Today, Consumers Use Smart Phones While on the Go, wave smart debit cards to make everyday purchases and drive smarter cars. In the electric industry, smart meters, smart homes and the Smart Grid are on the way. All of these 21st century smart technologies share a common goal: to make life easier for consumers.

But do these new high-tech tools really lead to smarter consumers? As far as helping them to be smarter about how they use energy, the answer is yes. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E; San Diego, California, U.S.) is quickly positioning itself as one of the first U.S. utilities to show consumers the benefits of smart meters: greater choice, control and convenience.

THE BUILDING BLOCKS

SDG&E's Smart Meter program is an ambitious undertaking that allows residential, commercial and industrial consumers to see their energy-usage habits in near real time. It is a progressive combination of an integrated smart meter system, customer service tools and new programs aimed at providing valuable information to consumers and delivering more-reliable, efficient service today and in the future. This historic program will help customers obtain more detailed data about their energy usage faster than ever. SDG&E's goal is for customers to use that information to make simple and easy changes that ultimately save them money and help the environment. This goal makes for a smarter consumer, indeed.

SDG&E, a Sempra Energy regulated utility, supplies gas and electricity service to 3.2 million people in a 4100-sq-mile (10,619-sq-km) Southern California service area. The territory spans two counties and 25 cities from the U.S.-Mexico border to southern Orange County.

SDG&E, the state of California and other investor-owned utilities have aggressively championed and collaborated on many energy-conservation efforts over the years. California's Energy Action Plan considers reducing energy demand to be the first and most cost-effective resource — whether it's achieved through conservation, energy-efficiency or demand-response programs. One of the key benefits of smart meters is that customers will see how much energy they are using and can choose to cut back.

Research shows that people will reduce their energy usage 5% to 10% just by knowing how much they are using. Once all 1.4 million smart electricity meters are installed in 2011, SDG&E expects residential and business customers will respond by cutting their usage by a total of 200 MW — enough electricity to power about 130,000 homes.

A SMARTER, GREENER GRID

The Smart Meter program lays the foundation for SDG&E's Smart Green Grid efforts, as well as future customer experiences, delivering the opportunity for greater customer choice, involvement and environmentally friendly approaches to energy. It does this by supporting and improving energy efficiency, demand response, time-differentiated rates, customer energy education and overall choice for the benefit of customers and utility operations.

By deploying meters and modules throughout its service area, SDG&E will have 2.3 million electricity and gas data points that can monitor the ebb and flow of energy use. From an operational perspective, mining this data is a golden opportunity to identify weak spots on the grid, make repairs before a problem occurs, pinpoint the cause of outages more quickly and restore service faster when outages do occur.

These kinds of applications are immediate benefits for consumers. They also serve as the foundation for SDG&E's Smart Green Grid vision. Over the next few years, as more high-tech equipment is added to the system, sensors will be able to recognize automatically when there is a problem and reroute or restore power without human intervention. This is the so-called self-healing aspect of the Smart Grid. Still, more sophisticated technology will be required to help integrate intermittent renewable resources such as solar or wind power, while ensuring system reliability.

FOCUS ON THE CUSTOMER

SDG&E recognizes the importance of the consumer in all aspects of its Smart Meter program. One of the most-critical challenges facing utilities today is the need to support customer behaviors that help to realize the benefits of energy-saving programs.

The Smart Meter system is bolstered by a suite of innovative technologies, namely a full-featured advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) system — in SDG&E's case, OpenWay by Itron (Liberty Lake, Washington, U.S.) — that can evolve as future applications of an intelligent grid are identified. The AMI system supports smart transmission and distribution grids by providing a two-way communications network between the utility and each meter. It also enables interval data collection, time-of-use metering, load-limiting remote disconnect and reconnect capabilities, outage detection, net metering capability and ZigBee home area network (HAN) connectivity — all of which empowers customers to play an important role in energy management and conservation.

Combining the AMI system with HAN devices and secure, flexible control and management software, enables a robust communications ecosystem — one that can help to fully realize the benefits of the Smart Grid. This ecosystem not only delivers two-way command and control functionality from the utility down through associated subsystems to the meter, but it also provides for a second layer of two-way communications that makes the effort truly smart. To encourage innovation, the meter will act as a gateway option into the home and communicate with optional HAN devices.

ENABLING THE FUTURE

The network technology behind SDG&E's Smart Meter program eventually will be able to connect to and control many different automated digital devices, including remote appliance controllers, programmable communicating thermostats, in-premise displays and electric vehicles. In the future, the HAN connectivity also will allow SDG&E to communicate peak times to digital devices, as well as allow customers to view their energy usage online and eventually on their personal devices (i.e., mobile phones). All customers will be eligible for incentives when they shift energy use from peak times. The smart meter system encourages customer response by making it easy for them to participate.

Further marriage of SDG&E's smart meters and endpoints, network technology, in-premise displays and meter data management software allows for a feature-rich experience that truly helps customers see how much energy they are consuming and how much they are spending.

FOUNDATIONAL TECHNOLOGY

OpenWay CENTRON electricity meters and 2.4 GZ OpenWay gas modules provide the foundation for collecting advanced metering information and providing it to the headend system. The meters act as a gateway for the 2.4 GZ modules and pass gas information back upstream to the utility.

