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Smart utility meters are the Internet of energy

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The Bay Area has a long history of embracing innovation — and we have reaped substantial economic benefits for our boldness.

Google, Facebook, Twitter and thousands of other Internet-based companies are the engines of our economic prosperity. But they are not here by chance. They started and stayed in the Bay Area because of an educated work force, a great quality of life and, most of all, our culture of innovation.

Now the Bay Area is home to a growing cluster of smart-grid companies that are pioneering what has been called "the Internet of energy." This new Internet has the potential to create the next wave of wealth, high-wage employment and the kind of technological innovation that will keep the Bay Area a world leader in green technology.

One of the core technologies supporting the new smart grid are the millions of new "smart meters" now being installed by PG&E across San Francisco. While The City is not the first to have the devices installed, it stands to gain among the most from the new technology.

Like the Internet, the smart grid will be a useful tool for businesses, which are at their best when they have visibility and control over their expenses. The new smart meters can tell us not just how much energy we use, but how and when we use it. This information will help businesses make better decisions, such as when to use energy to find lower rates and when to switch to more energy-efficient machinery. According to one recent study, the new information provided by smart meters helps lower energy use by up to 10 percent.

But the benefits of the smart grid go far beyond individual business. This new technology infrastructure will spur a wide range of emerging companies — from startups coding energy "apps" to the transition to electric vehicles. Much like the iPhone was a template for the development of thousands of previously unthinkable applications, the smart grid is the platform for innovation in the green economy.

The jobs and economic potential of smart-meter-enabled devices couldn’t come at a better time. The future of the digital energy business sector may be worth as much as $200 billion. Much of this new business will be centered right here in the Bay Area — creating thousands of jobs and billions in potential cost savings for businesses and consumers.

While concerns have been raised about the accuracy and health effects of radio-frequency waves emitted from the devices, there are no proven health risks from the smart meters, which emit just one-tenth of 1 percent of the radio frequency emitted by a typical cell phone. A recent report from the California Public Utilities Commission also found that the devices are recording customer electric usage accurately.

In much the same way that the Internet changed the global economy and transformed the business landscape of our region, smart meters and the smart grid can change the way our businesses and individuals use and consume energy. They are already being used to conserve energy and save money.

They are about to unleash a wave of economic growth that we haven’t seen since the World Wide Web first took flight.

The Bay Area helped bring the world the Internet. Now it is time to take the lead in bringing the world smart meter technology — the "Internet of Energy."

 

Steve Falk is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.