Converting meters from recording into reporting devices, with the potential to be used for some form of surveillance, creates legitimate concerns about a slippery slope that assurances they won’t be misused do very little to assuage,” wrote Martin A. in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S., in the spring of 2013.

Martin may have been part of a minority constituent, but he represented a small group of smart meter opponents who were very vocal.

Educating the public about the benefits and advantages of smart meters is a top priority for Memphis Light, Gas and Water (MLGW), the nation’s largest three-service utility provider. The utility has a goal of upgrading 1.1 million electric, gas and water meters in five years, a project dubbed Smart Meter 2020 by MLGW President and CEO Jerry Collins Jr. Reaching MLGW’s vision meant gaining approval for the city-owned utility to award a US$228 million contract to Elster Solutions.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water, Energy Conservation

The Pilot and Phase 1

The monumental task of converting 1.1 million analog meters began with a pilot of 1000. From 2010-2012, MLGW ran a demonstration pilot with 1000 volunteer households. Using 2G cellular technology, customers had access to online interval data. The overall demonstration was a success. Customers with smart meters achieved a 2.3% reduction in electricity use. Participants who opted for time-of-use rates saw an even greater decline, 5.6% on average. Post-pilot surveys showed 95% of the volunteers would recommend smart meters to a friend.

With the lessons learned about the spottiness of cellular technology (2G is currently unsupported), MLGW tapped a new vendor, Elster, in 2013 for phase 1 implementation of the EnergyAxis automated metering infrastructure (AMI) solution. This phase included nearly 25,000 households and encompassed the installation of about 60,000 electric, gas and water meters at a total budget expenditure of $10.1 million.

Once again, results were overwhelmingly positive. Daily read rates went through the roof to an unprecedented 99.95% for all three services. Utility diversion — in other words, theft — diminished because of the meter tamper alerts. Additionally, voltage alerts notified MLGW of emerging issues before customers were even aware a problem existed with their wiring or equipment.

MLGW also uncovered water leaks at almost one-third of all installation sites. Smart meters were responsible for quickly identifying water leaks on the customer side, which allowed the utility to alert homeowners of high water usage. The homeowners could make repairs before a leak negatively impacted their bill. Residents took notice of the positive results and only 3.57% chose to opt out of the program by declining an upgraded meter without fee or penalty.

Memphis Light, Gas and Water, Energy Conservation