For approximately 15,000 National Grid customers in Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S., the energy system of the future is less than a year away — and they helped design it. The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities has approved National Grid's proposal for a smart grid pilot program in Worcester.

This new approach marked one of the first times a major energy program was co-created with customers, the community and stakeholders from across the city and within the state. All involved worked to develop a program that culminated in September 2011 with the “Green to Growth” Summit that was cohosted by National Grid and the city of Worcester. During the event, more than 300 members of the community and a cross-section of key groups and individuals helped to develop the smart grid program, leading to an official proposal (“Lessons Learned on the Road to Smart Grid, T&D World, June 2012).

The pilot will offer participating customers greater choice in how they use energy as well as new technologies that will increase electric system reliability so that problems on the system, such as power outages during storm events, can be identified and fixed more quickly. While preliminary preparations are underway, and much work remains to be done, full pilot launch is expected within the next year.

A key feature for the pilot is the installation of the latest technology on the grid to improve reliability and system responsiveness, which includes testing remote power outage sensors that enable crews to be dispatched directly to the source of the problem and restore power more quickly.

The pilot calls for installation of advanced metering systems that provide the latest in technology and security. Early installation of 5,000 advanced meters is nearly complete, helping to obtain baseline energy data, test communications systems and adjust the equipment before full deployment. Under the pilot, the company also will be testing full integration of renewable resources, electric vehicle charging stations and connecting energy storage to existing renewable projects across the city.

One important element of the pilot is customer choice. The company plans to communicate information about specific pilot offerings to customers. In turn, customers will be able choose their level of involvement and, according to what options they select, can receive information about their energy use from various sources such as online applications, including cell phone and smart phone apps. New dynamic pricing options also will be available to help customers save energy and money.

Visit www.worchesterrma.gov and www.nationalgridus.com.