29 July, 2010

weight-based electrical measurement and other fun stuff

From a paper On the security economics of electricity metering by Ross Anderson and Shailendra Fuloria (via Bruce Schneier's blog), a few of quotes that amused me.
Edison invented a meter consisting of a jar holding two zinc plates: each month the electrodes were weighed and the customer billed according to the change in their weight.
For example, customers in Soweto noticed that their meters would set themselves to maximum credit in a brown-out (a voltage reduction to 160-180V) because they had not been tested adequately for African conditions; this only came to light when customers started throwing chains over the 11kV feeders in order to credit their meters.
and (about california):
generators had enough market power to boost peak prices by shutting down some of their plants for “maintenance reasons”. They had learned this trick in 1998 when the replacement reserve price of electricity peaked at $9,999.99/MW in July as against the average of $10/MW for the first three months of the year

A bit later they talk about contract languages, which reminds me very much of recent talk of expressing stock market contracts in Python:
This analysis suggests a technical research project: to design a command language for meters that enables an energy company to specify complex tariffs in a piece of signed downloaded code that would implement a particular contract between the supplier and the customer. The sort of tariff we have in mind is: “Your basic rate is 5p from midnight to 0600, 15p for the peak from 1730 to 2100 and 10p the rest of the time; however the 15p basic peak rate applies only provided you restrict demand to two kilowatts else it becomes 50p. Furthermore we may at any time request you to limit consumption to 1kW and if you don’t then any half-hour segment during which you draw more than 1kW at any time will be charged at 50p”. The code would have to export to the energy company enough data for it to bill the customer correctly, and enough to the distibution company for it to operate the system efficiently. This problem is nontrivial but we believe it is solvable.

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