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Frontlines

Some thoughts on the battle to measure electricity consumption in real time.
Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 2000

PUC deferred that requirement for customers between 20 kW and 50 kW , so that today only those above 50 kW must have interval meters.

"The judge assigned to that case has asked a series of questions about whether load profiles have been beneficial or detrimental, and whether the exemption should be continued, and importantly, whether interval meters should be used for bundled customers below 50 kW. That ruling has smoked out preliminary positions among various parties regarding internal metering: what class of customers, what kind of technology, what kind of deployment?

"The PUC conducted a workshop on these issues in late June, and has asked for followup comments by the third week in September. These comments supposedly will form the basis for a PUC decision to be issued next spring."

"Basically," says Jaske, "we prefer a competitive deployment of metering systems as opposed to a monolithic utility deployment, especially for customers 50 kW and higher. But I myself have some ambivalence about what to do below 50 kW, and whether that kind of multi-system overlay doesn't just increase system costs."

Now, if you're following along with Jaske, you'll notice that by next spring, the PUC will have been pondering for three years whether to require real-time meters for customers below 50 kW. That's the meter biz.

Yet amid all this gloom, meter guru Howard Scott has found a silver lining. Scott, a managing partner at Cognyst Consulting, and the publisher of the well-regarded Scott Report (see www.thescottreport.com), writes as follows:

"After reading the SDG&E request to provide real-time energy meters, I've had a change of heart and have reached a different conclusion than when we last talked. A key reason is a factor not discussed in SDG&E's request.

"You see, as electromechanical meters get older, they become less accurate. It is very rare that they speed up as they get older. Usually they slow down. Older meters tend to not charge their customers for the full usage, thus saving them money.

"Now I see that in its request, SDG&E focuses on the 2 percent of large customers that it says consume 46 percent of the energy at system peak. Now if the meters of these large customers are under-registering energy usage, then the rest of the customers are paying for the uncharged energy. These unrealized charge-backs can be expensive to residential users if many large customers have inaccurate meters. In all likelihood, some of these large customers have meters with this problem."

So there you have it. If SDG&E should follow through and install those high-tech real-time meters, the savings to customers will come perhaps not so much from tailoring demand to avoid the price spikes, but because the plan will replace all those inaccurate meters that up to now have allowed large-volume customers to go "scott" free, subsidized by you and me.

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