B.C. smart meter program enters final stages

In BC, the provincial electrical utility is at the forefront of the Internet of Things. BC Hydro is at the tail-end of a multi-year smart meter rollout, and is already achieving significant savings from its program.

Smart meters represent one of the biggest opportunities for the Internet of things (IoT). The idea of connecting together smart devices that communicate with each other automatically is fast gaining traction. Cisco, one of its biggest proponents, believes that 50 billion devices will be connected in this way by 2015.

Smart meters carry huge environmental potential, according to experts. These devices, which relay energy consumption information quickly back to a utility’s servers, could globally reduce carbon emissions by 2.03 gigatons, worth US$124.6 billion, according to a study by the Climate Group.

BC Hydro began installing smart meters in July 2011, and the company said that it has now given 99 per cent of customers a smart meter. This means that 1.9 million new meters have been installed to date, according to the utility.

“We are now in the final stages of completing our new metering system and the program remains on track for completion for late 2015,” said BC Hydro spokesperson Greg Alexis (the original business case suggested a 2012 completion date).

“Once complete, the modernised grid will help BC Hydro improve our management of the electricity system, lower costs, reduce theft, encourage conservation and automatically detect outages,” he added.

Until the smart meters were installed, the utility had to rely on customers calling it to inform it about outages, BC Hydro has said. Today, it can use monitoring information from the meters to give it greater visibility.

The meters offer a variety of benefits to users, the firm claims, including analytics. The meters collect electricity use hourly, encrypt it, and collate it, sending it to an intermediary data collection device three times a day. Those collectors aggregate data within local communities and then send it back to BC Hydro’s servers.

Customers can then log onto their MyHydro accounts and view their energy consumption, while also comparing it to previous years.

The business case for the BC Hydro smart meter program also calls for a Home Area Network, so that the smart meter can send data to an optional in-home display that provide them with real-time energy use information.

The firm claims that 97 per cent of customers with smart meters are getting automated bills, saving the utility the cost of sending out a meter reader to do it manually.

Perhaps this is why BC Hydro has provided disincentives to customers who choose to keep their old meters or operate new ones with the radio off. Its ‘Meter Choices’ fee, approved in April, will slap ‘radio-off’ customers with a $20 monthly fee. Those continuing to use their old meters will fork over $32 per month. Such is the price of progress.

The firm also hopes that in the future, the two-way communications abilities offered by smart meters will enable it to support new rate structures to encourage energy conservation, although it has said it doesn’t need to introduce time-of-use rates, because it already has enough capacity thanks to its hydroelectric power resources.


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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradburyhttp://www.wordherder.net
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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