National Grid Smartens Massachussets Solar

The London-based largest distributor of natural gas in the American northeast, National Grid is fielding a digital smart meter toolkit for 15,000 of its Massachusetts customers to see if the Internet of Things is all that it’s cracked up to be. The answer seems to already be yes, with some minor caveats.

“Feedback from customers has been positive,” National Grid spokesperson Jake Navarro told SolarEnergy. “Many customers have expressed interest in the new online and mobile energy use applications, so they can monitor and control their electricity usage anytime and anywhere. There have been some concerns about radio frequency emissions from the actual smart meters, so National Grid is conducting extensive customer education and outreach to address these concerns.”

It’s a good problem to have, compared to the general waste and pollution of natural gas itself, whose impact on the environment has recently been reported to be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times worse than Environmental Protection Agency estimates. The overall goal of National Grid’s Smart Energy Solutions Program, whose technology phase launched in April after its meter installation phase concluded, is to personalize electricity use for greater efficiency by offering its customers free online and mobile apps, digital picture frames, smart thermostats and remote control devices that can interactively show how and when their energy is used.

After that much-needed home schooling, concerns about RF waves kind of fade into the background. But it’s early, said Navarro.

“Customers are just now signing up for and engaging with these tools, so it is still a bit too early in the Program to notice changes in energy consumption and generation,” he said. “But we hope to have data and insights later this year.”

By then, National Grid should have a much clearer picture of how our internetworked energy future functions, and be ready to move forward on solar’s contribution more quickly. According to Navarro, it has upgraded 80 percent of the program’s infrastructure with new automation and devices that “will improve electric service reliability and power outage response.”

National Grid also has upgraded more than 80 percent of the electric system associated with the Smart Energy Solutions Program with new automation and infrastructure-enhancing devices that could improve electric service reliability and power outage response. It is also testing full integration of renewable resources and electric vehicle charging stations across Worcester, Massachusetts, where the program is currently focused. All of this ramping coincides with both a regional and wider national embrace of renewables, as costs of solar and wind crater and the expenses of dirty fuels prove too, ahem, expensive to continue. That can’t come soon enough, which is likely why National Grid is accelerating its efforts to clean up the power grid and its climate-destabilizing pollution.

“As interest in renewables has grown under the leadership of Governor Deval Patrick, and the cost of installing new technologies has come down, National Grid has expanded its distributed generation services exponentially,” Navarro added. “The amount of solar, wind and other clean energy sources National Grid interconnects each year is 10 times higher today than it was five years ago.”

Navarro explained that National Grid has connected 300 MW of distributed generation in Massachusetts through 6,000 separate projects, and last year landed its largest distributed generation year ever by hooking up more than 2,100 projects totaling 119 MW. It also managed 35 electric vehicle charging stations and offered residents incentives to get out of their 20th-century gas guzzlers and go 21st-century EV. This year, National Grid is aiming for over 120 MW of solar and wind generation, but hopefully its renewables adopters won’t be punished with unnecessary tariffs or pulled subsidies for doing the right thing for the planet and its people.

“National Grid believes pricing to solar owners should be established in a way that keeps current with the actual market price of panels and other competitive factors,” Navarro answered in response to questions about regional and international momentum toward solar taxes and decreased funding for renewables. “This has been proposed in Rhode Island by using competitive bidding for larger projects, combined with long-term, fixed-price incentives paid through Public Utilities Commission-approved tariffs. The competitive bidding data is then used to develop incentives for smaller units. The program proposal is widely supported by the solar and environmental community and is moving rapidly through the legislative process.”

This article appeared at Solar Energy