San Diego Gas & Electric is installing its first wave of smart electric meters in field tests that will continue for several months. The high-tech meters enable two-way communications between SDG&E and a customer's home or business.

The new meters are expected to provide SDG&E customers with numerous benefits, including improved customer service, more real-time information on energy use, and faster identification of system outages during events like July's heat wave. Customers should be able to make more informed energy decisions and have greater control over their energy use and costs as a result, according to Anne Shen Smith, senior vice president of customer services for SDG&E. Ultimately, the advanced meters should reduce the likelihood of electricity shortages.

As part of its field tests, SDG&E plans to install approximately 350 electric meters and 150 gas modules from different vendors in three test areas: Fallbrook, downtown San Diego and Rose Canyon. The tests are expected to highlight the viability of the technologies.

SDG&E is planning to replace all of 1.3 million of its electric meters, and also is proposing to tie its 825,000 gas meters into the system. If approved by state regulators, meter installation could begin in mid-2008 and be completed by 2010.