By the end of 1996, the 400,000 urban customers of Kansas City Power & Light Co. (KCPL) will enter a new age of technology.
A real-time wireless network will bounce readings from small transmitters installed in the existing meters of every home and business in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area back to computers at the utility's customer services office.
Say goodbye to traditional meter readers, and hello to technology that will bring distribution systems out of the Dark Ages in terms of customer service.
"It's the price of admission for being in the power delivery business," says Charles R. Cole, KCPL's vice president of customer services. "If you don't have an automated data system, you're not going to be in the game."
KCPL's executives believe the new radio and cellular network will greatly improve the company's ability to control its power distribution, manage its load requirements, monitor outages, and in the not-too-distant future, enable the utility to provide time-of-use (TOU) and offpeak pricing.
KCPL signed a 20-year contract with CellNet Data Systems Inc. of San Carlos, CA, to install and operate the new technology. While there have been limited demonstration projects elsewhere, the KCPL contract represents the first systemwide, commercial application of wireless automated meter reading (AMR) by a U.S. utility.
Cole is enthusiastic about the conversion to the wireless AMR system. It's a way to "add value to the kilowatt-hour" and "the key to having a competitive advantage" at the distribution level. To Cole, automated data systems represent more than just a passthrough of efficiency gains or lower operating costs to customers.