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Meters Get Smart

You hear it everywhere: technology is racing ahead, and soon someone’s working on a “smart” version. Today, the tech in question is a system employing gas and electricity meters that calculates your energy usage. Over the next five years, Con Edison is replacing 4.8 million electricity meters with smart meters. A smart meter is a digital device that transmits your energy consumption to Con Edison via a secure wireless network. Patty Kim, project manager for Con Edison’s advanced meter infrastructure group, explained on the Con Edison Plugged In podcast the difference between current meters and smart ones.

“A smart meter looks a lot like what our customers currently have,” Kim said on the podcast, “except it will allow for two-way communication, which means that we can interact with the meters at our customers’ homes. More importantly, it allows our customers to have access to their granular data in 15-minute intervals.”

According to Con Edison: “Traditional meters and automated meters record total energy consumption, which we collect on a monthly basis. Smart meters record and transmit your energy consumption regularly throughout the day and will help us create a smart grid for the New York City area.” Smart meters will also immediately send alerts to Con Edison if there is a problem or an outage. Great – but changing meters will probably be a major headache for a co-op or condo with more than a handful of units, won’t it? And is the board responsible for scheduling everyone’s meter change? Does it have to educate residents and shareholders on the process?

“They don’t have to really do anything,” Kim told Habitat recently. “About 90 days prior to going out to our customers to swap out the meters, they will be getting a postcard, and it simply states smart meters are coming. On the back, it has some brief benefits of what a smart meter is. About 45 days prior to getting the new smart meter, the customer will receive a letter with some instructions.” Smart meters can eliminate one inconvenience. If the meter happens to be within the unit itself (instead of in the basement), the meter reader must make an appointment every month to gain access to the meter. That process can come to an end when a smart meter is installed. “It’s a really seamless and very quick installation process,” Kim says.

New York City and Los Angeles are several years behind the rest of the country in rolling out smart meters, says Kim, who adds that being late to the game has had its advantages: it allowed Con Edison to learn from others’ mistakes. “Because we’re one of the largest utilities to roll this out, starting last year, we have the most advanced system. We are going to be offering what’s called near-real-time usage, where the customer can go onto ‘My Account,’ which is the same software or app that we’ve been using from Con Edison’s perspective. It’s about a 24-hour lag, so if I dialed in at 10:15 A.M. on Wednesday, I can see what I was using in 15-minute increments on Tuesday at 10:15 A.M.” It gets even better: “As we keep advancing in this project, that near-time data will be available within about half an hour,” Kim says. “If it’s 10:15 now, if I were to dial in, and when this functionality does roll out, I’ll be able to see what I used at about 9:45. That’s what really sets us apart from all the other utilities.” Con Edison plans to roll out this feature in July or August of this year.

In addition, Con Edison will eventually be implementing a revamped “time of use” program, one that other cities, including Chicago, have started to great effect. With such programs, consumers are encouraged to wait until low-demand times to use energy-hogging appliances, such as dishwashers and vacuums. The problem here, according to one expert, is that many co-op and condo residents may not know – or care.“Time of use is pointless if no one knows about it,” says energy consultant and engineer Herb Hirschfeld. “If a [co-op or condo’s] direct meter is in the basement, residents won’t care enough [about being energy conscious] to check whether or not it’s a low-demand time before running a dishwasher or vacuuming.” All of the smart meters in the world won’t help reduce energy consumption if actual consumers don’t sign on. Boards should consider holding informational meetings once they get their notice from Con Edison, to educate residents about what the changing meters mean for their building specifically, and to introduce the concept of demand pricing and near-time data. To help, Con Edison plans to roll out various outreach programs to continue engaging our customers even after they receive their smart meter.


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