Smart meter plans filed with the PSC
SMECO submitted a filing with the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in June outlining the cooperative’s plan to replace existing electric meters with smart meters.
Smart meters measure energy use like standard meters, but smart meters are capable of two-way communication. They send energy usage information to the utility every day, and they send alerts when the power is out
or when voltage is too low or too high.
In March 2011, SMECO installed smart meters at 900 homes and businesses in a St. Charles neighborhood in Waldorf. About 1,000 smart meters have also been installed at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Webster Field, and the Navy's Solomons Recreation Center as part of the Navy’s privatization agreement.
Smart meters can help save money by reducing operational expenses because the cooperative will no longer have to send meter readers to homes and businesses every month to read the electric meter. Austin J. Slater, Jr., SMECO president and CEO, explained, “Having 15–17 people on the road every day driving around reading meters is going to be a thing of the past. As a co-op, everything we do is for our members, and now that we have proven technology that is safe, reliable, secure, and cost-effective, we want to move forward.”
To transmit data and communicate with the smart meters, SMECO uses the Sensus Flexnet system, a technology that relies on base stations which are located in SMECO’s substations. Slater said, “For the past year, we’ve been running the system through its paces. On average, SMECO contacts about 99 percent of the meters remotely for daily meter readings. Work that used to require 50 man-hours can now be accomplished in less than 10 minutes." He added, “Using up-to-date technology will make us more effective. We will be able to respond to power outages more quickly and efficiently. And after power is restored, we can use smart meters to verify that all customers in an area have their power back on.”
In the filing submitted to the PSC, SMECO outlined a schedule for full deployment of smart meters. Upon PSC approval of the Co-op’s plans, SMECO will select a company to install the smart meters. Installations will ramp up to approximately 10,000 meters per month, with the majority of smart meters being installed between June 2013 and May 2014.
David Johnson, SMECO’s Meter Operations Manager, has been working on this project since its inception about three years ago. “We’ve explored all of our options. We've completed cost-benefit studies. We’ve tested the technology. We are going to hit the ground running.” Johnson explained further, “Smart meters are part of our overall efforts to improve reliability for the long term. Customers won’t notice any immediate changes after their smart meter is installed. They won't see a meter reader every month, but they will continue to get their monthly bill like they do now.”
In addition to the schedule for full-scale deployment of smart meters, SMECO’s PSC filing outlines plans for a website that customers can use to access their energy use information. According to Johnson, “We are planning to provide daily updates to give customers information about their energy use that is easy for them to understand. If they want to actively manage their energy budget, they will have the tools they need.”
“Customers frequently call the Co-op because they believe their monthly bill is too high,” said Rose Pickeral-Brown, SMECO’s Contact Center Manager. “And it’s difficult for them to understand their bill if the only piece of information they have is a monthly meter reading.” She said she looks forward to improving the level of customer service the Contact Center Representatives can provide. Brown added, “When we have smart meters deployed throughout our system and the website is active, customers will be able to see how much energy they use every day. If they understand how their energy use impacts their bill, they will be able to learn how to save energy so they can save money. These improvements in technology will help us to improve our customer service.”