By Jim Greer
Across the US, technology is sweeping away reactive, one-way electric grids in favour of proactive, intelligent systems that put consumers in control of their electric use. President Barack Obama’s national call for an upgraded electric grid adds even more urgency to the transformation.
In Texas, Oncor is moving past ideas and concepts to execution. Thanks to a supportive regulatory and legislative environment and established cost recovery methodology, Oncor is leading the drive to reinvent the way consumers use energy through the Smart Texas® initiative. Smart Texas, Oncor’s term for the transformation of the state’s largest transmission and distribution system into a sophisticated, interactive electric grid, is well underway. Smart Texas broadly describes many, interwoven technological advances and services that improve reliability and customer service.
Smart grid initiatives, such as Oncor’s Smart Texas, will give consumers the tools they need to understand the how and why of their electric bills, real time. The ability to monitor electricity use around-theclock promises to be both empowering and revolutionary.
By the end of 2012, Oncor will replace every standard meter in Oncor’s system, more than 3 million overall, with advanced meters. Each week, Oncor installs 30,000 advanced meters. By yearend, Oncor expects to have installed nearly 700,000 advanced meters, one of the largest and most comprehensive meter upgrades in the nation. Oncor’s interactive meters are state-of-theart, latest-generation devices that allow consumers to see their electricity use every 15 minutes through home monitors or one-day, historical data presented on a web portal.
Last year, Oncor launched an extensive consumer education campaign to show 7 million Texans how Oncor’s advanced meters will change their lives. The Smart Texas Mobile Experience Center, a 1,000 square-foot trailer with interactive teaching zones, travels around the state visiting festivals and events. Consumers learn the benefits of technology and advanced meters through interactive displays and kiosks. In 2008, the Smart Texas “mobile classroom” educated more than 22,000 visitors.
One of the most popular stops in the Mobile Experience Center is a kitchen island where an electronic monitor, an energy use “speedometer”, communicates wirelessly with an advanced meter system and illustrates dramatically just how much energy appliances are using, what the electricity costs, and how the power is priced.
Smart Texas also refers to one of the most expansive high voltage line construction projects in the nation. Oncor expects to build more than 850 miles of transmission lines, a renewable energy super highway, to move wind power from West Texas to the state’s major population centres. Oncor’s planned lines are part of a state master blueprint to double wind generation in Texas through Competitive Renewable Energy Zones. Texas is the nation’s leading wind producer with more than 8,000 MW of clean energy capacity in production today. Constructing a fast lane for renewable energy to be delivered to the rest of the state creates a vast new source of clean, renewable energy for Texans.
Automation, using technology to automatically detect outages and restore power to consumers, is another Smart Texas innovation. Oncor pioneered the development of automation and technology to improve service and reliability. Today, Oncor has more than 700 smart switches that talk, collaborate and react to outage threats, reducing the number of outages and improving reliability. Oncor also operates a Static VAr Compensator, a fast-acting voltage booster that keeps power flowing to the Dallas area. Eventually, consumers won’t have to pick up the phone to call in power outages. Advanced meters and switches will know, within a few blocks, where to send repair crews.
Oncor’s Smart Texas initiative is opening the door to immense possibilities for consumers. Studies conducted around the world have consistently shown that consumers reduce overall energy use by 5 to 15% when they know exactly how much power they are using. Simply giving consumers the information they need to make better decisions results in more effective personal energy management.
Global and national studies show that consumers will save if they have the right tools. If advanced meters were in every home and business in the United States, electricity demand could be reduced by 140 million MWh annually or about the annual consumption of New York state. In Texas, the same 10% reduction could save more than $1 billion annually. That translates into savings for consumers, about $200 annually for Oncor customers per household or about $16 per month. Payback for smart meters in Texas is about 16 months. After that, the savings go directly into consumers’ pockets.
With an electric grid that functions more like a computer, Oncor foresees a day when consumers will have the option to shift their daily activities to hours when power is less expensive. For example, winds blow primarily at night in West Texas, making clean, renewable energy from wind farms readily available. Consumers could choose to help the environment and get a break on their electricity prices by doing some chores at night rather than during the day. By shifting electricity use to the evening or off-peak hours, new power plant construction could be delayed or shelved, protecting the environment and reducing emissions.
A proactive, interactive electric grid is starting to take shape in Texas. Within a few years, an expanded transmission system will remove bottlenecks to delivering renewable energy produced by West Texas wind farms to major cities. By the end of 2012, Oncor’s advanced metering system will be in place, setting the stage for a new era in personal energy management and grid diagnostics. Sophisticated switching systems with the ability to sense potential faults and automatically switch from one power source to another are already improving service and reliability. When the state of Texas completes its Competitive Renewable Energy Zone projects in 2013, the amount of wind power produced in the state will double.
In coming years, smart grids could encourage development of fleets of plugin hybrids and electric vehicles. When charging at night, electric vehicles have the potential to store lower-priced electricity generated off-peak. As more wind power is produced in Texas, consumers with electric vehicles will increasingly fuel their cars with clean wind energy. A smart grid, with the capability of understanding the peaks and valleys of power demand, enables this type of innovation.
The future promises even more changes and innovations. Already, appliances are being designed with digital chips able to talk to advanced meter systems. These smart appliances will give consumers the power to decide when to wash dishes, dry clothes or cook food at the lowest possible electric rate. Energy management systems, common in businesses, could move into the home, turning lights and fans on and off, adjusting the temperature, around the clock. With smart grid technology as a launching pad, new products and services will move from the design to production phase at warp speed.