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Smart Grid roll-out – hope you have a good lawyer

This month, against the backdrop of the Copenhagen UN climate change conference, the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change announced its plans to fit every home in Britain with a smart meter by 2020. Ministers claim the new meters will help people cut their energy bills and their carbon footprint.

The announcement adds to the growing list of governments worldwide seeking to develop Smart Grids as energy efficiency solutions to reducing their nation's carbon footprint.

All these initiatives sound like great news to many analog and mixed-signal component suppliers developing power management devices to support energy metering and the Smart Grid roll-out worldwide. After all we are talking large volumes of components. China alone is aiming to deploy 150 billion smart meters. France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK are all planning to move over to smart meters in the foreseeable future.

In the USA 18 million homes, which is 13 percent of all U.S. households, will be equipped with smart meters within three years.

The Smart Grid promises to be one of those rare phenomenon that should be beneficial to component suppliers, utilities, industrial companies and even the consumer. However, before the roll-out has even really started to roll there are signs of discontent being raised by the people the governments see as the main beneficiaries of the Smart Grid roll-out. The consumers are starting to murmur the words – revolt.

In the USA millions of households across the USA have already seen their power companies install smart meters that can tell them how much electricity they are using hour by hour – and sometimes, appliance by appliance. Sounds just the kind of service consumers should be crying out for.

It seems that capturing the data is one thing but interpreting the results is something completely different.

Many customers in California are in open revolt with regard to the figures they are seeing on their smart meters. Officials in states such as Connecticut and Texas have begun questioning whether the rush to install meters is actually benefiting the public.

Almost as soon as some of the consumers have been able to monitor their energy usage themselves they have begun doubting the figures they are seeing. Many people are arguing that the meters are logging far more kilowatt hours than they believe they are using. Others say it is unfair that they will begin to pay immediately for the new meters through higher rates, when the promised savings could take years to be crystallized.

In some cases the US power generation companies have started to call in independent auditors to assess whether the meters count usage properly. So energy meter IC manufacturers beware you may just be opening a Pandora's Box.

These may be just teething troubles but so far it looks like one of the big winners from the Smart Grid roll-out looks more likely to be everyone's favorites – the legal profession.

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