Big Brother is not watching, but the new smart meters—they know what some Lansdale electric users do every day, week and month.
Some borough residents can now find out how much energy they are using over specific time periods. With the help of Lansdale Borough's Electric Department, they can pinpoint when there are spikes in daily energy consumption.
It doesn't control the horizontal or vertical, but the smart meter can tell anyone how many kilowatt hours are delivered and received, and even kilowatt hour sums and nets. With this information, property owners can now see that, for example, 7,000 kWh are used in a year, which breaks down to about 19.17 kWh a day.
Now, a homeowner can manually adjust those things that are overamping electricity to control the demand.
The Electric Department knows what the meters record because everything is on a smart grid. There is two-way communication between the homes and the utility via a wireless radio frequency.
Borough electric superintendent Andy Krauss and Lansdale power supply consultant Jim Havrilla, of Utility Engineers, reported to the borough electric committee and council last week on the electric meter upgrades.
Councilman Leon Angelichio was cautious of another electric meter upgrade.
"Obviously, it's a big expenditure for putting in meters. Did we identify it as an absolute need? Is there a projected life of the meters?" Angelichio said. "In 2006, we spent a boatload of money on new meters. Seven years later, we're spending a lot more on some meters. I want to make sure it's a cost-effective solution."
Havrilla told Angelichio that the 50-year tradition of meter technology in Lansdale was the mechanical meter, which had a motor that ran proportionate to the energy consumption inside the house. Havrilla said Lansdale did away with manual readings of mechanical meters in 2007 for automated, remote readings of meters.
"We did away with the task of meter readers and the cumbersome process of manual reading. The latest generation gives us the smart meter," he said.
The smart meters can be read remotely, Havrilla said. However, the new meters allow for outage management tracking to determine restoration time during an outage. The ability of customers to see their consumption—and change it—is also a plus to the smart meters, he said.
Havrilla said 25 of 50 states have mandatory smart meter laws.
"In terms of life associated with it, it's not like the 40- to 50-year life with the mechanical meters. The reality is seven to 10 years," Havrilla said. "Not that it will fail in seven years, but it can avail itself of new technology and new resources."
Council President Jason Van Dame saw the ability to turn on and off the meters remotely as a "much safer" alternative.
Havrilla said the existing automated meters are not failing, but they will not be supported in the future.
"You'll find in 10 years, they will stop being supported and there will be new products," he said. "With that rollout comes new benefits and that is what will enhance your service to customers."
Krauss said all 8,500 electric meters in Lansdale were changed out from mechanical to automated in Summer 2006. Now, the smart meters have great functionalities that help with his job.
"If a customer calls in, (I or a meter technician) can bring up the information in a low-profile style on the Internet, and we can go through different times of the day and see when your hot water heater comes on," Krauss said. "We can say, 'At 5 p.m., that's bathtime? I can see a spike there. We can say, 'Your dehumidifier comes on at 7 a.m., doesn't it?' Because of the smart meter and its technology, we can pinpoint problems and help with consumption bills."
Krauss said customers can be informed and staff can help them save on their bills.
"In some of the 33 borough-owned-electric municipalities, we see a trend," Krauss said. "It's a recommendation from us and the engineers and the surrounding area. PPL is even going to smart meters for these reasons."
Councilman Jack Hansen wanted to know if people can opt out of all their energy information being accessed and assessed by Lansdale Borough.
"They'll think it's (George Orwell's) '1984' again. Big Brother over your shoulder," Hansen said. "Some don't like that."
Krauss said the electric department would only monitor on request. He said the department would pull the electric reading once a month on the billing date to generate a bill. Residential and commercial will not be billed different rates, he said.
"If a business owner came to us and said, 'I have a problem, can you help me?' then we would look into it. We're not constantly watching," Krauss said.
"We are seeing numbers throughout the day in 15-minute increments. We can determine what it is and what's failing you. That's where the spike is. We won't know every time you open the garage door. I'm not watching you guys," he said.
Councilman Rich DiGregorio, who chairs the electric committee, said the new meters "look good in my opinion."
"We're moving in the right direction," DiGregorio said.
Since the electric department is using the smart meter to replace meters that either fail or go offline, a motion for approval is not needed by council. Krauss said council would be well informed if a borough-wide meter replacement should occur down the line.
"We're not doing the whole neighborhood," Krauss said. "We do the ones that fail. Andale Green (an upcoming townhome development on Hancock Street across from Stony Creek Park) will have all new smart meters. You can't buy the old meter anymore, just Rex2 or Rex Universal (brand smart meters)."