Another factor holding back the adoption of smart appliances and smart grids is what Gohn and other industry watchers call the "Bakersfield effect" -- distrust of smart meters by consumers and consumer advocates. In 2009, the California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) conducted a pilot test of smart meters in Bakersfield, Calif., during which a perfect storm of rate increases, record temperatures and other factors caused utility bills to go way up, not down. As a result, state legislators blocked future smart grid deployments temporarily, although some California cities including San Francisco are now starting to deploy them.
Ironically, says Gohn, later analysis showed that the smart meters did track power usage more effectively. The problem, he explains, is that the new meters are extremely accurate. Older meters tend to fudge how much energy a home is using, to the advantage of the homeowner. But replacing them is better for the environment, because they more accurately reflect your energy usage and can show you where to make adjustments to reduce your energy consumption (for example, by suggesting that you turn down the heat at night). And if you do make such adjustments, they could ultimately lower your energy costs, even if your costs go up initially.
Eventually homeowners and municipalities will see the value of smart meters, says Gohn. He predicts that smart appliances will become popular by 2014, at which point adoption rates will begin to grow by 40 percent to 50 percent per year.
Personal, autonomously driven rapid transport
In late June 2011, the state of Nevada passed a law that would allow driverless cars on its roads, pending the Department of Motor Vehicles' development of regulations governing how the cars should operate on public highways. Those regulations were approved in February.
California looks to be headed in the same direction: The state senate in May approved a bill that would establish standards governing autonomously operated vehicles. Other states, including Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma, are considering similar legislation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Already, Google has put specially outfitted self-driving Toyota Prius models through test drives that covered 140,000 miles in northern California. A driver was always on hand to take over during the test drives, and there was only one minor fender-bender during the pilot, and it was caused by human error. Autonomous driving could cut the number of accidents in half, says Sebastian Thrun, a Google engineer.