Are utilities ready to really engage customers, and get them to care about more than just whether the beer stays cold? Or will we turn our focus away from customers, because we don’t know how to...
I Want My In-Home Display
Consumers await a revolutionary interface.
meters by the end of 2010.
“We started with a pilot back in 2005 and are now moving into full implementation,” says Rick Stevens, director of the smart metering initiative at Hydro One, the largest of Ontario’s 90 distribution utilities. The company already has 500,000 smart meters up and running, and is on pace to have all its 1.2 million customers converted by 2010.
“We have a long-range supply plan in Ontario,” Stevens says. “We have an aging nuclear plant, and coal facilities that our government has chosen to take off line. We’re looking at a total investment in the area of $70 billion over the next 20 years. We could build more generation, or we could try to balance supply and demand by creating a culture of conservation. Smart meters are one element of that, because it provides price transparency to customers.”
Although Hydro One’s smart meters have the ability to interface with in-home displays via a ZigBee wireless connection, the company is probably a couple of years away from implementing the technology on a wide scale. It’s currently testing in-home displays in just 25 homes, and plans a larger 1,000-home pilot within a year.
The company, however, has demonstrated the conservation impact of real-time displays.
Hydro One installed 30,000 displays—it calls them “power cost monitors”—in 2005. The monitors are connected wirelessly to the older analog meters and feature LCD displays that show real-time cost and use information. They also have a light strip that strobes faster as consumption increases. The strip changes color according to peak rates: green when power is cheap, yellow in the mid range and red at peak cost.
“It gives the customers information so they can make the direct connection: red and fast is bad, green and slow is good,” Stevens explains. “It’s basically an electricity speedometer.”
The tool has proven effective. The displays, combined with time-of-use rates, have resulted in a 6 percent to 7 percent conservation rate. But as a government-owned utility, the company’s smart metering is driven by conservation policy, not competition, so the move to in-home displays likely will wait until the entire province has been converted to smart meters and time-of-use rates.
A couple thousand miles to the southwest, the Salt River Project (SRP) also is constrained in its development, albeit for totally different reasons. Despite moderate attempts, meaningful deregulation has not taken off in Arizona, so direct competition is not a driver for utilities there. Efficiency is the main imperative behind SRP’s smart-meter program.
Since 2005, the company has upgraded 300,000 meters, and plans to have all its 935,000 customers on smart meters within 5 years. The transition already is paying off.
“Last year we avoided 169,000 field trips,” says Jennifer Collins, a customer service analyst at SRP. “We saved about 56,000 labor hours, prevented about 339,000 miles driven and conserved about 33,000 gallons of fuel.”
With no need to compete on products, SRP has no current plans to offer a robust in-home display. Interested time-of-use customers are limited to checking usage patterns online. The company does, however, have a