The View from the Volt: Miles Risks Safety While Talking Smart Power

BY Jenny Marder  July 13, 2012 at 4:30 PM EDT

Last week, a powerful “derecho” storm hammered the mid-Atlantic region, snuffing out power during the peak of a sweltering heat wave for nearly a week in some homes. Days later, our science correspondent Miles O’Brien traveled to Austin, Tex. to look at a neighborhood that operates on a smart grid. That means it’s much less prone to losing power – and A.C. – during a mass outage.

The neighborhood, with its 300 homeowners, is built on the site of the old Mueller airport near Austin. It is part of the Pecan Street project – a four-year-old non profit with a goal of deploying smart-grid technology.

Think buried power lines, solar photovoltaic power systems, sophisticated digital meters and state-of-the-art thermostats.

Miles reports on the project on tonight’s NewsHour.

“People in these homes have tremendous, minute, every-15-second data on how they use energy,” Miles says, in the video above. “They can log on and see their production of energy through their solar arrays, and their exact consumption at any given moment.”

The Fisher family, which is featured in the piece, for example, has yet to experience a single power outage, he reports in the piece.

Some other smart meter installations run by utilities have drawn protests – including one scheduled in Austin today. Opponents, who range from some AARP members to Tea Party activists, have complained about privacy concerns, health issues, billing inaccuracies and the difficulty of opting out of the program. Spencer Michels will be looking at that story next week on the NewsHour.

Meanwhile, at the Pecan Street project, residents are busy tracking their energy consumption, even as they charge their plug-in Chevy Volts. While on site, Miles borrowed one of those electric cars, and we talked to him as he cruised the neighborhood. A Texas traffic violation? That’s still unclear.