B.C. Hydro launches smart meters this summer

Wouldn’t it be nice if B.C. Hydro knew right away when there’s a power outage in Sun Peaks? This will be a reality by the end of 2012 when B.C. Hydro completes installing 1.8 million digital meters—called smart meters—to homes and businesses throughout the province.

Smart meters record when, and how much, power is consumed and are able to transmit information both to B.C. Hydro and to customers.

B.C. Hydro lists three major benefits to the $930 million project: operational efficiency, energy savings and stopping energy theft.

An example of improved operational efficiency is B.C. Hydro knowing right away when there’s a power outage.

“B.C. Hydro doesn’t know that you’ve lost power until you’ve made a phone call,” said Gary Murphy, B.C. Hydro’s chief project officer for smart meters. “(Smart meters) would be a substantial benefit for customers and B.C. Hydro to better pinpoint the location of outages and accomplish restoration activities substantially faster.”

With smart meters, customers can see how much energy they consume and when they consume it the most. This information will be available free to customers on a secure portal on the Power Smart website, which shows energy consumption information within the last 24 hours. Customers may also purchase an in-home display that’ll show their real time energy use.
The energy savings are dependent on customers changing their energy consumption habits according to the information provided by the meters.
Another benefit cited is the ability to detect and curtail energy theft.

“It’s a substantial problem in the province that we’ve estimated conservatively to be approximately $100 million per year,” said Murphy. Most of the energy theft is attributed to marijuana grow operations, he added.

Installation will begin in the summer and will continue until the end of 2012. Homeowners will be notified in advance and don’t need to be home for the installation.

Seven regional offices will be opened, including one in Kamloops, and over 350 employees will be hired and trained to execute the program. B.C. Hydro hired Corix Utilities to do the installation and Capgemini to provide the technology to implement the program.

Critics pointed out two areas of concern: that a digital network is more vulnerable to a privacy breach, and that given the number of meters that need to be swapped within a tight deadline, there can be a high possibility of errors during installation.

“We’ve done a thorough job in making sure that this system is safe,” said Murphy. He explained that data will be encrypted and technology used in online banking will be employed in the program.

“The interesting thing about smart meters is that they’re much more intelligent today. We’ll know if a mistake has occurred or if a meter isn’t working,” he explained. “If there’s a problem that we’ve identified during installation, our technicians are going to be required to call in during installation and make sure that all of the problems are identified and addressed.”

While the benefits of smart meters have yet to be seen, the automated system may help Sun Peaks residents get a jump on service restorations.

For more information, visit www.bchydro.com.

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