What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Remotely Controlling Electricity

homemade beeswax candle burning
Homemade Beeswax Candle Burning

CBC and Toronto based e-Radio Inc. have announced plans to use a signal on their FM station that will cause your smart-grid enabled appliances to operate during Ontario's off-peak hours. This will involve using a made in Canada micro-chip installed in appliances and thermostats that can be controlled remotely though the signal coming through the FM station. This would allow public utilities to control the energy consumption in your home. Hydro One has had a similar program called peaksaver® they have been encouraging homeowners to enrol in. This involves installing a special thermostat that Hydro One can remotely control to increase your air conditioning temperature setting 2ºC for up 4 hours. The thermostat is programmable so will save upto 10% and you receive a $25 rebate incentive for participating in the program. At the same time Hydro One has introduced the Smart Meters with the phasing in of Time of Use (TOU) pricing. The Smart Meters have the ability to send meter readings via wireless technology to Hydro One which will eliminate estimate readings for rural customers as well as allow customers to manage their electricity consumption more effectively. Now nothing has been mentioned about this and this is pure speculation on my part but if the Smart Meter can send a reading then there is a good possibility that it can receive a signal that at some time in the future may lead to Hydro One further restricting electricity usage during peak hours. The idea of remotely controlling electrical appliances in your home is not a new one as home automation has been around for a number of years. A home automation system can be a professionally installed one or a DIY sytem using X-10 components or similar. What is different about the CBC and peaksaver® is who is controlling the electricity usage!

In the case of home automation the home owner controls the use of electricity through a series of modules electric appliances and lights are connected two. These can then be turned on and off remotely using a remote control and/or accessing computer software remotely. So if you were on vacation for a week in the winter and wanted to come home to a warm house you could access your system from another computer to turn the thermostat higher say a half hour before your arrival home. In addition to this home automation offers the ability to control lighting via motion turning lights off when no motion is detected in the room after a certain period of time that the homeowner determines. Home automation systems can be expanded to include security features such as video cameras as well. The point is the home owner has complete control over how the home automation system is used.

In the case of CBC's FM signal system and peaksaver® the control is entirely in the hands of the utility company. If I'm reading the information correctly you will need to have a FM RDS receiver module in your house so the FM signal goes to the module which then sends it to the appliance. However, I can't find a clear answer on this since e-Radio is saying these modules are already integrated into smart-grid devices. Of interest e-Radio sent their first test transmission in Toronto on January 10, 2010. At the same time, downtown Toronto was reporting a power outage. I'm sure the two are not connected but it could be possible.

Do you really want the utility company controlling how you use electricity telling you when you can or can't use certain appliances or how cool to keep your house? Anytime you give control to someone else it is very difficult if not downright impossible to get that control back. While at the moment they are saying they will only adjust your thermostat by 2ºC for up to 4 hours at some point that could easily change. Using this technology they can essential throttle down your electricity usage much the same way as satellite internet provides throttle the signal so you get 40% of the signal yet pay 100% of the price. In fairness throttling down your electricity would result in lower kWh used but you can bet your bottom dollar that the utility company will come up with some reason why they have to charge for throttling your electricity meaning you will be paying for them to do so. What happens if you need to run an emergency load of clothes if one of the kids are sick but your washer is on the system that it will only work during off-peak hours?

When it comes to utility usage it is best that you keep the control. The incentive is going to be there anyway through lower price per kWh during off-peak hours. Now is the time to get used to TOU times and adjust accordingly if you aren't already of TOU pricing. If you are on TOU pricing already now is the time to closely monitor your electricity usage and adjust where possible. When it comes to running your dishwasher and washer it is not that difficult to set either to run during off-peak hours. We always run our dishwasher as needed just before we go to bed with the exception of when I'm doing a heavy day of canning when it will run once or twice during the day. This is also an excellent time to start or continue making the conversion towards solar. There are some good incentives for adding solar to your home right now.

Garden Gnome


Laura said...

We did the peaksaver thing. I seldom turn the air conditioner on all year cause the house keeps pretty cool with the blinds pulled down and other things we have done. They only turn the temperature down a few degrees (2 I think it was). Not a lot to be very noticeable. I did leave a note on our account that I have asthma and may need to have the air on to help with breathing. They collected that kind of information which I think could be a good thing. Whether or not they use it or ignore it... When our thermostat was set up the tech guy left before it was connected to the Internet. I've never seen it actually connect since then. It is possible we have the new thermostat and the money for getting it but will never have it used as it is not connected to them.

Greenearth said...

Thank you for some great information. You have a special site and look forward to discovering green ideas here.

Garden Gnome said...

Laura we haven't done the peaksaver yet but we do have a new programmable thermostat that was put in when the AC unit was installed a couple of years ago. Our problem is the house is so shaded and with the main living level mostly below ground the only time we use the AC is when it is extremely humid.

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Greenearth, you're welcome :)