand what the smart grid is supposed to be, and supposed to do, think Internet by analogy: The power company would be akin to an Internet service provider, the smart grid akin to the Internet network, the electric vehicle in your garage and solar panels on your roof akin to the laptops, desktops and video game terminals in your home. Instead of downloading movies or uploading computer files, you’d be downloading power for the electric vehicle in your garage and uploading electricity from your solar system to the grid, for use by others.

Sounds dandy, except the analogy falls flat on economic grounds. The Internet network, which is profitable, carries high-value data such as movies, which are profitable, from laptops and other capable devices, which are profitable. In contrast, the smart grid, which is unprofitable, would carry mostly low-value electricity, which is unprofitable, from solar panels and other incapable devices, which are unprofitable. The massive subsidies that governments are providing to the smart grid, in fact, are attempts to somehow overcome the drawbacks in the incapable electricity technologies that governments are backing.

Solar technology is incapable because its availability cannot be accurately predicted, raising the risk of power disruptions and blackouts. On a sunny day, passing clouds can instantly eliminate much of the power the electricity system depends on. Several days of low dense cloud cover can reduce the output of a solar panel by more than 90%, even in summer. Storms add to the unreliability, particularly when sticky snow adheres to the solar panel, rendering it useless for days or weeks at a time and causing no end of consternation to utility managers who need to compensate for the unexpected loss. Too much sun is also a problem — Germany’s energy authority fears strong afternoon sun coupled with low demand for power could crash the country’s power grid.

That consternation from solar panels is as nothing when wind power is concerned. The wind can and does die down suddenly over vast geographic expanses, causing utilities to lose up to 99% of the wind power they had expected. As worrisome, the wind can just as easily rise up unexpectedly, overwhelming the power grid. Whether there is too much or too little wind power, blackouts again loom.

Unlike most conventional power plants, solar and wind technologies can’t be powered on and off as needed to meet the varying demands of customers. These still immature renewable technologies, prematurely brought to market by politicians seeking alternatives to fossil fuels, are entirely hostage to the weather.

The smart grid would solve the problem of instability by controlling the customers instead of the technologies. To protect the grid from sudden drops in the power being produced, for example, the smart grid engineers would reach into our homes and businesses to instantly turn off our refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, air conditioners, and other smart appliances as needed to match the sudden power losses.

The smart grid and the smart meters with which they are integrated would control customers in other ways, too — by changing our lifestyles to have them better conform to the technologies the politicians have chosen for us. Here the smart grid engineers would reach into our pocketbooks, by pricing power cheaper in the middle of the night, on political criteria, to encourage us to soak up an excess of power that their anti-fossil fuel scheme has produced. Most of that excess power, they fantasize, will recharge the batteries of our electric vehicles as we sleep. But electric cars are going nowhere, the marketplace has made clear — they remain unaffordable even with big rebates on the vehicle’s purchase price.

Neither will wind and solar systems go anywhere — cash-strapped governments throughout the world are slashing subsidies to them, leading to numerous bankruptcies and an inevitable collapse.

For all these reasons, the smart grid dream won’t last much longer. The one smart grid that was completed — a small smart grid in Boulder, Colo., called Smart Grid City — came in at $100-million, three times the original cost estimates, and at a cost of $2,000 per billpayer, it has little value to show for itself. Politicians still push the smart grid, but at some point they will need to face reality — the renewable technologies that the smart grid is intended to support, along with the global warming ideology that underpins them, is all but dead.

The world’s electricity systems will remain predominantly fossil fuelled, and because fossil fuels are both flexible and cheap, they won’t require a smart grid to manage them. The politician-driven smart grid will disappear, and with it the trillions of dollars in needless investment now on the drawing boards.

36 thoughts on “Smart is dumb

  1. Hmmm…
    ENRON actually tried to get into the broadband / bandwidth trading scam. They signed a deal with Blockbuster and their stock price skyrocketed, if only for a moment. The rest of that chapter is of course, history. Or is it?

  2. The idea a smart meter can cut off just your freezer or air conditioner is rather a strange one. You either have power or not. A smart meter cannot select what is left on or turned off. The idea that a wasteful consumer will have their none essentials turned off for a bit can be considered acceptable. Having power turned off for no other reason other than the politicians not having you on a priority to receive power should be.

