Monday, December 13, 2010

Smart Meters in the News

From the Daily News:

Wave of the Future
MLGW demo brings households into tech progression

Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division is in the process of installing 1,000 high-tech smart meters in homes across the Mid-South as part of its three-year Smart Grid demonstration project. The devices should prove especially useful since it is estimated that MLGW households use 36 percent more electricity than the national average.

A little more than half of the meters have been installed in the past few weeks, and MLGW hopes to complete the rest before the end of the year.

“All signs point to this being the wave of the future. It’s the natural progression of technology,” said MLGW Supervisor of Communications Glen Thomas. “Millions of smart meters are being installed all across the nation thanks to support from the federal level.”

The installations are being funded by $1 million from the 2010 MLGW budget, which was approved by the Memphis City Council in late 2009. Slightly less than 1,000 homes are included in the demo, with some larger homes receiving two meters.

Advantages for customers include the ability to personally monitor energy consumption throughout each month. Meters will be automatically read, eliminating the need to send someone out to read the meter, and any power outages will be communicated automatically to MLGW. Additionally, customers no longer will be subjected to estimated electric meter readings due to bad weather.

“The greatest benefit of smart meters is real-time information,” said Thomas. “People will be able to make decisions throughout the month to reduce how much energy they are using. The meter alone will not reduce monthly bills, but it will help customers make more informed choices.”

Ken Hudson and his wife, Barbara Standing, are among the first Memphians to have the smart meters installed. The installation takes as little as five minutes and involves simply pulling out the old meter and plugging in its new, digital replacement.

“Our utility bills average $130 to $140 per month in the summertime and can run as high as $250 in the winter for our 1,200-square-foot home on Mud Island,” said Hudson, who is an accredited Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - or LEED - architect at Architecture Inc. Downtown. “My wife is the principal property owner. She will be the main energy user and monitor since she works from home for a nonprofit organization.”

MLGW selected SmartSynch Inc. of Jackson, Miss., as the vendor that will provide the majority of the components for the Smart Grid demonstration, including the smart meters and in-home energy displays. Roughly half of the demo volunteers will receive a free in-home display, which will be delivered by the end of the year.

The displays can be unplugged and carried throughout the house to test individual pieces of equipment and appliances to see exactly how much energy each one is using. Participants without the in-home display can still monitor their usage online through a new section of MLGW’s website.

“Memphis made a very smart choice in choosing cellular as a communications network. It’s cheaper, faster and more expandable,” said Chris Myers, SmartSynch’s chief operating officer. “The cellular market has really shifted over the past 12 to 18 months. Prices have dropped nearly 95 percent in the last two years, and it’s now extremely cost-effective for utility companies to use the bandwidth of the robust cellular networks that are already in place.”

The meters transmit quick bursts of data as compared to cell phone usage, and they use a microscopic amount of bandwidth. Homeowners should not have to worry about the meter failing to transmit data because the meters’ antennas are four times as powerful as those on cell phones.

SmartSynch works with about 140 different utility companies across the country and is in various forms of testing with about 60 others.

The Smart Grid demo is one of three distinct components to the MLGW’s Smart Grid enhancement, which is funded by money from the federal government as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The other upgrades will include the construction of a fiber optics communications system throughout Downtown and the medical center as well as the installation of 40 automated switches to help reduce the number of people affected by power outages across Shelby County. The fiber optics system is expected to improve reliability, and it is estimated to be completed by next year.First South Financial Credit Union is in a unique position among financial institutions. It recently tweaked its name to underscore its depth, and it’s eyeing sites for future growth. It also boasts of no employee layoffs since 1957 - even amid the recession.

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