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SVP MeterConnect Program on Track

Santa Clara’s city-owned electric utility, Silicon Valley Power (SVP), is preparing to begin rollout of its smart meter program – MeterConnect – early next year, Electric Utility Director John Roukema told the City Council on Oct. 11.

Part of the city’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure Project, the project is one of several that will implement a “smart” electrical system in Santa Clara. Initial work on the project began in 2008 and full rollout is expected to be complete in 2013.

Field tests are currently underway as well as the implementation of the new communications network that connects [the meters]. In November SVP will install the first 50 test meters in the Lick Mill neighborhood near Tasman and Lafayette. Commercial and industrial meter installation begins early next year, with residential installation following in 2013.

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Central to that effort is replacing and expanding the city’s existing wireless network (the former MetroFi system) and replacing obsolete meters with more accurate digital meters that support two-way communication and can handle several kinds of information. For example, the new meters can measure solar power that subscribers are putting back into the grid.

“We’re taking a very deliberate approach to this,” explained Roukema. “The wireless network also has the side benefit of providing an outdoor WiFi network to the public.”

“This is great that the utility is leading this [municipal network implementation],” observed Santa Clara business owner Kirk Vartan, noting that as well as convenience for residents and visitors, the network offers opportunities for increasing city operating efficiency – for example in vehicle maintenance, asset management, and fostering improved coordination among public safety agencies.

Customers also will see benefits from the new meters, Roukema said. One of those benefits is that estimated bills will be things of the past because the connected meters will automatically report usage over the network. And that means timely insight for customers as well. “We are also rolling out a Web portal that allows customers to see what daily usage is and be more educated customers,” said Roukema. “We are very cognizant of maintaining customer relationships.”

In that spirit, Roukema reviewed SVP’s “Meter Connect Promise” to:

  • Encourage adoption of solar energy, smart appliances and electric vehicles.
  • Use proven devices and technology, proceed carefully, and verify accuracy at every step.
  • Keep the system secure and protect customer data and privacy.
  • Resolve problems and questions fairly, openly and respectfully.

With privacy one of today’s hot-button issues, Roukema noted that protecting customer information “is a major concern. We’re using a defense-in-depth approach, with multiple layers of encryption. There’s never any attachment of customer account information to the meter data.”

However, installing the meters and communications infrastructure is only part of the job, Roukema concluded. “It doesn’t do anything without the systems to manage the meter data as it comes back and interface with our billing system.”

What’s a “Smart” Electrical Grid?

If you’ve read a newspaper in the last couple of years, you’ve likely seen the term “smart grid.” But what does it mean? Here’s the US Department of Energy’s definition of a “smart” grid:

  • Automatically avoids or mitigates power outages, power quality problems, and service disruptions
  • Provides information and motivation for customers to actively conserve, use energy more wisely, and actively participate in distributed energy generation (for example, roof solar panels)
  • Actively identifies and responds to disruptions, providing information to enable operators to isolate affected areas and quickly redirect power flows.
  • Increases power resilience and stability – reducing utility and customer costs.
  • Accommodates distributed generation and storage – including local generation that allows residential, commercial, and industrial customers to self-generate and sell excess power to the grid with minimal technical or regulatory barriers.
  • Fosters open electricity markets.
  • Operates more efficiently.
  • Enables increased use of intermittent power generation sources, such as wind and solar.
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