  3. This goes hand in hand with “Smart Appliances” which these idiots are trying to foist onto us……….

    WE know that this Smart thing is a Scam just like Wind and Solar being subsidized, so why is it still happening?………………because every single agency or media outlet that could and should expose this Scam has been either “rigged, bought off or outlawed ” to stop any criticism of this mad man’s venture…………………………so in essence, it’s up to US even more so than it ever was to uncover the people behind this failed experiment in terror!

    We have to work harder to bring this Government down around it’s rotten and corrupt agenda that is forcing people out of their homes and damaging their health and ruining this Province!

    Time to step it up folks………………it will take just one little exposed thread to unravel this “whole sweater of misery””

  4. I wish they had of posted the picture that went with this story. It spoke volumes. It was a huge field of solar panels…all covered in snow!

  5. Politicians running electrical grids. Everyone can count on them being efficient and cost conscious, ha!
    My daughter just had a test in “renewable energies” at the gr.5 level. In every one except geothermal it listed a con as being “unreliable”.
    From having Industrial Wind Turbine images plastered everywhere (on photo frame inserts, on kids wearing T-shirts with them on Family Channel, on the billboards at schools promoting “green energy”, in the Monopoly game where erecting a Wind Turbine was better than a nuclear plant), you’d think everyone should be bought and sold.
    My daughter wasn’t the only one aware of the people who suffer living too close to them, of the bats, birds and who knows what other kinds of wildlife harmed. We all still have a say as to what makes sense for the future of electrical generation, of what kind and where industrialization belongs.
    An electrical grid should be contained, with efficiently run and up to date distribution, run by experts not fly by night companies or governments. I definitely would like it reliable. I am just a consumer of electricity and this is how I’d want the grid to work.

  6. I think Mr. Solomon and I share much the same view of the Smartgrid.

    It could be done in a much better way and be useful — but remember what happened to the Governator… they recast him in Titanium alloys… and gave him evil red eyes…

    Do you want your kids to look like that? 🙁

  7. I don’t agree with time-of-use pricing, but the smart grid has real potential as an energy equivalent of the internet.
    I could choose my suppliers – nuclear and hydro for baseload, and I can select CCGT or scrubbed cleaner coal for peaks in my use. This has great potential.

    I could heat when it’s cold, cool when it’s warm, cook when it’s mealtime. I find the opportunities exciting.

    The government, and it’s dwindling clique of supporters, could live by the wind and sun – before the dark still time they could not live through.

  8. But Scott, we will NOT have the ability to use what we want when we want eh?…………true true IF we did get that ability but of course WE don’t have any common sense and we have to be told when to do Laundry, Use the Bathroom, turn on our lights and on and on…after all, isn’t it a lot easier to let a leader tell us what is good for us and take that burden off our table?

    It’s also really nice that we can depend on our school systems to take over the “rearing” of our children because Gee Whiz, we are too stupid to educate our own because we are so tired and miserable after a 12 hour day at the sweat shop!

    Oh wait!……………..I just saw “inside” McGuinty’s head and read his mind!………………..Yikes!..sorry!

  9. Scott:

    The SmartGrid does not exist. It is highly unlikely that it will ever exist as you imagine. The opportunities you have been fed are flights of fancy. We should talk about this sometime.

    Think Skynet!

  10. The smart meters (all there is to the smart grid) are supposed to provide a digital readout of the power consumed and when it was consumed that can supposedly be accessed from off site. Other than that not much different than the old meters. For the amount of money spent it is pretty dumb. Sort of like the Blueline Innovations Power Cost Monitors Hydro One gave out for free (>$100 value) so you could monitor your power. The monitor was going to tell you how much you were using and what it was costing you. It was good for telling you the outside temperature but not much else.

  11. Perhaps people should think of the smart grid as something like the government being able to cut off the supply of food, water,gasoline,etc to urban areas.

    Snart grids can cut off your electric supply and thus control you.

    Cutting off the supply of food and water have often been used to control people and this is well documented in history. Electricity cutoff has been used as recorded in the modern history of the 20-21st centuries.

    Something to think about isn’t it!!!

  12. But with smart meters the whole of Canada could be controlled.

    Cutting off food and water is as old as recorded history. Now electricity can be cut off on a selected basis. Already in some places the AC can be cut off by the electric supplier.

