Smart Meter Backlash, AC Waste Heat, and Stalled Climate Solutions

Your Air Conditioner is Fine. It’s Smart Meters You Should Be Worried About.

Wondering why your HVAC cooling sometime shuts off when you most need it? You may be one of the millions of Americans now at the mercy of “smart” technology.

Air Conditioners Increase Nighttime City Heat By Up to 2 Degrees

Research shows that urban air conditioners are making cities even more unbearable this summer.

Six Key Lifestyle Changes (Almost) No One Will Do to Save Humanity

We’ve been told that six lifestyle changes could save our planet. So far, we’re not taking any of them seriously.

Storms and Solar Panels Accelerate Metal Roofing’s Rise

Metal roofing sales are booming. A trifecta of storms, environmental awareness and surging solar panel installations have given this tried and true product a boost.

Your Air Conditioner is Fine. It’s Smart Meters You Should Be Worried About.

Before you call an HVAC technician, check and see if you have a smart meter.

Smart Meter adobe stock

I saw this morning that The Guardian was phishing for comments from readers about air conditioners failing in extreme heat. Much as I like that news organization, I’m not a fan of this method of scraping the internet for anecdotal comments to support pre-established story angle. So I did my own research on the topic of air conditioner “failures.” And I stumbled into a broad daylight conspiracy.

Looking through comments on one of the HVAC contractor discussion boards, I found an interesting comment from a technician. A reader had written in, asking why his heat pump and compressor seem to shut off for two hours when the thermometer hits 100 degrees, in the middle of the day.

He suggested that the utility might be shutting off the air conditioning to conserve power at “peak demand” times.

Life and Death Control?

This is the Pandora’s box that I became concerned about 20 years ago, when smart thermostats first hit the scene. I remember fighting with my own utility, refusing to have one installed. I eventually relented. Resistance since then has all but faded. About 75 percent of US Homes have one installed, and that number is expected to hit 93 percent by 2030.

According to research by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, “Energy utility providers shut off electricity to at least 3 million customers in 2022 who had missed a bill payment. Over 30% of these disconnections happened in the three summer months, during a year that was the fifth hottest on record. In some cases, the loss of service lasted for just a few hours. But in others, people went without electricity for days or weeks while scrambling to find enough money to restore service, often only to face disconnection again.”

At least 31 States currently allow utilities to shut off your heat for non-payment. Well, you’re thinking, power companies have always had this ability. But this is different. Now they can do it remotely. In an instant. And they’re exercising that power.

Abuses of Power

Now imagine a governor or mayor with a tendency toward revenge politics, perhaps one who likes to use his office to “punish” people or groups that disagree with him. What if he were to leverage control over the local utility, he could literally sentence his opposition to death by extreme heat by shutting off their power in our overheating climate. It’s not as farfetched as it sounds.

Not surprisingly, the Southeast already has the most shutoffs for non-payment. Tallahassee, for instance has a 4 percent shut off rate. And many States, including Texas, allow utilities to control HVAC thermostats, not just the main power supply.

The combination of extreme heat due to the Climate Emergency and ever-weaker regulation of utilities is a poison pill for millions of Americans. In Phoenix, people are already “rationing” their use of air conditioning.

What’s needed to address it? Strict regulatory control over how utilities can use smart metering. That’s the only way to protect low-income, elderly and minority citizens, particularly as extreme heat becomes the new normal. We need to recognize that 1 in 4 Americans live in fear that they won’t be able to pay for power.

For those of greater means, there’s never been a better reason to install solar panels and a battery backup.

Utility Disconnection Dashboard

The Utility Disconnections Dashboard shows the number and rate of disconnections by utility in each state (Energy Justice Lab, CC BY-ND).

This story contain excerpts and a graphic from an article by Sanya Carley and David Konisky. 

Air Conditioners Increase Nighttime City Heat By Up to 2 Degrees

An obscure study pointed at Arizona State University 9 year ago that air conditioners make city blocks even hotter in a heat wave. Is anyone surprised?

CBS News this week reported that Phoenix is “rationing” air conditioner use, as people shut off their cooling out of fear about high electric bills. This turns their living space into “air fryers,” and can be deadly for people with certain vulnerabilities.

What people in dense areas may not realize, however, is that part of the heat they’re battling, especially at night, is coming from their neighbors. All of those compressors are heating up the nearby space.

“We found that waste heat from air conditioning systems was maximum during the day, but the mean effect was negligible near the surface. However, during the night, heat emitted from air conditioning systems increased the mean air temperature by more than 1 degree Celsius (almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit) for some urban locations,” said Francisco Salamanca, a post-doctoral research scientist at Arizona State University’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.”

