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article imageSmart Meters are wave of the future for power grid says PG&E Special

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By Jonathan Farrell     Nov 23, 2012 in Technology
South San Francisco - As the winter months approach no doubt more people will be turning up the heat. Yet more demand causes heating bills to rise. California's Pacific Gas and Electric views "Smart-Meters" as the wave of the future.
Paul Moreno of the PG&E Smart-Meter program talked with this reporter while on assignment for the Peninsula Progress about the importance of having a Smart-Meter installed. "Smart-Meters are the foundation for a smart power grid," he said.
"These meters allows for more accurate readings of power usage in hourly increments. This actually helps customers save money and help’s PG&E provide better and more efficient service," he said.
Knowing and understanding energy use and peak power demand times is crucial in helping customers manage their energy bills. Having a Smart-Meter system also helps power and utility technicians pin-point where problem areas occur during a storm or power-outage.
The work to upgrade meters to the new system is about 94 percent complete for the Peninsula region and PG&E hopes to have the work done by next year.
Since Smart-Meters were introduced more than five years ago, in 2006, full acceptance by customers has been met with resistance. Claims by customers that meters don't work properly or are not accurate have been publicized.
This past May protesters showed up at a PG&E shareholders meeting to demand that the $75.00 set up fee and the $10.00 per month maintenance fee be stopped for those who opt-out of the Smart-Meter system. Yet as Moreno explained, "Smart Meters are much more efficient, accurate and cost less to maintain than the old meters."
Moreno noted that while customers can 'opt-out' Smart-Meters are "the foundation of the future" with over 8 million Smart-Meters in use nationwide and over 90 million in use throughout the world.
Smart-Meters can also help detect when appliances are using up more energy than they should. "Old appliances, 10-years or more use up more energy than new models," said Moreno. "And, as they get older their energy efficiency diminishes."
Smart-Meters can monitor spikes in energy use and can help customers plan their energy consumption. Peak hours of usage are between 2 in the afternoon and 7:00 in the evening, depending upon the season. "Believe it or not”, noted Moreno,” during most of the year, the power-grid is underutilized."
Programs like Smart-Rate can help people can save money and energy when they operate their heavy appliances before the peak-demand hours. Heavy appliance use would include washing clothes, dishes, and vacuuming.
Summer is perhaps the most energy consuming as people rely more on cooling and refrigeration systems. Moreno said that Smart-Meters help consumers - both households as well as businesses monitor their energy use and that saves money.
"Our goal is to help conserve and better-manage energy use. The answer to better managing the grid is to use energy more wisely rather than to build more power plants," said Moreno.
It looks as if Smart-Meters are here to stay and while analog will hang around for a bit longer with the 'opt-out' choice, Smart-Meters are more reliable, contrary to what those opposed to Smart-Meters believe. One reason for their efficiency is digital and wireless technology.
Smart-Meters do transmit or communicate wirelessly. "Yet if radio transmitters breakdown, each Smart-Meter unit continues to tally and calculate data individually," said Moreno. "This way technicians will still be able to collect the information manually," regardless of network malfunctions.
Some groups have expressed concerns that Smart-Meters might be transmitting harmful amounts of radio and electro-magnetic waves, such as The Health Dept. of Santa Cruz County.
Yet, PG&E officials insist the new meters meet current safety standards. According to the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Report (issued last year in 2011), within distances of three to ten feet, Smart-Meters would not exceed this limit. However, CCST did not account for the frequency of transmissions, reflection factors, banks of Smart-Meters causing a fire. In those cases like in Philadelphia and Chicago, it was not the Smart-Meter unit itself, but the way it was installed and connected. Moreno noted that PG&E goes through a series of procedures that checks every aspect of the Smart-Meter procedure to ensure each unit is working properly and safely, and that, as in those situations where the socket and wire are old, PG&E makes sure a socket and wire is compatible with the unit.
There is debate that questions the reliability and safety of the Smart-Meter system. PG&E insists that as more electronic devices are used in homes and businesses, the demand for power will continue. Use of appliances large and small in the average home has more than tripled since 1970. Use of Smart-Meters help monitor that efficiently and accurately. Still, even with reassurances, there are skeptics.
Any problems or questions about Smart-Meters, visit web site for info. PG&E has a dedicated customer service and outreach line at 866-743-0263.
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