    The idea of smart meters has to be sold to the people as for the good of the environment. People like to do good things and so they don’t think about the long term implications of these ideas.

    This is just another means of controlling peoples lives.

  13. I’m disappointed in Solomons blanket statements about electric cars. In fact, I just put my order in for a Chevy Volt and am expecting delivery on it this summer!
    I see it as a way to free myself from big oil or big public utilities. If I don’t like the price of oil, I can switch to electricity and if the OEB starts screwing around with higher electricity I’ll switch back to gasoline.
    I also like the fact that during small trips (to work or to the grocery store), not one ounce of pollution is being emitted during a period of time when a IC engine emits most of its pollution (when the engine is warming up)
    Also electric cars don’t require transmission (big friction savings) and integrate well into a regenerative braking system.
    At todays low price of off peak energy price I could recharge my battery for 5.1 cents at night.
    Sure it costs a bit more but it’s cheaper than a BMW, Mercedes or Cadillac and it gets better mileage and gets me to where I want to go.
    So what’s Lawrence complaining about again?

  14. Fast forward to 2020…

    “Hi Boss, it’s me. I’m afraid I can’t make it into work today.”

    “Oh? Why not?”

    “We’ll, as you know, the wind wasn’t blowing last night.”

    “Your legs are fine, right?”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Ride your bike, I did!”


  15. I believe Solomon was “painting a larger picture” here and not reporting on the positive features of electric cars for the small group of people who will find this car “fits’ quite nicely into their daily routine. If I only had to drive 5 kilometers to work and back within a major city and not drive anywhere on major road systems for up to 4 hours one way, like a cottage retreat I might find an electric car the “bees knees” too.

    Also we know that within 4 to 5 years and maybe even sooner the battery for these cars will have to be replaced. a new battery could cost as much as $5,000 to $8,000 and I find it hard to believe many people would want that “little expense” waiting for them in such a short period of time, unless one wanted to unload that little problem onto their fellow citizens and in today’s Green Dreamland” messing with fellow citizens lives to pursue a Green Agenda” seems to be “O.K.!!!

    Let us all know how that Volt performs at minus 30 Celsius please!

  16. Joseph Martin
    Your argument has some validity up to “recharge my battery for 5.1 cents at night” because you still have pay all the other charges on your hydro bill plus HST which just about triples the cost.
    Would not the billions of taxpayers dollars wasted on wind turbines or solar farms be better spend on properly educating the people on conservation, putting solar panels on every roof, creating a usable public transit system etc?. Instead of the present Mickey Mouse hit and miss approach used by our political leadership which will only enrich the energy shysters.

  17. I was being sarcastic in my earlier post – although if people are buying special rate plans based on ‘green’, I’d like the option of purchasing based on reliable and affordable.
    The reason we have smart meters is that the Premier said we would – the explanations imply there was a plan, and I could not find one. I looked and found nothing to expand on the speech McGuinty gave in the legislature on April 19, 2004. That speech said we were following California’s lead in installing smart meters – today Duguid says California is copying Ontario in that they are really going to get going on it.
    The reason for American tardiness may be they have actual regulators interested in protecting consumers. A path our OEB had abandoned, seemed to be moving back towards in the last 6 months, but seems ready to abandon again (
    In researching smart grids, and TOU (and other DRM schemes), I ran across a nice site run for the smart grid industry. That site had done a list of great things for smart grids as willing purchasers of stuff, but put up a forum to get suggestions on the top 10 benefits of a smart grid from the consumer point of view.
    They still haven’t found one.

    My point about reducing demand is peak demand is at the coldest times, the hottest times, and meal times. There is zero indication this can, or should, be changed. Regardless, the purpose of the attempt to change demand patterns is to obviate the need for new generation.
    We are opting to destroy our least used supply with the most expensive, least available options. If we could, as Mr. Soloman claims the smarties are attempting, choose our supply, we would choose better.

  18. I thought we had established that the electric car was a big box for rare earth metals read also toxic mining blot on the greenwashed!

