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Smart Meters: What’s the Buzz?

on February 29, 2012 - 12:00am

DPU News

While many smart meter advocates are enthused by the cost savings that smart meters can bring to electric customers, opponents are often concerned about protecting the privacy of their electric usage data.

“There is irony in the privacy issue,” said Los Alamos Dept. of Public Utilities Manager John Arrowsmith. “If a smart meter eliminates the monthly need for a utilities meter reader to be stepping around your property, that could be viewed as an enhancement to privacy. It depends on the individual’s definition. "The Board of Public Utilities and our 311 Customer Care Center continue to receive inquiries from citizens and civic organizations concerning smart meter issues,” he said.

Most inquiries focus on:

•         The cost-saving benefits that smart meters can bring customers and the DPU.

•         Smart meters’ ability to enhance energy conservation and curb greenhouse gas emissions.

•         Smart meters’ ability to help shorten power outage duration, thereby increasing reliability.

•         The prospects for implementing smart meters here.

“Some smart meters can let a utility customer know exactly when they’re using energy, what it costs, and with this information customers can make smart decisions to reduce energy use and their bills,” explained Deputy Utility Manager for Electric Distribution Rafael de la Torre.

The two-way communicating smart meters are installed to bring energy-saving programs and better efficiency to homes and businesses.   There are about 30 million smart meters of varying capabilities installed in the country, with another 30 million committed over the next few years, according to industry executive Chris King of E-Meter.  Utilities in those states which lead for smart meter installation (Delaware, Idaho, California and Texas) are using smart meters to analyze energy usage data, process it, and customize energy efficiency programs for their customers.

Here in Los Alamos, smart meters are still on the drawing board, but studies are planned. Arrowsmith explained, “Most conversations about smart meters involve the electric utility.  However, as a provider of four utility services (electricity, water, natural gas and wastewater) it would be important for the DPU to implement smart metering for all services if we were to reap the efficiencies and cost savings that electronic meter-reads can deliver.

“At this stage of the technology’s evolution, we would have a slim chance of procuring and implementing smart meters for natural gas and water consumption that might work seamlessly with smart meter systems for electricity.  The products just aren’t there yet.  As a result, when we explore smart meters’ potential for our customers, we would probably begin with the electric meter, as that is the most mature market. Because we would still need to manually read meters for water and gas, the electric smart meter would not bring the DPU an immediate efficiency and cost-savings.  But it could provide useful information to the customer to help them lower their utility costs through greater awareness.”

With many interdependencies, DPU officials acknowledged that studying and developing a set of proven technologies and a proven implementation pathway for smart meter system components (such as the meters themselves; the communication protocols via a Home Area Network (HAN) and a Neighborhood Area Network (NAN); a Home Energy Management System (HEMS), user-friendly web interfaces for customers; and time-of-use pricing) would be critical to rolling out the new technology in a way that maintains quality of utility and customer service.

De la Torre said, “It’s a big subject and a bigger challenge, but the DPU is educating the public as we study possibilities to support the community now and explore diversified choices for our community’s future.”  More smart meter information, posters, and articles are available at the DPU’s  lobby display, “Smart Meters- What’s the Buzz?” located at 170 Central Park Square. Or visit the following links for more information:

Smart Meter Installations in U.S.

http://205.254.135.7/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=108&t=3

  • A Smart Meter Use Case    

http://energy.gov/articles/smart-meters-help-balance-energy-consumption-solar-decathlon

  • About Smart Meters and the Smart Grid

http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/oeprod/DocumentsandMedia/DOE_SG_Book_Single_Pages%281%29.pdf

  • About the Growing U.S. Smart Meter Market

http://www.smartgridinformation.info/pdf/4603_doc_1.pdf

The Department of Public Utilities (DPU) operates the county‐owned electric, gas, water & wastewater systems under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Utilities. The Board meets the third Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. and the public is always welcome. Stay up to date with the DPU by subscribing to the monthly Board Meeting Recap email newsletter at www.losalamosnm.us/Pages/Subscribe.aspx.  The DPU is funded by rates paid for electric, gas, water and wastewater services and auxiliary fees, and has provided the community with these services for more than 40 years. Contact: DPU@lacnm.us, 662.8333 or 311 or visit www.losalamosnm.us/UTILITIES


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