Upgrading the Grid, One Step At a Time

Most of us have heard of the smart grid and have some sort of hazy understanding of it as moving the power grid into the digital age. Technologies that automatically communicate usage data to power providers make it possible to diagnose system problems quickly, provide better customer services, and improve the efficiency and reliability of the grid.

This recent post describes the need to give consumers a variety of options in order the successfully modernize the power grid.

On a trip last month to Lane Electric Co-op in Eugene, Oregon we were able to hear about their experience on the frontline of progress.

In 2006, the small electric cooperative began deploying an automated meter reading system for its 12,500 meters and 12 substations. Since then, according to Dave D'Avanzo, manager of member services, the system has paid for itself and then some.

"Going with the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system meant we could replace all of our aging meters," says D'Avanzo.

Lane's contracted meter readers weren't always consistent in their data gathering. And the 40-year old electromechanical meters had accuracy problems, too. For a fair percentage of the meters, the accuracy rate was only about 80 percent, and in a few cases, as low as 17 percent.

Since deploying the new system, revenue is up thanks to more accurate readings and billing. Also, their service crew no longer has to do a lot of follow-up work, re-readings, accuracy checks, and the like. "You don't want to use trained servicemen as back-up meter readers and collection personnel," notes D'Avanzo. "With the AMI system, they're doing the work they trained for; we're able to know right away what's going on with the system and deploy resources to the affected area."

Another advantage of the system has been greater transparency about energy usage for Lane's mostly residential customers. Members can monitor their daily energy use and adjust their habits accordingly. They can also get daily usage alerts via email, text message, and phone calls. The prepaid metering or pay-as-you-go program allows customers to pay for their electricity before they use it, so participants can customize their payment schedule.

"We've really just scratched the surface in terms of what the system can do," says D'Avanzo. "In the future, we hope to offer even more options for members to participate in energy efficiency and demand response programs; tools for people to control their energy use and help the system work as efficiently as possible."