Smart Meters Allow For Smarter Grid
There are significant and encouraging efforts here in Minnesota to increase energy efficiency and reduce energy use across residential, commercial and industrial sectors, from Conservation Improvement Programs to benchmarking public buildings. As people, buildings, appliances and vehicles use energy more efficiently, the next step will be to make our energy grid operate in more effective and interactive ways. This is especially true for electric cooperatives in mostly rural areas with diverse and widely dispersed consumers.
One way to do this is by implementing smart meters in homes and businesses to help construct a comprehensive smart grid. These meters can reduce operations and maintenance costs for utilities, give grid operators near-real-time data to respond to power outages and restorations, and provide consumers more detailed, consistent usage information.
Two utilities that provide energy to Minnesota consumers, Minnesota Power and Sioux Valley Southwestern Electric Cooperative, currently have pilot programs funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Demonstration Program to install smart meters in rural Minnesota. Great River Energy, partnered with Lake Region Electric Cooperative and Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative, has just received similar funding to install smart meters and other smart grid technology.
Although there are significant benefits to smart meters, the biggest challenge to current and future efforts to integrate them into the energy grid will be communication with consumers. Small but increasingly organized and vocal groups of citizens have sprung up throughout the country where utilities have tried to install smart meters in homes. These groups, from California to Michigan to outside Chicago, are concerned about the privacy of their electricity use, health impacts of the radio-transmitting smart meters, and potential increases in their utility bills.
In response, utilities in many states are offering opt-out programs that charge customers a fee to keep and maintain their old meter, but these programs have garnered little interest. Despite opposition from these groups, investment in smart grid technologies by utilities totaled $15.4 billion through the first quarter, and the Institute for Electric Efficiency (a research group financed by investor-owned utilities) reports that as of September 2011 roughly 27 million smart meters have already been installed in the U.S.
The future of Minnesota’s energy generation, transmission and distribution requires a grid that delivers energy effectively and efficiently. The interactive nature, real-time data possibilities and consumer energy use awareness that smart meters provide improve our grid’s ability to handle increased demand, new generation sources and promote energy conservation efforts.
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