That Smarts: A Bumpy Beginning for Smart Meters in NYC

Submetering and smart meters are very good ideas, and ones whose potential takes the implicit promise of much that we write about here at gbNYC and make it explicit. That is, the idea of arming people with valuable information and incentives for smarter behavior could condition positive change in both our built environment and how we live in it. In time, submetered energy will probably replace old-style flat-rate pricing just as thoroughly and just as deservingly as broadband internet is replacing dial-up. The problem is that no one has successfully explained this stuff to consumers, and that it’s work — making changes in one’s behavior, reading a complicated energy bill, actually turning on one’s brain and responding to market incentives — and that humans by their nature kind of abhor that sort of thing.

Here’s an article by Alec Appelbaum in the New York Times about the bumpy start to Con Ed’s under-marketed submetering plan in New York City; here’s a blog post by Kate Galbraith in the Times (linking to this article in the Dallas Morning News) about how Lone Star State smart meter holders are blaming faulty (that is: probably not faulty) submeters for the fact that their energy bills went up during an unprecedented cold snap. What you don’t see are the other several hundred words of brilliant contextualizing I did on this subject. They are gone. They are gone forever and I am basically leaking shrieking out my pores right now, so I’m not going to try to write them again. They’d just come out as profanities.New York City - Commercial Submetering

The gist, though, was this: submetering and smart meters are very good ideas, and ones whose potential takes the implicit promise of much that we write about here at gbNYC and make it explicit. That is, the idea of arming people with valuable information and incentives for smarter behavior could condition positive change in both our built environment and how we live in it. In time, submetered energy will probably replace old-style flat-rate pricing just as thoroughly and just as deservingly as broadband internet is replacing dial-up. The problem is that no one has successfully explained this stuff to consumers, and that it’s work — making changes in one’s behavior, reading a complicated energy bill, actually turning on one’s brain and responding to market incentives — and that humans by their nature kind of abhor that sort of thing. There was more to it than that, but that’s the gist: optimistic about the potential, but kind of more pessimistic about whether or not people will respond to it in the short run, given that energy companies don’t explain very well how smart meters work and the fact that new things are scary.

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