Portland General Electric Co. (PGE) will begin rolling out more than 800,000 “smart meters” across its 4,000-square-mile service area this week after successfully completing its smart metering systems testing program.

The next-generation electrical meters, which will be read remotely by PGE, will help the utility and its customers manage energy use, as well as enhance customer service and reduce operating expenses.

PGE began installing smart meters last year in selected test neighborhoods — urban and rural —before rolling them out territory-wide. The rest of the smart meters will be installed in an 18-month process slated for completion by late 2010.

“Systems testing went well and we are moving forward to complete the installation of smart meters for all of our customers,” said Jim Piro, president and CEO of PGE. “Smart meters will allow us to offer our customers better service and reduce our operating costs. Smart meters are also the foundation for future ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart home’ technology necessary to meet our customers’ future energy needs.”

The new meters, which communicate over a wireless network much like a cell phone system, will provide PGE with two-way communications to its residential and commercial meters, enabling many customer benefits:

  • Cost savings: PGE anticipates millions in operational cost savings per year once the system is fully up and running, saving customers at least $34 million (net present value) over the next 20 years.
  • Environmental benefits: Fewer meter-reading vehicles will eliminate 1.2 million miles of driving, save 80,000 gallons of gasoline and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 million pounds every year.
  • Helps customers save energy: Within the next year, customers with smart meters will be able to access detailed information online or via customer service about their power consumption, allowing them to see how their activities affect power usage and develop strategies to use energy wisely. Customers will also have the ability to pick a preferred bill due date.
  • Speeds power restoration: In the future, PGE will be able to respond to power outages faster through information received via the smart metering system. The new meters will be able to tell PGE if a customer is experiencing a power outage, helping PGE dispatch repair crews more efficiently and restore service faster.
  • Future demand response programs: The new system is also expected to support the future development of such programs as demand response — a pricing structure program that encourages customers to use energy at less expensive times of the day, when the peak demand is lower; and direct load control programs — a program in which customers would agree to permit the utility to turn off certain appliances for limited periods when demand is high. These types of programs will reduce the need for new generation resources to meet peak demand.

The capital cost of the project is expected to be $130-135 million. The smart metering system, also known as advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), was purchased from Sensus Metering. Residential and smaller business customer meters will be installed by Wellington Energy, PGE’s contract meter installer. PGE’s meter services will install meters for PGE’s mid-sized to large commercial customers.