In a move that would be controversial by any measure, Google has launched a program aimed at changing the way U.S. consumers monitor and pay for their electricity. Google is donating $2.65 million to Energy Foundation, a grant making group that will convince state and federal officials to change energy pricing and other policies. According to a Jan.15 article in The Hill, Google also has ideas about intrusive data collection through smart meters and increasing competition between power companies.
Michael Terrell is a senior policy counsel for energy and sustainability at Google. He explained Google's intrusion into national power policy,
“These policy reforms, coupled with the new technologies now being deployed on a large scale, can empower consumers to make smarter energy choices, improve real-time management of the electricity grid and help facilitate more renewable energy, all while lowering overall costs,”
Google's most controversial idea is a brute-force pricing scheme that would raise consumer rates during peak power periods. The problem is that the pricing scheme would force cash strapped consumers to pay more for their electricity when they most need it. Peak energy usage is generally before and after the normal workday, so the power would cost less at off-peak times. Google claims that charging more for energy when people are likely to use it would also promote greater use of "on-site renewable energy". This translates to buying things or doing with less.
Google's senior management apparently does not see the problem with their plan. The power companies are more than glad to support any scheme that will raise power prices and it is unclear whether Google understands economic realities. The vast majority of consumers would pay more for their power when they are most likely to need their power. Households have enough trouble making ends meet, let alone buying new products or retrofitting their homes to avoid paying more for electricity.
With record temperature highs and lows, more households will be forced to heat and cool their homes during peak hours. Under those conditions, the Google scheme would amount to price gouging for no good reason other than to manipulate people into using less power.
Power prices are already higher because states are scrambling to reduce the power generator's dependency on foreign and domestic fossil fuels. Alternative power and power infrastructures have driven consumer prices to their peak. No one needs to pay more for their power to finance Google's agenda.
Google also wants Smart Grid technology that claims to give consumers access to real time energy usage data. Currently, consumers cannot see the data or share it with competing energy firms because it is maintained on proprietary systems. That data, however, means nothing when only one service provider is available.
Data collection from so-called "smart meters" is a controversial plot that has met with wide scale protest. According to a Jan.10 article in the Topanga Messenger, a hundred people crowded into a California Public Utilities Commission meeting to protest installation of smart meters there.
Smart meters are also viewed as a gross invasion of privacy, where every electronic activity is monitored and the information goes where the consumer cannot even use it to negotiate lower prices. Google obviously has no concept of consumer privacy as one of the most personally intrusive web enterprises in history. Google has other reasons for wanting access to smart meter data. Google makes money from any information that helps advertisers target their campaigns. Getting state and local utilities to install intrusive data collection systems at consumer and taxpayer expense would be a profitable win for Google.
Google has one good idea. The internet giant also wants a more competitive environment to give power consumers a choice. Most states give utilities control over specific service areas in exchange for regulatory control over electric rate increases. Allowing utilities to roam would allegedly reduce prices through basic competition. But bypassing state price regulators could create price volatility and variable service quality.
In summary, Google will somehow benefit from schemes like intrusive smart metering, brute-force peak usage pricing and other initiatives. Meanwhile, consumers have grown tired of corporations that influence and dictate public policy, especially when the outcomes will force them into paying for costly and potentially damaging social experiments.