Pepco Smart Meters to Make Smarter Use of Energy
Smart meters will help households to monitor electricity usage, and will let Pepco know when the power is starting to fade (or when it's out completely).
Measuring your household’s electricity usage will soon get a lot easier, thanks to Pepco’s new “smart meters,” which the utility company has begun installing on Maryland properties.
Smart meters are electronic devices that send low-powered radio signals to Pepco to report on electricity usage at 15-minute intervals, reported Maria Cowan, a Pepco engineer, and Ken Farrell, a Pepco manager, at a meeting of the Village of North Chevy Chase Council on Tuesday, Nov. 15.
While current electric meters must be read every month by a meter reader, the new smart meters will send the data directly to Pepco, and—once the region’s meters have all been replaced and the system is up and running—customers will be able to access that data through their online Pepco accounts.
That way, customers can track their household’s peak energy consumption times.
And, if a customer has an energy-guzzling operation to perform (such as charging up a smart car or running all the air conditioners in the home, full-blast, at the same time), the customer can figure out when is the best time to run each operation so that the system doesn’t short-circuit.
Even better, Pepco plans—in the near future—to offer credits to customers who use less energy at peak times. The details of those credits are still being worked out, Farrell said.
Pepco is hoping to run a pilot program next summer with about 5,000 customers to test out new rates of energy usage and “allow the utility to give a credit of some sort to those customers who we can tell use less [energy] than others,” Farrell added.
But, perhaps best of all, the new smart meters will let Pepco know when the power is starting to fade, as well as when it’s completely out, so that Pepco can act more quickly to restore electricity. Once the smart meter system is fully operational, customers won’t have to keep Pepco on speed dial during a storm—Pepco will know when you’ve lost power.
Installation of the new smart meters will continue in Maryland through the spring of 2012. (Smart meters have been installed in most Washington, DC, homes already.) The installations will be done by Scope Services, whose employees will dress in t-shirts with the Scope logo on them and in khaki pants, and will drive Scope trucks.
Customers will receive letters in the mail letting them know when Scope Services will be in their neighborhoods to replace the meters.
For customers with meters inside their homes, Scope employees will schedule appointments with property owners or tenants for smart meter installation.
The special features of the smart meters will not be operational until all of the region’s smart meters are connected to the new smart meter system. Meter readers will still need to read the meters on a monthly basis, and customers will still want to call in to Pepco when their power is out, Cowan and Furrell said.
Some Pepco customers do not like the idea of the smart meters, however, because of the signal that the smart meters emit. Customers cannot opt out of the smart meter program.
But, Cowan countered, the smart meters operate on a radio frequency of 900 megahertz, which is less than a smart phone, Cowan said. And, the smart meters will operate for only a few seconds a day, when they send “quick bleep[s]” of information over the radio signal to Pepco. (The bleeps happen every four hours, but each one lasts for only a split second.)
The rest of the time, the smart meter is “basically a dead meter,” Cowan said.
Editor's note (Friday, Nov. 18, 8:45 p.m.): This post has been corrected. The original post stated that bleeps of information are sent from the smart meter to Pepco every 15 minutes, when, in fact, the bleeps happen every four hours. Also, the original post stated that installation of smart meters would begin in Maryland in the spring of 2012, when, in fact, the installations have already begun.