Island's electric company rolls out digital meters

Island's electric company rolls out digital meters

Michele Ellson
smart meters

Alameda Municipal Power is installing digital meters in a few hundred homes and businesses as a precursor to a planned Island-wide rollout. Photos courtesy of Alameda Municipal Power.

Updated at 4:52 p.m. Tuesday, January 27 in BOLD

Alameda Municipal Power is taking its first steps toward a future where digital meters will transmit electricity use data wirelessly to the power company’s Grand Street headquarters and meter readers will be a thing of the past.

The electric company – which claims to be the oldest public utility west of the Mississippi – started installing digital meters at Alameda’s 300 biggest businesses this week, and has plans to install more at 135 existing homes.

“Advanced meter technology is necessary to help modernize Alameda’s electric infrastructure to prepare for the future,” Glenn Steiger, the utility’s general manager, was quoted as saying in a press release.

The estimated cost of setting up the meters Island-wide is $10 million to $12 million, Alameda Municipal Power spokeswoman Rebecca Irwin said. A full-scale conversion for the utility’s 34,000-plus customers is 24 months to 30 months away, Irwin said.

The utility will keep one of its three full-time meter readers on deck in case an in-person visit is needed, she said, adding that the readers will be retrained to perform other jobs at the utility.

Most of Alameda’s electric grid was installed in the early 1900s, and the analog meters the utility uses now have been the industry standard for more than 70 years. Managers at the power company have been watching how other utilities, like PG&E, are faring as they install “smart grid” systems dotted with digital meters – and making plans to set up a similar system here.

The power company’s managers said the wireless systems will be superior to their analog counterparts because the real-time data they collect will give power users a more finite sense of how much power they’re using, and when – data customers will be able to access online. The new meters will also better measure the amount of power customers are using, which they said will mean more accurate bills.

The digital meters will be able to troubleshoot unexpected surges in power use and also, when outages occur, and they’ll be more secure than the existing meters. They’ll also have a nifty digital display, which will be easier to read.

Utility officials said the data provided by the new meters will tell customers with electric cars how much energy their chargers are using (they’ll be on separate meters from residents’ homes), while those with solar panels will be able to see how much power they are using beyond what they’re generating, and when.

The additional data will allow the utility to implement new, voluntary pricing plans that offer cheaper rates to customers who limit their power use during peak periods, when the cost of electricity is the highest.

“Advanced meters will help us monitor the Island's entire load more closely, but they will also help customers see their usage in real-time along with the current price being charged for that power – which could be an incentive to turn off some lights or appliances,” Irwin said.

The meters are about the same size as the ones currently mounted on homes and commercial buildings, and will be installed in the same places those meters are installed now.

The small-scale pilots are being put in place to troubleshoot for potential problems like conflicts with other digital devices transmitting at the same frequency as the meters. But advances in technology that have standardized software, data management systems and communication formats have mitigated some of the potential problems the utility might have faced earlier on.

The meters have sparked concerns about privacy, and the safety of the radiofrequency waves they transmit. While they collect data on usage much more frequently than a human meter reader, they won’t have information like your name, or what devices the electricity is used to power, they utility’s managers said.

That said, residential customers’ meters will have a feature called ZigBee, which will allow customers who have home area networks that link digitally enabled appliances and devices to see data on those individual devices’ energy use.

A frequently asked questions page posted to the utility’s website says the meters generate radiofrequency fields of less than a watt – less than cell phones, microwaves and baby monitors, and far less than the exposure levels the federal government has deemed hazardous.

“Several independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies have found that the low-strength radio frequency emissions from advanced meters do not pose a health hazard,” it says.

Additional information on the meters is available on Alameda Municipal Power’s website.

Comments

Submitted by old native (not verified) on Tue, Jan 27, 2015

Hello Big Brother. Goodbye privacy.

Submitted by Smarter Native (not verified) on Tue, Jan 27, 2015

Hello poor analogy; goodbye intelligence.