Two degrees may not sound like much, but it can make the difference between whether a family can sleep or not at night. While there’s no precise “tipping point,” years of sleep research show that extreme heat disrupts REM sleep, which is crucial for memory and learning. Most studies put the optimal temperature for sleeping at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that anything over 75 degrees is disruptive.

Is there a solution, or at least a mitigation strategy? Better (more efficient) equipment creates the same BTU of cooling

Six Key Lifestyle Changes (Almost) No One Will Do to Save Humanity

We know what needs to be done. But I’ll eat my hat if human beings ever agree to adhere to the survival playbook.

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About a year ago, a report surfaced, suggesting the six things human beings could do to save the planet from Climate catastrophe (listed below). Although it’s hard to get up-to-the-minute data on these benchmarks, I can safely say that none of them have been tackled in any serious way. At best, they’ve bumped up by a percent or two over the past 5-10 years. Let me break it down:

  1. Switch to a Plant-based diet: As of 2019, about 5% of the U.S. population identified as vegetarian, and about 3% identified as vegan. The trend has been increasing, but it's still a small percentage of the population.
  2. Stop Buying new clothes (Buy no more than 3 new garments annually): A 2016 study found that the average American bought 68 garments and 7 pairs of shoes per year. There's no recent data, but fast fashion trends suggest this number may have increased.
  3. Keep electrical products for at least 7 years: The lifespan of electrical products varies, but most smartphones are still kept for only 2.5 to 3 years.
  4. Fly Less: (Take no more than one short haul flight every three years, and one long haul flight every eight years.) In 2019, the average American took about 5.3 trips per year, including both business and leisure travel. This number likely decreased in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but appears to be rebounding in 2023. Note however, that the lion’s share of flights are done by a small number of “elites,” not the public at large. In the U.S., according to EcoWatch, 12 percent of the population takes 66 percent of the flights.
  5. Own fewer personal motor vehicles: This number hasn’t budged for years. As of 2023, the average number of motor vehicles owned per person in the United States is approximately 0.8. This includes cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Of 275,913,237 registered vehicles in the United States, including both private and commercial vehicles, about 3 million are electric.
  6. Shifting to green energy: As of 2020, about 20% of U.S. electricity was generated from renewable sources. The trend is increasing slowly, but the majority of Americans still get their electricity from fossil-fuel powered plants. Only about 2 percent of homes are Net Zero.

The Industry Elephant in the Mix

It’s frustrating to observe how little people seem willing to do to stave off a possible extinction-level threat. But it’s not JUST individuals at fault.

The role of industry in CO2 pollution should not be understated. The U.S. economic system often promotes unsustainable practice and continued fossil fuel use. Many so called consumer “choices” are baked in to our current way of life: auto dependency, subsidies for low-nutrition foods, lack of alternative transit methods and so on. These systemic issues make it more challenging for individuals to make sustainable choices, even when they are aware and willing.

US CO2 emissions by sector in 2020

Addressing these systemic issues is crucial for achieving large-scale sustainable change. This involves not only changes at the individual level but also significant shifts in corporate practices, government policies and societal norms.

Storms and Solar Panels Accelerate Metal Roofing’s Rise

The U.S. residential metal roofing market is experiencing record-breaking growth, driven in part by climate extremes and solar compatibility.

By Darcie K Meihoff, Guest Contributor

According to the Dodge Report, demand for metal roofing in residential re-roofing has reached a record-high 18% of the total roofing market in the US in 2022, a 6% increase in just three years.

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What’s telling is that the biggest growth in sales happened in areas frequently hit by severe weather and climate extremes. It’s not just metal’s durability and fire resistance attracting buyers, however. It’s also considered an optimal surface for solar panels, because, like clay tile, EPDM rubber and concrete tiles, it won’t have to be removed long before the lifespan of the panels has expired.

metal roofs courtesy of MRA

courtesy Metal Roofing Alliance

"Consumers are simply tired of having to replace their roofs after just a few years or worry about whether they have long-lasting protection against monster storms, wildfires and extreme temperatures," said Renee Ramey, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance (MRA).

"We’re finding more homeowners are turning to quality metal roofs, not just for better, long-lasting performance, but also for metal’s more sustainable and low maintenance attributes.”

The MRA has played a significant role in raising awareness and understanding among U.S. and Canadian homeowners about the benefits of metal roofing compared to other materials. The organization offers a variety of resources and tools for homeowners, including a comprehensive Buyer’s Guide.