PG&E seeks approval to upgrade Smartmeter technology


Helen Burt, Senior
Vice President & Chief
Customer Officer, PG&E
San Francisco, CA, U.S.A. — (METERING.COM) — December 13, 2007 – Pacific Gas and Electric Company is seeking approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to begin installing next-generation high-tech electric meters during the next phase of its ongoing SmartMeter™ program. The new meters will offer both an expanded range of service features for customers and increased operational efficiencies for the utility. For example, the new devices would support integration of new capabilities and emerging technologies such as home appliance automation.

“The advanced metering industry has come a long way in just a few years,” said Helen Burt, senior vice president and chief customer officer at PG&E. “Features that previously were uneconomic or unproven have become cost-effective and more reliable. The upgrade will take an already strong SmartMeter program to the next level, by enabling further customer service improvements, more operational efficiencies and more options for customers to conserve energy and save on energy bills.”

Specifically, PG&E is seeking to upgrade its residential meters from the traditional electromechanical analog technology to new solid state digital meters, which have become increasingly cost-effective within recent years. The new solid state devices accommodate additional data-communications functions including built-in remote load-limiting, connect-disconnect switches and home area network gateway devices for control of home appliances.

In the request that has been filed with the CPUC, PG&E outlined the expected benefits and showed that operational efficiencies and reduced power purchasing expenses would more than offset the cost of SmartMeter technology upgrades.

PG&E began installing SmartMeter units in Bakersfield in November 2006, after receiving CPUC approval in July 2006. The company’s goal is to install 10.3 million SmartMeter electric and gas meters for all customers by 2012.

Recognizing that the technology will continue to evolve, the CPUC has directed PG&E to regularly monitor emerging meter technologies and consider upgrades to the program. In the two years since PG&E filed its first SmartMeter application with the CPUC, the industry has continued to mature and prices for meter devices have decreased while functional capability has increased significantly.

The current SmartMeter program enables PG&E to read meters remotely and offer rate options that encourage conservation and help customers save money. It creates powerful demand response programs to help reduce electric usage during critical times and will allow the utility to better detect power outages. The upgraded meters will further expand energy conservation and demand response options for electric customers, including a new Peak Time Rebate program, which will automatically award rebates to customers for reducing energy usage on critical days. The upgraded meters will enable enhanced energy information tools for customers such as real-time energy usage data.

Built in connect-disconnect switches will also allow PG&E to quickly turn on or turn off electric service, without causing a delay to customers or costing PG&E a service visit.

With the upgraded meters, PG&E can better respond to load reduction directives from the California Independent System Operator by confirming that key energy using devices have responded as well as to aid in the quantification of the amount of demand response achieved.

PG&E estimates that future savings made possible by the new technology will more than offset the cost of the initial investment, which is expected to require $360 million of new funding from 2009 to 2013. The average rate increase for the residential class as a whole varies each year, but will go no higher than 1.1 percent for the highest year. If the CPUC approves PG&E’s request, bills for bundled electric customers who use less than 130% of their baseline allowance would not increase. The bill for a typical bundled customer using 550 kWh per month would increase $0.26 from $71.92 to $72.18.

The proposal has not been well received by all stakeholders, however. For example, the Utility Reform Network believes that California’s electricity prices are already too high, and points out that while 26 cents per month may not seem onerous, the additional charges may not stop there. The California Public Utilities Commission is considering a proposal to raise utility bills by 30 cents per month to pay for a new climate-change research institute operated by the University of California.