Monday, March 16, 2009

Smart meters from the utility

We are one of 3,000 Connecticut Light & Power customers who will take part in its smart meter pilot project this summer.

The smart meter, which the utility installed last week, will track our electricity usage by time of day between June 1, 2009 and August 31, 2009. Those dates make sense, because that's when refrigerators and air conditioners work hardest.

But everyone already knows that demand for power goes up during summer. Why do we need a smart meter to tell us what we already know?

Because the smart meter tells the utility what present meters don't: How much power we use at specific times during the day. And it allows CL&P to bill us more for electricity we use during the peak hours of noon to 8 pm.

Theory being, when we see how much power we use in the daytime, and how much extra it costs us, we'll be more responsible about our energy usage. Let's see if it holds true in practice.

Actually, we know the smart meter is going to cause our electric bill to rise this summer. The $100 incentive from the power company should just about cover the additional cost, leaving no net monetary gain. So why did we agree to participate in the project? Just doing our bit for the environment, I guess.

Here's the bigger picture. The smart meter is the critical link between the production and consumption ends of the smart grid. It's what tells the utility how homes and businesses really use electricity.

Even though the smart grid is years or even decades away, smart meters help utilities today better manage and predict demand. That means more reliable power, with fewer burps and blackouts.

And smart meters enable utilities to reward those consumers who can be flexible about how much electricity they use -- and when.

It's a small step. But from small steps are revolutions made.

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