VINALHAVEN – At recent hearings in Augusta, the Maine Public Utilities Commission focused on the potential health effects of “smart meters.” Almost lost in the noise were the numerous benefits that customers of Central Maine Power stand to gain from their new digital meters.
So-called “advanced metering infrastructure” represents the greatest innovation in metering technology since the Thomas Edison era. Smart meters promise to revolutionize the way we think about electricity as well as how it is generated and delivered.
As an environmental activist and former utility regulator, I can’t wait to see the benefits of advanced metering. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Improved service reliability. Tired of having to call CMP when your power goes out, and sometimes waiting days for service restoration? With advanced metering fully activated, automated outage detection software will swiftly dispatch repair crews to trouble spots.
2. Reducing electricity’s environmental footprint. Electric generating plants are a dominant source of the greenhouse gases and pollutants that degrade our air quality. Smart meters can facilitate new ways of pricing electricity that reward customers for curtailing peak power use. That can help reduce the need for new power plants and transmission lines.
3. Rewarding wise usage. With old-fashioned Edison-era meters that tally usage on a monthly basis, there’s no way to tell what time electricity is consumed. Homes with pool pumps and big air conditioning loads are subsidized at the expense of other customers. By tracking hourly usage, smart meters can help to undo old inequities in the way retail electricity is priced — with low-income customers and frugal users among the likely winners.
4. Curbing costly peak loads. Smart-meter data provides new tools to control costly summer peaks, which require investment in facilities that are needed only a few days each year. When some consumers curb peak power usage, CMP can reduce its wholesale power expenses, with savings shared among all customers.
5. Managing price spikes in electricity markets. Shaving those system peaks will help to control spikes in wholesale electricity prices, introducing competitive discipline into power markets.
6. Promoting clean energy. By rewarding wise energy use, advanced metering infrastructure and smart pricing can encourage customers to save energy around the clock via energy-efficiency measures. Smart meters also make it possible to compensate renewable energy sources like solar that produce electricity on hot, sunny days — when power is especially valuable.
7. Empowering customers. New pricing structures can give customers more choices about how to manage their electricity use and utility bills. Knowing the value of electricity at a given time, a customer can choose how much to use, with help from enabling technologies like smart thermostats. Unlike traditional utility load management programs, the customer controls the switch!
8. Gateway to new tech-nologies. Getting electricity prices right opens opportunities for a whole raft of new technologies. Besides on-site generation of solar energy, smart pricing can promote plug-in electric vehicles and smart appliances, as well as new apps to help customers manage their electricity use.
9. More efficient distribution systems. Without actual data on customers’ maximum loads, utilities have had to supersize their distribution equipment in order to ensure reliable service. The precision provided by advanced metering infrastructure will enable CMP to size its equipment sparingly, offering savings to customers and the environment.
10. More efficient metering and billing. With advanced metering infrastructure, CMP will receive meter readings securely through a dedicated communications network, thereby reducing metering costs and improving billing accuracy, with fewer estimated bills. Furthermore, service connections can be handled remotely, savings customers both time and money, while reducing environmental impacts and expense associated with “truck rolls” to customers’ premises.
Imagine new opportunities to manage your electricity use, reduce your environmental footprint and save on your utility bills. Besides empowering consumers, advanced metering infrastructure promises to “green” our electricity system and make it more resilient. Your new smart meter is your gateway to the emerging power grid for the 21st century.
Maine consumers have legitimate reasons to ask how they will be affected by advanced metering. Customers who choose to opt out of smart meters will have to forgo advanced metering infrastructure-enabled features that can help them to manage their energy use and control their utility bills. Once they’ve heard the whole story, however, I’m confident the vast majority of consumers will embrace their new smart meters.
Rick Morgan served on the District of Columbia Public Service Commission from 2003 through 2011. A Washington, D.C., resident, he spends his summers on Vinalhaven.