Soon Duke Energy Corp. customers in Charlotte, North Carolina will be able to know the cheapest time to wash a load of laundry or even how much it costs to iron a shirt. Smart meter technology will give customers the information they need to make better decisions regarding their personal power consumption. Duke Energy is currently deploying smart meters in customers’ homes and installing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technology to enable these informed consumer decisions. Smart meters work with AMI to provide two-way communications between consumer and utility provider. A central computer will process the transmitted data to reveal information about power consumption trends that Duke Energy can use in forecasting demand.
In the future Duke Energy is hoping the technology can be used to cycle on and off appliances within customers’ homes that are equipped with special sensors enabling network manipulation.
Household appliances that require a lot of energy, like clothes dryers, being used during off-peak times would reduce a lot of stress on the local power grid and save Duke Energy money when power generation is not required to meet consumer demand. Customers would have the ability to opt-out of the automated system but may face a bill surcharge for doing so.
These plans are all implementations Duke Energy’s Save-a-Watt energy efficiency strategy. The North Carolina Utilities Commission, the state energy regulatory committee, plans to review the strategy that provides a way for Duke Energy to realize profits by generating less electricity.
Save-a-Watt would keep Duke Energy from having to construct costly power generation plants in the future. Coal-fired plants, a major source of carbon emissions, provide for over half the energy to the utility’s customers.
In a study released January 9 by the U.S. Department of Energy, the use of smart meters in 112 homes resulted in a 10% electric bill reduction as customers made better-informed decisions regarding their power consumption.
This week Duke Energy installation crews replaced traditional electric meters in a Charlotte neighborhood with smart meters from a manufacturing company based in San Jose, CA. The replacement is a simple process where the old meter is removed and replaced with a smart meter; requiring no further installation as the new meters are fully compatible with the system.
So far over 250 smart meters have been deployed and more are added each day. Immediate plans call for 7500 of the devices to be installed in the Charlotte area and all 4.3 million Southern Company customers to have smart meters online within the next five years. Southern Company is the parent company of Duke Energy.
According to another US Department of Energy study, the widespread installation of smart meters throughout the United States would result in a savings of $70 billion realized from reduced power grid infrastructure costs. The United States depends heavily on coal-fired plants for power generation. Not only would the US not have to build these power plants, but the carbon emissions that these plants would generate would never occur.
Plans are in place throughout the US to implement smart meter technology. According to Sam Lucero, a consultant for ABI Research based in Scottsdale, Arizona 45 million smart meters by be needed by 2011, only 3 years in the future. By the end of 2007, 15.8 million smart meters had already been installed and that number is expected to jump to 61 million in 2013, according to Lucero.
Duke Energy customers that choose to participate in the Save-a-Watt program would automatically be enrolled in a program that allows air conditioning to be cycled on and off during times of peak demand in the summer. Currently, energy customers in the area receive an $8 a month break on their bills for participating in a similar program that already allows the utility company to turn off their air conditioners but that price break will no longer be a part of the program. Customers will see their monthly bills reduced and it could add up to more than $8 a month, especially considering that in trial runs customers, on average, saw their bills reduced by over 10%.
Real-time monitors installed in customer homes in addition to the smart meters will allow for real-time monitoring of energy consumption by individual household appliances. Once consumers are able to process this information, they will make better decisions about energy consumption.