According to Mike Hervey, vice president of operations at LIPA, the new smart meters will give ratepayers the tools they need to conserve energy by providing them with detailed information regarding their actual energy usage and the cost of that usage. Armed with this data, consumers can make more informed decisions about how they are using energy. As consumers are able to conserve energy, less energy is consumed and less carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere as a result.
Smart meters provide advantages for utility companies also. Once the devices are in place, LIPA would have the ability to remotely monitor the entire electrical grid. Should problems in transmission occur, LIPA would be instantly notified of the issue and could dispatch work crews to address the problem right away. Without smart meters, LIPA depends upon calls from its customers to be made aware of local power outages.
Equipped with two-way radio frequency transmitters, the smart meters establish communication of information between consumer and utility company for the first time. The transmitters automatically send secure usage data streams over radio frequencies, said Hervey. The real-time usage information also gives LIPA the enhanced ability to forecast demand during critical peak loads. It is during these times that power consumption becomes most expensive as LIPA has to fire up backup energy generating sources in order to meet demand. Backup energy sources are almost always of the most polluting type also.
Funding for the project is coming from LIPA’s budget for capital investments, but it is expected that LIPA will recoup these costs from its customers. The utility will also seek funding from the federal government in order to defray the costs of the project. The smart meters themselves are expected to cost between $200 and $260 and LIPA may choose to spread these costs over a period of three years, or even up to ten years, according to Hervey.
The smart meter project signals an end for the traditional mechanical metering devices that have been in use since their invention in the 19th century. Smart meters will also signify the end of the human meter reader as the devices automatically send precise usage information to the utility company. Meter readers could only provide estimates of monthly power usage with the traditional devices.
Meter readers are currently employed under a contract to LIPA from National Grid. The workers provide readings for the National Grid gas meters and LIPA’s electric meters. National Grid is also working towards a smart meter plan for natural gas and has begun installation of those devices. While the installations are underway, work is being provided for the meter readers who are assisting. It is unclear what work will be available for the meter readers once all traditional metering devices have been replaced with smart meters.
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