April 20, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
Money is starting to move in the market targeting municipal power utilities aiming to read citizen power usage remotely through automated meters. In October 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) subsidized 100 utilities with $3.4 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for smart grid initiatives. Smart grids use the aforementioned meters, along with other technologies, to cut the costs of delivering energy and alleviating demand.
Glendale Water and Power (GWP) of California recently hired Tropos Networks to build a high-speed broadband mesh network for connecting GWP to the meters. The municipally owned utility won $20 million in smart grid stimulus money last October. Adding that to funds already secured for the project equaled $51 million. Roughly 12 percent of the power GWP produces goes untracked, meaning people could be using that power without paying for it. Through automated meters, the utility expects to cut the rate of unpaid usage by around 4 percent, according to Craig Kuennen, spokesman for GWP. Catching that usage and charging for it could lead to additional revenue, he explained.
The meters will also enable citizens to measure their own power usage on a daily basis. The information could empower them to reduce their power bills by showing when to conserve energy.
"The meters are just the first step. We'll have Web portals to access information. The stuff on the Web will be from the day before, but we'll also have in-home displays that will be more real-time," Kuennen said. The utility plans to deploy the meters fully by September 2010, according to Kuennen. Down the road, GWP hopes to use the meters to detect power outages automatically before citizens report them.
As part of GWP's smart grid initiative, the organization plans on deploying meters for detecting water pipe leakages.
"Leaks have a very distinct sound, and they'll be able to listen to the sound in the pipe over time, and, depending on what the sound is, they can tell if there is a leak and how bad it is," Kuennen explained. "You could send a crew out to investigate before it becomes unmanageable."
The updated IT infrastructure will also play a role in an experiment designed to reduce the strain of peak-hour air conditioning on the grid. GWP plans to deploy roughly 200 machines at local government buildings that will make ice during the middle of the night for cooling later. The devices would use the ice to cool the buildings during peak hours, which requires less power than traditional air conditioning, according to Kuennen. GWP will monitor and operate the units remotely, using the smart grid.
The initiative will be implemented in phases starting with a demonstration of the smart meter project components in spring 2010, according to a GWP announcement. The first phase includes installation of a meter data management (MDM) system powered by Itron Enterprise Edition MDM. The project will include 1,000 smart power meters, 500 smart water meters and 300 in-home displays.