Wednesday, December 24, 2008

HECO/Sensus smart meters, smarter than they look

When Hawaiian Electric and Sensus Metering Systems announced a plan to put “smart” meters all over O'ahu, Maui and Hawai'i, Hawai'i media outlets missed or underplayed the significant piece of this scheme.

The new meters are way smarter than they at first appear.

Sure, they're wireless, meaning the electric company can get billing information without having to send its meter readers out in cars. Just 19 towers scattered around the islands will be able to monitor the meters.

But the communication won't be just one way.

“This is an enabling technology. It's going to give the utility and the customers more options,” said HECO's Darren Pai.

The proposal to put the “FlexNet wireless smart grid solution” meters in place requires state Public Utilities Commission approval, and any changes in service and rates will also require approvals. But its capabilities appear to be remarkable.

The utility can check on its grid any time. It can reconnect disconnected services remotely. It can diagnose trouble spots far more quickly and efficiently, thus improving reliability for the consumer.

The new meters can be provided with upgrades via the wireless system of their firmware—the programs that run their electronics.

For consumers, there is the potential of much greater control over electrical use and the power bill.

As an example, Hawaiian Electric could establish different rates at different times. With higher rates during peak hours, and low rates when use is low, the utility could shift demand—and reduce the need for new power plants.

For the consumer, being able to shift water heating, ice-making, electric car charging and other high-demand uses to cheaper times means savings.

Example: If you have an electric-backup solar water heater, and the family finishes showering at 7 p.m., the water heater is going to turn on to provide you with hot water in the morning. But that will be near the peak utility electrical use—the big generators will be operating near capacity. There would be no downside to shifting the heating a few hours later, and you could help shift the utility's peak and reduce your bills as well.

In the nearly impenetrable words of the press release from Hawaiian Electric and Sensus: “These features will support new pricing and demand-response initiatives to help customers manage their own electricity use by taking advantage of various pricing options, and programs designed to enhance energy conservation efforts.”

That kind of flexibility is also key for the implementation of large-scale renewable energy efforts. It could be used to shift load to times when intermittent renewables are available—when the sun's shining for solar, when the trades are blowing for windpower, when the swells are significant for wave power.

HECO's Energy Solutions Vice President Karl Stahlkopf said the deployment of the smart meters will help achieve the goals of the state's Hawai'i Clean Energy Initiative, helping encourage expanded use of renewable energy.

For more on Sensus and its Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), see

©2008 Jan TenBruggencate

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Before we get into this smart technology stuff let's get some smart people first. When returning to the islands after a hiatus of forty years I thought "this is like Florida forty years ago". Living in Northern California I experienced only one blackout in forty years. This was during the Loma Prieta earthquake. During the summer there are over 1000 lightening hits per day. Lights still burn. Parts of California did experience brown and blackouts but this was due to power sellers manipulation.
Let's get back to your smart technology for HECO meters. This technology has been around for over twenty years. The cable companies use it to control your programming. Signals come through the cable not wireless. Just a matter of mode of delivery. But with all this technology they won't let you select just the programs you want. They say it's too difficult but they can give you on time movies for a few more bucks. It's simple you fill out a form like when voting, blacking out the boxes of choice. A machine reads it, calculates your account and sends the signal down the line and charges you accordingly. Senator McClain was supposed to be working on it but it got killed.
Technology is great but it depends what end of the dog is wagging its tail: the purveyors or the consumers.