Some states faring better than others on smart meters

When it comes to smart meters, electric utility customers in the United States are more and more being separated into the haves and have-nots.

"The penetration of advanced meters continues to climb," a recent report by staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found, with their technology playing a key role in support of demand response programs, especially in the organized electricity markets.

The number of smart meters installed has risen from just under 7 million in December 2007 to more than 50 million as of July, according to data in the FERC report and a recent update by the Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI) (see table).

Roughly 43 million smart meters have been installed by investor-owned utilities (IOUs), with nearly 7 million deployed by municipal utilities and electric cooperatives, IEI said.

But the deployment of meters to all classes of customers is much greater in certain states and regions. In Texas, more than 69 percent of meters are of the advanced variety, the most in the nation according to the FERC report. Florida comes in second with more than 52 percent, followed by the region made up of 11 Western states with almost 51 percent.

No other region exceeded 25 percent penetration of smart meters, the FERC report said (see map), with penetration the lowest in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest.

An advanced electric meter measures and records electricity usage data at minimum in hourly intervals and provides the data at least daily to utilities and possibly to consumers. But the new metering technology also enables "platforms for increased use of demand response and time-based pricing, as well as better outage management and restoration," said Dan Delurey, president of the Association for Demand Response & Smart Grid.

Delurey estimates that the number of advanced meters both installed and part of an ongoing utility deployment is in the "high 60 millions."

There are no state mandates for the deployment of smart meters, Delurey noted, so decisions have tended to be made by utilities on a case-by-case basis.

Municipal utilities and co-ops "actually went out in front and at one point had higher penetration of smart meters than IOUs," Delurey said. They had the ability to move ahead without the approval of state regulators.

IOUs started to implement programs in earnest for smart meters after the Obama administration offered funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

"That's not to say [state] regulators have been overly aggressive on this; I think they should have been aggressive all along and should be more aggressive today in ensuring that smart meters go in," Delurey said.

Delurey is optimistic that eventually 100 percent of utility customers will have a smart meter, especially as case studies have proved their value in saving time and money in the restoration of power after an outage.

"A utility that doesn't have smart meters does not have the benefits that smart meters bring; that goes without saying. You can't do time-based pricing unless you have a smart meter; you can't do wholesale demand response or retail demand response at any level or in any magnitude unless you've got a meter that certifies what happens at a time certain," Delurey said.

"The results are in, and I don't think anyone questions the need for smart meters."

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