David O’Brien was appointed president and chief executive officer of Toronto Hydro Corporation on 5 July 2004.

In this interview with Smart Energy International, which took place during the 2007 Smart Metering Canada Conference, O’Brien reviewed Toronto Hydro’s smart metering initiative.

What is the context of Toronto Hydro’s smart metering initiative?

david o brien

The smart metering initiative was approved for a number of reasons: metering technology is now sufficiently advanced to make them reliable, they support timeof- use (TOU) rates and we foresee that critical peak pricing (CPP) should trigger peak load shifting. The metering and communications technology will provide timely information feedback to customers. These factors will support Ontario’s development of a ‘culture of conservation’.

What are the specific challenges in realising this project?

To meet the Premier’s target of 2010, we have to install more than 15,000 meters each month, every month, for almost four years. Approximately 100,000 of our existing meters are inside customers’ homes, making access difficult and time consuming. Advance testing to ensure billing accuracy is critical, but it also tightens the timelines. Customer education is essential – and must be done in advance! There is clearly no time to lose.

What preparation was involved?

To assist the government, the Coalition of Local Distributors (CLD) moved early to develop meter specs and a Request for Proposal from vendors. In July 2006 the utilities were able to issue orders to a variety of vendors, based on the CLD’s advance work and the decision to use Elster Meters was taken, as was the assessment that wireless mesh networking seemed to work best in the dense Toronto area. Meter installations are now proceeding in urban areas and the government will meet its first target of 800,000 meters installed by 2008.

What were the criteria guiding the specification process?

It was key that the meters must meet the Ontario Smart Meter Infrastructure specifications and that data collection performance was adequate for LDC data volume. Another essential element was that the communication performance could meet physical and topography requirements. We required high reliability of meters, network, and software system. Ease of installation and maintenance was vital to us in order to minimise resource costs. Our selection was based on life-cycle cost, and not just system and meter costs.

A rollout of this magnitude must require significant attention to operational issues; how are these being managed?

Well, we have installed 200,000 meters already and our goal for year end is the installation of 400,000 residential smart meters. We have established a team that has developed a work production/installation baseline, and we have implemented rigid project management reviews. Pilot tests of customer education programmes are under development and these are critical for actualising the full potential of the technology, particularly from a conservation perspective.

We are also developing a pilot test for customer communication strategies and are preparing our billing system for TOU billing. The actual rollout of TOU billing is ultimately what is going to drive conservation. Smart meters will not automatically result in energy conservation. However, if customers use the information provided by the smart meter, they will be able to adjust their consumption patterns to reduce their electricity usage or shift their electricity usage to lower rate periods.

What role have the pilot programmes already played?

We have already implemented two very successful pilots: the 10/10 and the Peak saver. These are residential and small commercial load control programmes which have been effective in reducing summer peak demand and allowing for load control by cycling air conditioners without causing discomfort. We have 28,000 customers registered to date and our target is to have 40 MW under control by next summer.Our customers’ responses have indicated that they have a high level of interest in conservation.

What does the future look like in the short-term?

The current priority is to prepare the Call Centre to handle increased call volumes, which could increase by 25% or more. We will also continue testing meter technology to stay up to date with advances. The tariff structures will be set shortly and we need a real time presentment tool on the web in order to engage the customer. Ultimately what we are doing is to maximise smart meter technology for operational improvements such as outage management, while developing load profiles of various customer segments for targeted customer service offerings. Mass deployment of smart meters will continue through 2010