January 26, 2008

INTELLIGENT THERMOSTATS: Back during the brouhaha over California’s proposal — since withdrawn — to require that all thermostats be centrally controlled with no user control at all during a power emergency, I should have thought to check out Lynne Kiesling’s blog. She’s got a great post, pointing out that “Programmable Communicating Thermostats” that can take signals from the network are a great idea, but that thermostats that are centrally controlled, without user consent, are a terrible idea. Excerpt:

The PCT is the most cost-effective and forward-looking way to break down the monopoly that the distribution utilities currently have in providing retail electricity services to end-use customers. Without the PCT, a lot of dynamic pricing, product differentiation, and other market-based contracts and mechanisms are impossibly costly or simply not feasible. In conjunction with the two-way communicating meters (AMI) that the distribution utilities in California are installing, PCTs open the door to the type of retail choice and price-responsive end-use technologies that I discussed last week in my post about the GridWise Olympic Peninsula Project. Being able to program the thermostat to respond to signals, especially price signals, is a good thing. . . .

We do not yet have the evidence to indicate whether that responsiveness is likely to be enough to avoid most service interruptions, but that is no reason to resort to the use of such coercive force. If anything, the 2006 experience of one Stage 2 alert is an upper bound on the expected magnitude of the problem, and increased technology and voluntary participation in differentiated retail contracts will reduce that incidence even further.

Furthermore, from a marketing perspective, mandatory direct load control is a sure-fire way to make sure that consumers look at smart grid technologies with suspicion. Even if it were only on that grounds, I would oppose such a provision, because it taints all of the hard smart grid work that the GridWise Architecture Council and other groups have been doing.

There’s a lesson here. People should keep control of their gadgets. Lots of folks would enable this kind of thing in exchange for a break in their electric rates anyway, but making it mandatory gets their back up and makes people want to cheat just to stick it to the man. It also creates — as California found — a huge groundswell of opposition.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Perhaps, at some not too distant point in the future, we’ll have “intelligent” menus in restaurants, where we’ll only be offered the food that fits our health profile (as determined by the nanny state, of course). A little overweight? You get one set of offerings. High cholesterol? You get another. Diabetic? There’s a third set.

After all, with the state paying for health care, it has every right to keep an eye on what you eat. Ordering off someone else’s menu would, of course, be a crime.

As usual these days, reality runs ahead of satire.

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