Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meter-replacement project nears completion

Bobby Latham with TruCheck replaces an electric meter with a new, “smart” meter for Idaho Power on Wednesday, July 27. The new technology enables meters to be read remotely and provides more detailed information to customers.

A project to replace electric meters with "smart" meters is in its final phase.

Idaho Power, through its contractor TruCheck, is replacing the older technology with a new, digital version that allows for remote meter reading and provides more detailed energy-use information.

Idaho Power officials tout Advanced Metering Infrastructure technology—or smart meters—as a way for the company and customers to save money.

"Long-term, our costs were high enough to justify it just on the cost savings," said Mark Heintzelman, project manager.

Remote metering means meter readers won't need to access customers' properties to record meter information, saving on fuel and vehicle use.

The meters also will help Idaho Power deal with power outages more quickly and efficiently, Heintzelman said, because meters will be tied in to an outage management system.

A major thunderstorm can take out power in a large area, but there might be small outlying areas impacted as well. The technology can pinpoint affected homes.

"We can scope the outage before we dispatch anybody," Heintzelman said.

Second-home owners and homeowners on vacation can log on from afar to see if a thunderstorm has affected their homes.

"They like the sense of security," Heintzelman said. "They can call up their data and see if the air conditioning is still working."

A common question the company gets from customers is, "How could I have used that much power?" said Stephanie McCurdy, an Idaho Power spokeswoman.

Customers who register as an account manager on the Idaho Power website can check their hourly and daily energy use, typically with a one-day delay.

By reviewing their data, customers can identify peak-use hours and curtail energy consumption before being billed for that month's usage.

"It helps us work better with customers," McCurdy said.

Although data is transferred from meters remotely, the information is secure, Heintzelman said. Data is not transferred wirelessly.

Information is transferred from the meter to a substation via existing electrical distribution lines.

"It's a hard-wired system with encrypted software," he said.

Some of the old meters are being refurbished and sold to other markets. Demand for those, however, is diminishing, Heintzelman said. Most electric meters are being recycled or sold for scrap.

Meter replacement in the Wood River Valley is approximately two-thirds complete. The remainder is expected to be exchanged by the end of August.

Rebecca Meany:

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