Smart meters, smart idea

Bev Van Ruyven dreams about talking to her fridge and thermostat on a regular basis.

Bev Van Ruyven dreams about talking to her fridge and thermostat on a regular basis.

BC Hydro’s executive vice-president even imagines calling up her appliances while taking a transatlantic flight, to order them to use less power.

It’s the future of smart meters.

And for Yukoners, it’s as foreign as life with the Jetsons.

The territory’s old-school meters read how much power a household uses – and that’s it.

But in cities like Vancouver and Toronto, smart meters offer a window into the intricate electrical world of each household.

Using “a web portal,” customers can track their power consumption down to the second.

So can the utility.

“Communicating by billing is not the best,” said Toronto Hydro Electrical Systems vice-president Ivano Labricciosa, during Yukon Energy’s charette this week.

So, in 2005, the utility started installing smart meters in every Toronto home.

“We did 20,000 a month,” said Labricciosa.

“And it took us a bunch of years.”

By 2010, the job was finished.

It remains the largest install in North America.

Switching Whitehorse would have taken the utility less than a month, he said.

The smart meters allow Toronto’s utility to price power according to demand.

At peak time, when demand is high, power costs more – about nine cents a kilowatt/hour.

During low consumption periods, it costs less – about three cents.

The idea is to prompt customers to do the laundry, or turn on the dishwasher, when power is cheap.

And – in Van Ruyven’s world – customers could even call their fridges and thermostats when prices spike, ordering their appliances to cut back on consumption.

In Whitehorse, Yukon Energy fires up the diesels to meet peak demand.

And we don’t use all our available power at night – water spills over the dam, said climate change expert and Green Party chair John Streicker.

“We as a society could change that,” he said.

“We could put our hot-water tanks on a timer and run our dishwashers at night.

“This way we’d smooth out our energy use and not have to go to diesel.”

The Yukon government is drafting a net metering policy to allow homeowners and businesses producing their own power to sell it back to the grid.

To do this, interested businesses and homeowners would need a new meter.

However, these wouldn’t necessarily be as savvy as smart meters.

“If you look at the cost of changing out a meter, the difference in price between a net meter and a smart meter isn’t so much,” said Streicker.

“So they might as well go all the way, to smart meters.”

Smart meters would do what net meters do, and more, allowing Yukon Energy to raise rates during peak power use and lower rates in lulls.

In BC, smart meters, like net meters, also allow consumers to sell power back to the grid.

“We buy lots from independent power producers,” said Van Ruyven, mentioning wind, biomass and run-of-the-river power projects.

The utility is expecting to get 25 per cent of its supply from independent power producers in the next few years.

It is also planning to cut growing demand by 66 per cent simply by educating its customers.

Last year, BC Hydro outfitted two containers with glass fronts and furnished them.

Then, it paid two guys to live there, side by side on a busy street corner in downtown Vancouver.

One of the guys was energy efficient – the other was an energy slob.

The utility also has flashy ad campaigns, video games for kids and webpages that allow consumers to monitor their power usage around the clock.

The BC government has mandated that 93 per cent of BC Hydro’s power must be clean and renewable.

If Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, he’d be in shock, said Van Ruyven.

He’d see all these people talking on cellphones and ask, “Where are the wires?”

But if Thomas Edison showed up, he wouldn’t be the least bit surprised, she said.

He’d think, “Things are pretty much as I left them.”

“We have to work hard to change that,” said Van Ruyven.

Compared to Toronto, the Yukon is “community-minded,” said Labricciosa.

“And you have an opportunity to take a strong stance and really set an example.”

It might seem like the best option is always the cheapest, he said.

“But you have to look at the price you pay later.”

Outfitting Toronto with smart meters cost Labricciosa’s utility $150 million.

“Where is the business case to do this?” he said.

“I say, ‘Where is the business case for having a computer?’

“At some point you just know you need things as part of society.”

Switching to smart meters is not a question of, “Do I or don’t I,” said Labricciosa.

“It’s a question of when.”

To learn more about the Yukon government’s draft net metering policy go to http://netmetering.gov.yk.ca.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read