Meter data management software helps SDG&E to manage the large volumes of electric and gas meter data and allows for adaptable, scalable integration between backend utility systems. With the collection, analysis and application of the data, SDG&E can develop peak-time rebates and time-based rate structures that can help to incentivize consumers to change their behavior and ease the burden on an already strained grid at critical times.

The Itron Enterprise Edition Customer Care Mass Market, integrated as a Web presentment tool, enables residential customers to view usage and billing data. When leveraged with advanced meter data, this innovative software enables consumers to interact with their energy usage to more fully comprehend how much they are using and when. By providing this information, SDG&E can better educate consumers on how their behavior impacts not only the energy grid as a whole, but their bill at the end of each month, giving consumers the necessary tools to make informed decisions about their consumption.

BUSINESS PROCESS IMPACT, TOO

With these objectives in mind, SDG&E also identified initial business process improvements and enterprise implementation support. Any smart metering initiative must not only investigate and evaluate technology, but it also must identify the purpose, procedures and implementation guidelines that will allow the technology to help refine business processes, along with appropriate investments in integrated change management to help successfully transition employees to the future state.

SDG&E is on schedule to have all its smart meters and endpoints installed at customer sites by the end of 2011. So while society is busy applying the decidedly human adjective of “smart” to a host of inanimate technologies, SDG&E is truly encouraging a smarter consumer.


Ted M. Reguly (treguly@semprautilities.com) is director of the Smart Meter Program Office at San Diego Gas & Electric. He oversees the development, implementation and integration of a comprehensive smart meter solution for SDG&E. Reguly has been with SDG&E since 1981, holding positions in generation, distribution, supply management and customer service. A registered mechanical engineer in California, Reguly has a BSME degree from California State University at Long Beach and an MBA degree from San Diego State University. He is an active member of UtilityAMI, OpenAMI and the ZigBee Alliance.

For more information about California's Action Energy Plan, please visit www.energy.ca.gov.

SDG&E High-Level AMI Objectives
At the onset of the initiative, SDG&E established objectives that needed to be met for the Smart Meter program to be successful well into the future.
Remain as vendor and technology neutral as possible
Design for vertical integration wherever possible and sensible
Employ open standards and standards-based architecture
Embrace interoperability principles to aid in future-proofing the system
Undertake a rigorous request-for-proposal process
Keep a consistent focus on business process improvement
Recognize this is nascent technology and, therefore, is not business as usual
Identify and manage risks to the highest degree possible
Undertake a phased release approach
Ensure a robust and secure architecture
Emphasize the reality of having to learn to walk before running
Focus on internal and external stakeholders
Remember that it is all about the customer
Goal-to-Process Mapping
Goal Current process Benefits from the Smart Meter program and associated technology
Automate meter reading Manual meter reading Lower costs and operation efficiencies gained by automated meter reading
Reduce the necessity for access to customer properties Manual reads require site visits and all meter maintenance requires access Automated meter reading requires fewer visits and access complications. Two-way communications to smart meters enable meter reprogramming and updating to be accomplished remotely, reducing fleet on the road
Reduce re-bills Re-bills often required for late reads or reading errors Fewer re-bills required from accuracy of automated reading
Account for unmetered energy usage Theft, meter errors and meter changes lead to energy that is used but unbilled or unaccounted for Validation, estimation and editing provided by meter data management system help to recognize unaccounted for use and fill the gaps. Two-way communications allow for faster detection and remote meter reprogramming when theft or errors are determined
Avoided energy and capacity Limited demand response and incentive rates Extensive demand management, conservation and incentive programs will be available for all classes of customers
Improve outage management Customer outage reporting and manually initiated response analysis are cumbersome Automated outage and restoration reporting and analysis integrated into the Smart Meter system
Enhance capital efficiency and deferrals Plan for peak load conditions with limited feeder visibility Better planning for and management of peak loads with interval meter data
Improve customer service and reduce the operating expense Limited to a small percent of larger C&I customers Advanced data collection and application leads to improved research and compliance processes
Improve other management cost reductions Program enables a streamlined cost structure in future years

SDG&E'S SMART METER PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS

  • Encompasses 1.4 million smart electric meters and 900,000 gas modules

  • Replaces existing technology and business processes, including analog, mechanical electricity meters and manual meter reading

  • Provides cutting-edge electric meters using digital solid-state technology, capable of remotely collecting reads

  • Enables a true smart metering environment that:

    • Allows for remote measuring of energy usage
    • Provides two-way communication between SDG&E and the electricity meters, as well as communication options inside the customer premise via home area network (HAN)
    • Ties gas meters into the smart metering initiative
    • Presents data to consumers and customer service representatives through the Web, phone and eventually personal devices
  • Enables remote disconnect and reconnect capabilities for residential electric meters

  • Includes 57,000 programmable thermostats capable of communicating with the HAN

  • Enhances reliability and outage detection, as well as speeds restoration efforts

  • Gives customers more control over their everyday energy usage, including the opportunity for lower bills with:

    • Better energy usage information
    • New incentive programs
    • Availability of variable-rate pricing programs
    • Lower operating costs for SDG&E, which in turn can be passed on to the consumer
  • Improves customer service

  • Allows for on-demand remote meter reads

  • Facilitates more flexible and customized services

  • Reduces the need to access customer property

  • Enterprise-wide initiative that effects almost every department, requiring robust project, risk, issue, dependency and change- management support to be successful