Consumers Energy, based in Jackson, Michigan, is investing $500 million is advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) that will allow its customers to take advantage of the latest smart meter technology. The system will integrate smart appliances into the system so customers have complete control over their energy consumption.
During times of peak pricing, a signal will be sent to a smart meter installed in the customer’s home. The smart meter, in turn, notifies the smart thermostat to turn down, or turn off, the air conditioner. Other appliances and lighting throughout the home could also be controlled in this fashion. Information detailing the current price of energy, as well as the level of consumption in the home will be displayed either on a display device or home computer that communicates with the smart meter.
Consumers Energy will begin installing the new system over the next few months. "We want to give customers choices," said Maureen Trumble, director of Consumers Energy's AMI program in an interview with mlive.com. "They are going to have a lot more information."
Beth Fields, the program manager for the project, said that smart meters will provide the crucial communications link between consumer and energy provider – a link that has never existed before. “It helps customers understand what they are buying,” said Fields.
Dan Bishop, spokesman for Consumers Energy, said the AMI system represents the company’s effort to comply with the 21st Century Energy Plan that has been submitted to state lawmakers. He also stressed the need to conserve energy and tap renewable energy sources. “This is to fulfil the promise we made to Michigan,” said Bishop.
Beginning in February, Consumers Energy will install around 6,000 smart meters in Jackson County, Michigan in a project lasting until June. Customers destined to receive the devices will be notified of the scheduled installation by mail. Next year the devices will undergo testing and in 2011 smart meters will be deployed throughout the state.
To educate the public on how the new system will function, the company has dedicated a Smart Services Learning Centre at its Jackson County office. The centre has been designed to depict a typical apartment complete with living room, kitchen, utility room, and appliances but with smart technology installed.
Mark Lesiw, load management senior program manager, said that AMI will enhance the utility’s relationship with its customers. As more advanced technologies become available in the future, they could be integrated into the AMI system being deployed now. “We’re building the infrastructure to a new system like the Internet,” said Lesiw. “It’s a big change for the industry.”
Customers will have the option to manage their own energy consumption or can allow Consumers Energy to do it for them. Participating customers can expect to save up to 10 percent off their energy bill. “You can set your home to react to all the different prices we have,” added Lesiw.
The utility will no longer rely on its customers to report power outages either. The smart meters will send a “last gasp” signal, just before power goes out, in order to pinpoint the problem and find an alternative route for power.
Customers can choose to ignore the new system, but they will still experience the enhanced customer service when they contact the company with inquiries regarding the bill. Precise answers will be available.