  19. Quixote, Wegrait, Greenian,
    It’s 2011 dudes!! In 2020 I hope they WILL have something way better than the Volt. It’s like when the Model T came out. If we look back we could say “wow what a stupid outdated car. Why would anyone have bought it?”
    If no one buys these electric/gas cars than how will they improve? It’s called progress and luckily with our democratic capitalistic system, things improve continually.
    We can all agree than a goal for the future of transportation is to increase conservation and that is exactly what the Volt/Leaf etc represtents.
    Also the beauty of the Volt concept is that it has the best of both worlds. Electric for short distance trips and a gasoline backup for longer trips. What’s wrong with that?
    Also even at 5.1 cents plus all the other charges, I’ve calculated that it would only cost me about $2 for a 100 km charge (keep in mind that I don’t have the car yet but those are the reviews up until now)
    I think we should encourage innovation and I’ll be happy to invest in something fosters conservation instead of buying another V8 with 20 more horsepower with “the same fuel mileage as the old V8 with 20 less hp!”
    It’s time to move on folks, I hope we’re not all ludites here!!

  20. Also even at 5.1 cents plus all the other charges, I’ve calculated that it would only cost me about $2 for a 100 km charge…

    Good for you Joey. Keep chasing those numbers. Give it a few and you’ll be trading in your batteries for a jerry can.

    Nothing to do about being a “Luddite” here. Just sensibility.

  21. Ohh if it was only true Joseph……………….if it was only true…………… say in a “democratic capitalist system, things improve continually”………….when was our system ever democratic and capitalist at the same time?………the capitalist system is supposed to support the concept that the harder one works and saves his/her money and re-invests it into our Industry then it should improve……..WRONG!……………. Capitalism only works when there are regulations in the Financial sector that will protect investors from “swindlers and gangsters” from taking people’s money without any punishment for stealing. That concept went down the tubes many years ago and now we have the biggest Financial collapse in our lifetime because a select few had their way with our money……….and DEMOCRACY………..don’t get me started on that one……………….tell me how we live in a Democratic Society when we can’t have any say where an Industry can plant a huge Wind Turbine that will surely drive us out of our homes with NO protection for our “quality of life” because it is a “Green” project?………………….that’s the society we live in now…….and you expect us to believe the “hype” over how a “Government (our money) bailed out Car Company has the answer for the saving of the world with their “electric car?”………….sorry…..I’ve been on this planet too long to believe anything coming from the mouths of politicians or Industry Greed Merchants!

  22. No hand-outs. All-electric or hybrid vehicles should stand on their own merits, such as they are. It’s welfare for a combination of corporations and individuals.

  23. You should visit Mexico, Cuba, or Russia, Quixote for some contrast to our very democratic system. You don’t know how good you have it.

  24. Joseph: Just because we have it better than other places does not mean we should strive for their level of politics. Efforts are being made to not go there. People make the effort, not governments. As for the Volt; It is being marketed with unknown performance and GM having to recant some of the early claims. Power prices including deliver average more to the 18 to 22 cent range per kw/hr. Shouldn’t be a big difference to someone with money to burn.

  25. I think we are wasting a lot of time debating stuff that is already quite obvious to anyone who can do research………..also different ideas are great for discussion but this site is dedicated to fighting Wind and shouldn’t be hijacked to argue who’s right or wrong in the world and who is guilty or not…………..One point here……………to blame people for “living the American Dream” which is generated by the American hierarchy and who were the real criminals here is shallow and rather places one in a very hateful “corner” of the population……….read “Griftopia” by Matt Taiibi and get back to me!

  26. Yes – good luck Mr. Martins.
    Especially when in our colder climate the battery efficiency is greatly reduced. Add to this that will need to run the heater in your car.
    You will be paying for more dirty gasoline plus plus a over 20 cents/kwh (all costs included) and rising.
    Then again, some may be able to write all this off against their business and consequently increase the cost of their services/goods.
    And then again, the little guy pays for it in the end. In the majority of cases this little guy doesn’t have a choice since the political leadership in our system will not protect him from being mislead.
    And yes – GREED is to blame.

  27. JM at least has the option of driving his Volt home from wherever he is going on gas. Pure electrics will be completely limited to home base and half the range.

    Here is why. The average gas station may have 10 petrol pumps, and the average fill up time to fill, pay bill, and pick up a coffee is about 5 minutes. So the average station can process 60/5*10 or 120 customers an hour. If you are open 24 hours a day, that is 2880 transactions a day.

    An electric charging station has a different problem. Electric cars are no smaller than gas cars, so the number of charging outlet you can put in any given station not much more than a gas station. High speed charging equipment is not something you just plug into the wall. It takes space, technology, maintenance, and a good connection to the grid. Just as you cannot put FIT installations everywhere, neither you cannot put charging stations.

