Northland News

AEP picks Northland for 'smart meters' project


The diversity of the Northland area is why the conglomeration of neighborhoods was chosen for an AEP Ohio demonstration project that calls for the installation of 110,000 "smart meters."

The meters not only enable the company to bill customers for their power usage, but could allow customers to control the amount of their bill.

An AEP customer service representative gave a presentation on the "gridSMART" project at last week's meeting of the Northland Community Council.

Virtually all of the Northland area was included in the pilot program that covers 150 square miles and encompasses parts of Columbus, Gahanna, Whitehall, Bexley, New Albany, Reynoldsburg, Westerville, Blacklick, Johnstown, Alexandria and Pataskala.

The mix of customers in that region of central Ohio, including residential, commercial and even industrial, as well as diverse demographics is why it was chosen for the test, according to Gregory S. Griffith of AEP Ohio.

The new meters, which replace some that have been in use for up to 70 years, have two-way communication abilities that were not even dreamt of a decade ago, Griffith told the NCC members. The digital meters have radio transmitters that send signals to receivers on utility poles, which then send information to AEP Ohio over a secure Internet protocol network.

Among other things, the new meters are able to immediately pinpoint the location of outages to power company personnel.

"We'll get the trucks right out there and we won't have to look for it," Griffith said.

The installation of the new meters, part of a $150-million project that includes $75-million in federal stimulus money, got under way in mid-December and will continue through March.

"Everybody's meter is going to be replaced," Griffith said.

The goal of the pilot program is to reduce energy consumption in general, and during peak hours in particular, or enough to power 1,800 homes, according to information handed out at the NCC session. This also will enable AEP to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

Eventually, according to Griffith, customers will be able to log onto a Web site and look at their power usage on an hourly basis, at what he termed a "granular level."

The hope is that some of those customers will be willing to shift their lifestyles sufficiently to move more of their electricity consumption to the off-peak evening and weekend hours.

Those voluntarily agreeing to do so, Griffith said, would be charged a lower rate, or "tariff," for their usage during those hours.

Customers will not be charged any more for the meters than the amount they are paying for their current ones, Griffith said.

Once the new meters are in place, they will communicate power consumption, eliminating the need for meter readers.

"That's a good thing and a bad thing, I guess," Griffith said. "There will be no one in the field taking readings."

One of those in attendance at last week's NCC meeting suggested few people would be likely to bother to go online and monitor their hourly usage of electricity.

"It's going to be an effort to educate customers," Griffith said.

The gridSMART project is testing 13 field technologies, products and services, according to the handouts.

"The northeast central Ohio area was chosen because it provides an ideal proving ground for this demonstration," the handout states.