California flirts with high-tech electricity meters, new pricing scheme

California, ever the leader in innovative greenish programs, is planning yet another experiment, this time involving electricity use and pricing. With up to 15 million high-tech meters, at a cost of around $3.6 billion, three California utilities plan to meticulously track consumers’ minute-by-minute energy usage (something current meters can’t do) and raise energy prices during peak hours to encourage conservation. Next-generation meters could eventually be used to remotely control energy-sucking appliances — that is, utilities themselves could turn down your too-high air conditioning or refrigerator (creepy, but potentially energy-saving). The meters and the accompanying “dynamic pricing” scheme have gotten mixed reviews from consumers and businesses involved in test programs, but Severin Borenstein of U.C.-Berkeley’s Energy Institute is optimistic: “I think we’re going to find there’s a lot of price responsiveness at the residential level,” he said. The California Public Utilities Commission is still reviewing the proposal.