How Smart is Your Electric Meter?

Michael Giberson

“Some of the argument centers on just how smart a smart meter needs to be.”

That’s a line out of a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer about smart meters and the upcoming special legislative session on energy beginning in Pennsylvania next week. Governor Ed Rendell is pushing for a retail real-time price option and a smart meter requirement.

[Peco spokeswoman Mary Rucci] said Peco’s current meters would allow real-time pricing with a $40 million upgrade. But she said the utility’s cost would rise to $300 million, nearly $200 per customer, if it were required to install a higher-tech meter capable, for instance, of ratcheting back a home’s air-conditioning when power prices soar on a hot summer day.

Much of the story is about existing programs at Peco’s Chicago-based affiliate ComEd:

ComEd’s experience in the Chicago area, with a meter that costs the utility $140 apiece, suggests that motivated customers can learn to respond to power prices, much as cell-phone users have learned to shift optional calls to off-peak hours.

Program participants such as Hennelly cannot read up-to-the-minute power prices off their meters, nor can they rely on the meter to ramp down their power consumption. But they don’t have to.

Instead, ComEd’s contractor for the program, Comverge Inc., makes pricing information available online, through a Web site called www.thewattspot.com, the source of Hennelly’s refrigerator charts. For customers who want the no-brainer approach, Comverge will use radio controls to temporarily cut back their homes’ air-conditioning when prices rise past a predetermined level.