San Diego, CA, U.S.A. --- (METERING.COM) --- March 14, 2012 - Smart Energy International Excellence Awards 2012 for North America have been awarded to Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), the City of Barrie, Fortis Alberta and Southern California Edison (SCE).

Smart Utility Award: Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD)

SMUD is undertaking a comprehensive smart grid project, founded on a rollout of smart meters for its 600,000 customers. To support the project SMUD received a $127.5 million grant from the DOE – the largest for a California utility.

SMUD’s project stands out for its forward thinking approach, including the wide range of appealing and informative informational material developed for its customers, both residential and commercial, as well as its employees and contractors. These have included both print and visual as well as online materials. Nor has the communication remained static but has evolved along with the project. The meter installation appointment letter resulted in a one hour appointment window with greater than 95% success at meeting the window, and was updated regularly as new customer concerns came about. Among the other materials has been a brochure on how to read the smart meters and brochures to recruit “opt in” customers for SMUD’s Smart Pricing Options programs.

SMUD’s ongoing SmartSacramento project also includes partial deployment of advanced distribution grid assets, and field test of plug-in electric vehicles and charging stations. Among the latest new programs launched is an Advanced Lighting Control program offering business the opportunity to save up to 75% energy savings from their lighting.

Smart Water Utility: City of Barrie

Barrie is a medium sized Ontario city (current population – 140,000) which has experienced considerable growth over the last decade or more (including being cited as the fastest growing city in Canada in two of those years).

Since taking over the responsibility for the drinking water supply in Barrie, the city has invested heavily in water conservation efforts, which has resulted in a steady decline (by about 4% per year) in average per capita usage rates – now 75% of the median for Canada.

Modernization as well as preparation for ongoing growth pressures has been a key driver for the implementation of new technologies. In mid-2011 Barrie completed and commissioned its Surface Water Treatment Plant, which will augment its overall supply capability. The plant employs several new technologies, including ultra-membrane filtration, and houses both the on-site training centre as well as the meter quality and repair shop.

Additionally, in 2011, Barrie transformed from walking route monthly electronic water meter reading to full scope radio transmitted water meter readings, read every 15 minutes, and brought the billing effort in house – cutting the cost from contracted reading and billing by some 50%. Barrie customers can now securely access their own water usage records on-line to assist them in implementing water conservation techniques. This project has resulted in significant cost savings and improved customer service.

Customer Engagement: Fortis Alberta

FortisAlberta approached its automated metering project encompassing the critical areas of customer service and achieving operational efficiency and environmental gains, while being cognizant of the impacts to ratepayers.

One of the impacts on customer service is reduced call volumes at least for FortisAlberta’s default retailer (EPCOR Energy Services Alberta). With a 40% reduction in call volumes EPCOR is to consolidate its call centers, in part due to “improved customer data flow.”

Automated metering has also resulted in a significant reduction in the number of miles travelled each year by meter readers resulting in reduced gas usage, reduced wear and tear on local infrastructure, and reduction in the potential for customer concerns related to property access and damage issues related due to manual meter reading.

While there is a significant cost to implementation of an automated meter reading system the long term benefits are clear on many levels. Annual operating costs for manual meter reading are reduced significantly. The potential reduction in operating costs related to government required testing of meters will also impact the rate requirement.  

The nominee comments that he believes the project was handled extremely well, balancing the needs of the customer, regulator and company in achieving maximum results for this type of initiative. Managing the project, while being attentive to the concerns and needs of the interested parties, resulted in a successful project with a great deal of collaboration.

Technology Innovation: Southern California Edison

SCE is one of the first utilities to internally design, build, and run an operations center to manage its large-scale smart meter and communications network. SCE’s Edison SmartConnect Operations Center (SOC) serves as the central point of responsibility and accountability for SCE’s meter and communications system operation and performance, providing triage and trouble analysis, and service support.

The SOC also plays a critical role in the area of usage management by providing service to SCE’s grid operations through over"the"air voltage checks as well as accurate power outage information. These reads can be performed in a matter of seconds and allow SCE field personnel to respond to customer problems while still on the scene, reducing the time that customers are without power. As an example in the December 2011 wind storms in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley that affected more than 400,000 customers. SOC performed approximately 2,000 over-the-air integrations to assist in service restoration for customers and avoiding a significant amount of truck rolls.

In 2012, the SOC will execute one of the largest over-the-air upgrades ever performed when it updates the firmware on approximately 4 million meters.
   
The organizational transformation embodied by the groundbreaking SOC has and will continue to positively impact SCE’s ability to improve operations and deliver energy more safely and reliably to its 14 million customers, as well as to help SCE better address its customers’ needs.

The Awards were supported by AT&T and presented by David Douthit, the company's principal, Industry Solutions Practice - Utilities.