Horizon Utilities (Ontario, Canada) has launched a major powerWISE Smart Meter Pilot Project in support of the Ontario government's energy plan that calls for the installation of 800,000 smart meters across the province by 2007. By 2010, all homes and small businesses in Ontario will be equipped with a smart meter.

"Smart meters are one part of an overall provincial effort to build a culture of energy conservation in Ontario and reduce the strain on the system during periods of peak electricity demand such as those we experienced over the last few weeks," said Max Cananzi, president and CEO for Horizon Utilities. "The primary goal with smart meters is to help raise consumer awareness about energy consumption and the cost of electricity. However, smart meter technology will also make estimated electricity bills a thing of the past, which will be welcome news for some customers."

Currently, most homes are equipped with a hydro meter that measures how much electricity is used in a billing period--typically two months. With a smart meter, a computer chip inside the device measures and records how much electricity is consumed in the household during each hour of the day. This information is automatically transmitted across a secure network where it is compiled and used for billing purposes.

"Many of our customers are going to love the fact that, with a smart meter, their electricity bill will always be based on their actual consumption," pointed out Eileen Campbell, vice president, customer services for Horizon Utilities. "Hydro meters are sometimes located in basements or other hard-to-get-at locations, so it is not always possible to send someone in to physically read the meter. When a meter read is estimated, this can result in a large variance on the customer's next bill, which can create an affordability issue for some people. The up-to-the-hour reads available from the smart meters will eliminate this customer concern and make household budgeting much easier for those who have received estimated bills in the past."

Being able to use the data collected from the smart meter to better manage their household energy costs will also be of great interest to many consumers. When Ontario introduces time-of-use rates for electricity, at some point of time in the future, there will be different electricity rates for off-peak, mid-peak and on-peak periods. In the summer months, the highest price will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday, when the demand for electricity in Ontario is the greatest.

"Once time-of-use rates come into effect," said Cananzi, "customers who have a smart meter installed and who do not have a contract with an energy retailer may be able to save themselves some money. If consumers take steps to conserve energy during peak demand periods when rates are high, and shift some of their electricity usage to times when electricity is cheaper, they will be able to directly impact their energy bills. For example, consumers may decide to set their air conditioner a few degrees warmer during the afternoon, turn their dishwasher on before going to bed, or use their electric lawn mower on the weekend instead of during the week."

"Although we are starting to install 7500 smart meters this month," continued Cananzi, "it is important for customers to note that time-of-use rates are not yet in effect. Customers who receive a smart meter as part of our pilot project will not notice any changes on their bill. They will continue to be charged according to the current Regulated Price Plan or as per their contract with an energy retailer."

The Horizon Utilities powerWISE Smart Meter Pilot Project will involve the installation of 7500 smart meters, commencing immediately. A smaller pilot to test smart meter technology and communications protocols took place last year. Widespread deployment of more than 60,000 smart meters in Hamilton and St. Catharines will begin later this year.