How Smart Can You and Your Local Electricity Grid Get?

Smart Meter Projects

PHOTOS: William Sweet

The Main Thing

The essential feature of every smart electricity distribution system—though it may not look like much—is the smart meter. This one, installed on a test-and-demonstration house in Boulder, Colo., is made by Landis+Gyr, but every major meter manufacturer offers them.

 

In California and Texas alone, utilities are spending around US $6 billion to equip customers with meters that can tell them how much electricity they are using at any given time and—in some cases, where time-of-day real-time pricing is in effect—how much they are paying for it. Utilities receive real-time alerts of area outages and information useful for site-specific diagnostics.
Adoption of smart metering is a big enough trend to have substantial spin-off benefits for related businesses. Gartner guesses that 150 million meters may be installed in the next five years, generating $2 billion in orders from semiconductor makers; Texas Instruments believes the chip demand could go as high as $7.5 billion.
All four major mobile telephone providers in the United States and several of the biggest overseas are highly involved in developing systems to provide inexpensive communications with smart meters. Google has devised a free, Web-based service, Google PowerMeter, to help consumers track and analyze their energy use. Siemens is among the companies hashing out a special XML communications standard that would be suitable for meters under the aegis of the World Wide Web Consortium.

Here are some of the notable projects.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is conducting an experiment in which customers suitably equipped with smart meters will be rewarded for reducing peak-load usage at a rate of $1.50 per kilowatt-hour cut.

EnergiMidt, one of Denmark’s five largest electricity distributors and a customer-owned cooperative, is equipping all 170 000 of its residential users with smart metering. Finland’s Eltel Networks, a partner of Echelon Corp. in San Jose, Calif., has the contract to provide IP-based meter data management systems.

Florida utility FPL is installing 1 million smart meters in Miami and may eventually put in as many as 4.5 million throughout the state. The Miami program will include trials of home dashboards, smart thermostats and appliances, and energy-saving software. GE is supplying meters and appliances, while networking technology comes from Silver Spring Networks and Cisco.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is spending $2.2 billion to install more than 5 million smart electric meters in California by 2012. A smaller group received programmable thermostats, showing impressive reductions in peak electricity demand.

Pepco Holdings plans to give advanced metering to all its customers in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey by 2013.

Texas–New Mexico Power Co. (TNMP) is installing 10 000 meters, with technical assistance from SmartSynch and T-Mobile; residence-utility communications will be handled by AT&T Mobility.

This sidebar was updated on 1 July 2009

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