Photo: Melanie McMullen
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, last year U.S. electric utilities had about 70.8 million Advanced (smart) Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installations. About 88 percent of the AMI installations were residential customer installations. This data includes AMI meters that measure and record electricity usage at a minimum of hourly intervals and provide information automatically to both the utility and the utility customer at least once a day. AMI installations range from basic hourly interval meters to real-time meters with built-in, two-way communication capable of recording and transmitting instantaneous data.
A key driver for the installation of smart meters is that they allow individuals and businesses to understand how their energy consumption patterns correlate to financial costs and savings. The San Francisco Bay Area city of Alameda, CA, is one of the most recent cities that made the transition to a smart grid system for both residential and commercial customers of its local utility, Alameda Municipal Power (AMP).
In March 2017, AMP launched a program entitled, Energy inView, with the aggressive goal of updating existing energy infrastructure to align closer with thresholds outlined in the city’s Climate Action Plan. A primary goal within Alameda’s Climate Action Plan is to decrease the region’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 15 percent by 2020.
A core component to the city’s plan was an overhaul to smart meter technology for the entire city by December 2017. Converting to smart meters encourages individuals to be more proactive in energy, allowing them to be aware of their personal usage of energy in their homes and for commercial purposes in businesses. When individuals see numerical data associated with their daily and long-term energy consumption patterns, they’re more likely to engage in behaviors that lessen their impact on the environment locally and globally, according to AMP officials.
Energy inView Program
Installation of these smart meters began in spring of 2017, and the city chose solution provider Professional Meters Inc., (PMI) based in Morris, IL, to replace existing analog meters that had been the norm in Alameda for the past 60-plus years. The smart meter project was funded through capital improvement monies originating from the sale of AMP renewable energy credits.
The new smart meters provide two-way communication between AMP and customers, allowing for accessible data and transparency about energy consumption for both parties. AMP’s meters use a low-powered RF, which operates in the 902-928MHz frequency.
According to AMP, the benefits of the Energy inView program are:
- Greenhouse gas reduction. Data from smart meters is directly sent wirelessly to AMP. Since AMP no longer drives to houses or businesses to collect data from every meter, the city will experience a decrease in vehicle-originated GHGs.
- Faster outage response. Data is automatically sent to AMP when a power outage occurs, which means power can be restored sooner.
- Potential new rate options. New smart meter technology provides AMP the opportunity to give customers new rate options in the future.
- Deployment of mobile options and account management tools for customers. AMP is in the process of developing mechanisms to be used for mobile payment options. The customer can receive text notifications about payment due dates and up-to-date energy usage per hour.
To facilitate adoption in the community, AMP released instructions to residents that describe how to read the new smart meter. It outlines the information and data fields that are captured and sent to AMP.
Image: Alameda Municipal Power
Encryption and Security
Since these smart meters will collect and store more data per customer than the former infrastructure did, AMP wanted to ensure that customers’ information and usage data is secure. AMP has publicly stated that these smart meters contain the same encryption technology used by ATM machines and Internet banking sites. No customer-identifying information—such as names and addresses—is stored in the meters or transmitted across the network.
Data for customers’ energy usage will be transmitted to AMP through a wireless network comprised of several layers of security. AMP also confirmed that they collaborate directly with federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to stay up-to-date for security and privacy standards.
Rolling Out Smart Meter Programs