If our utility company gives us too much information about the price of electricity — a cornerstone of the "smart grid" — we'll probably use that information to crash the grid and cause massive blackouts, says a new study from MIT.
Giving electricity customers up-to-the-minute information about the price of electricity is supposed to allow the smart grid to integrate renewable power sources even as it saves consumers money.
The problem is that another cornerstone of the smart grid — appliances that save us money by only turning on when electricity crosses a certain price threshold — could easily cause a spike in demand when power gets cheap, a spike so huge that no utility company could cope with it.
It's like a cyberattack on the utility grid, only it's being launched by your coffee maker.
There's a solution to this problem, but it's one only an economist could love. If you tell your utility company, in advance, what price threshold your smart appliances are set for, it can control when it notifies you of a price update, so as to gradually ramp up (or ramp down) demand. More complexity for the customer, more Big Brother-like information pouring into centralized databases, and less control. Sounds like just the sort of thing that would top President Bachmann's list of priorities, right after glitter-bombing Iran.