Deploying “smart meters,” which have built-in technology that allows the power company to read the meters remotely and electronically, is key to the AMI initiative. With smart meters in place, power companies would no longer need traveling meter readers. Instead, smart meters would electronically transmit real-time customer usage data that power companies could use to make load-shedding decisions. Power companies could also activate service to a new customer or deactivate service to an outgoing or delinquent customer without having to go to the site.
Smart meters can also be made to serve as network access points for appliances in homes, businesses, and factories. This networking would enable outside monitoring and control, not only from power companies but also from major appliance service centers and security companies. Technology movers and shakers believe that these smart meters, serving as access points, could also provide Internet access, and be used by the power company or leased to service providers to bring in a secondary source of revenue.
On the consumer side, electricity-use monitors show homeowners, apartment dwellers, and small businesses their energy use and cost in real time or show historical graphs. Monitors can be handheld and wireless so customers can monitor energy use from anywhere in the house. For residences and businesses that have their own grid-tied renewable energy systems, energy monitors could be designed to include system production data.
Aztech Associates Inc. is among the companies working with smart meter manufacturers to provide customer-interface devices. The company’s in-home display shows the customer’s total power consumption in kilowatt-hours and dollars; daily usage for the last 30 days; totals for individual time-of-use periods; instantaneous or average demand consumption; and hourly usage for the last 24 hours. LS Research’s RateSaver monitor is capable of communicating with special portals within electric meters to display current energy consumption, utility rates, billing history, messages, alarms, temperature, and time. Google is even getting into the act with its PowerMeter. Its display can be added to a personal iGoogle Web page that shows how energy is being used in the home. Scheduled to be released later this year, customers will be able to access energy consumption information relayed from smart meters, so long as their power company has joined Google’s PowerMeter program.
Part and parcel with smart grid/AMI is to create smart loads that can be monitored and controlled by the power company. Smart loads are appliances and machinery that can communicate through the smart meter with the power company. This enables the power company to monitor these internal loads and, when necessary, deactivate them temporarily to help prevent brownouts or blackouts.
Load: HVAC Systems
Smart Solution: Radio-Controlled Thermostats
Power companies know that brownouts can be avoided if they can remotely control heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems throughout a region, since these systems pose major loads. During times of peak energy usage, such as hot summer afternoons and cold winter nights, a grid is often on the verge of overload. Instead of brownouts and rolling blackouts, these HVAC loads can be turned off for short periods of time, rotating throughout the region—without inconvenience or discomfort to the customers. The device that makes HVAC remote control possible is the radio-controlled thermostat (RCT) control, wirelessly linked to the smart meter.