    But the average high speed charging time for an electric vehicle is 2 hours, and that depends on the state of the batteries. Older batteries will take longer.

    So the economic equation for an electric station is 60/120*10, or 5 customers an hour or 120 customers per day.

    120 vs 2880. Wonder what I have to charge to make that equation work?

  28. OK…….here’s the plan or should I say “dream” about electric re-fuelling stations that are being proposed south of the border.

    With the 100’s of thousands of electric cars on the roads there will be a need to fuel up quickly. The electric fueling stations will have a quick batter swap program available the same as the propane tank re-fuelling stations set up at 711 stores and others locally…………the problem will be……..they will swap out your battery for a full one and charge a nominal amount for the swap, IF you, like “JM” have a new VOLT or whatever, and you pull into a station you may and probably will get someone else’s battery that they had swapped out………… this is all well and good for the very beginning of the program because all batteries will be new and fresh…what happens 6 months or 12 months down the road when you swap out your $5,000 battery for an old abused battery that only holds half a charge, or worse, a battery that has been improperly charged and is damaged?……………..can you imagine the poor slob who takes off down the road, runs out of electricity after 100 kms and is on the side of the road waiting for CAA to come and swap a new battery back in at a cost in the thousands of dollars?………………now this IS the reality of the Green Dream!……..a Green Nightmare waiting to happen…………… welcome to the world of doublespeak and stupidity!

  29. Q, Swapping out a battery in Chevy Volt is more than a 5 minute job…….:)

    Hoists, technical training, specialized equipment is involved. Your quick change dream is very much imagination at this time.

  30. An then there is this:

    The magazine found that the Volt uses up a “considerable” amount of battery range to heat up its cabin on colder days, reducing its range to well below 30 miles (48 kms) before draining the battery and reverting to its gas generator to recharge the batteries and power its electric motor — much lower than the optimal 64 km estimate.

  31. Quixote,
    You’re missing the point. The whole point of a car like the Volt is that you won’t need electric refueling stations because the only refueling station you need is in your own garage. Drive home plug it in and drive out the next morning with a range of 30-64km or whatever. Then if you do drive over your range, your gasoline engine will start and charge your battery as you drive until you get home again and recharge.
    If you drive to work less than 30-60km then this is the car for you. If you work farther away, get a diesel VW.
    A gasoline electric is the cleanest way to go, even if that electricity comes from coal. It’s all due to cold start emissions and short trips that work against internal combustion gasoline engines.

  32. Hey Joseph
    Your selection of the new Volt sounds like your one of the “enlightened ones” south of the border!

    Sad news if your an investor but good news if you want to “stand out” in traffic!
    GM sells just 281 Chevy Volts in February, Nissan only moves 67 Leafs *UPDATE
    Posted Mar 1st 2011 7:47PM by Sebastian Blanco

    Peruse Chevrolet’s February sales release, and you’ll notice one number that’s blatantly missing: how many Chevy Volts were sold. The number – a very modest 281 – is available in the company’s detailed data (PDF) ( ) , but it apparently isn’t something that GM wants to highlight. Keeping the number quiet is understandable, since it’s lower than the 321 that Chevy sold in January.

    Nissan doesn’t have anything to brag about here, either (and it avoided any mention of the Leaf sales in its press release). Why? Well, back in January, the company sold 87 Leafs. In February? Just 67. Where does that leave us? Well, here’s the big scorecard for all U.S. sales of these vehicles thus far:
    Volt: 928
    Leaf: 173
    Ouch. The big questions, of course, revolve around one word: “Why?” Is ramping up production still a problem? Is demand weak? Are unscrupulous dealers to blame? When will sales start to climb? And what are these numbers doing to plug-in vehicle projects at other automakers? We don’t know all the answers, but for more on February auto sales, click here……………………………….

  33. What if I’m away for 2 weeks & my neighbour with a Volt or electric car decides to recharge it using my outdoor electrical outlet – at the expensive time of day . . .

  34. DNH

    When you are away, you need to advise your hydro supplier of your absence. They can monitor your smart meter for energy consumption over an above the minimum usage mandated by law.

    Because the government will soon be specifying the maximum energy profile that every individual can obtain.

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