Message from the CEO
No matter the size, style, or age, most homes across the country have one thing in common: a small meter, constantly keeping a tally of electricity use. Some dutifully track kilowatts with mechanical spinning discs—a technology that dates back to 1888—while many have been upgraded to electronic technology to handle the information demands of our digital age.
Most meters today are digital and contain chips that enable them to emit, via radio frequency, kilowatt-hour use readings and other data that can be collected with a handheld device by someone driving by. It’s called automated meter reading, or AMR. Fifteen years ago, ECI REC changed from the spinning-disc meters to digital AMR meters. The automatic meter-reading technology served us well and saved some expense associated with the meter-reading process.
In 2016 ECI REC will put together a business plan to go a step further—we’ll begin reviewing the different advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems currently on the market. AMI technology is capable of constantly sending and receiving signals via our power lines or by radio frequency, providing continuous meter readings along with a treasure trove of other data that can be used for billing, identify power outages, and even provide personalized energy data for members.
By installing AMI technology, our Cooperative will have the ability to read meters remotely from the office, saving the cost associated with drive-by meter reading and reducing employee exposure to the hazards associated with driving to physically read meters. The ability to read meters from the office will also eliminate the need to estimate usage, which was necessary when severe weather or bad road conditions prevented travel to each meter location.
AMI technology is also a key component of the electronic grid, or the “smart grid.” It’s a transmission and distribution network that can track the flow of electricity with great precision and efficiency. ECI REC has considered the smart grid within our long-term strategic plan, making sure our SCADA system and other technology upgrades were AMI-compatible when updates were needed. AMI systems and the smart grid are self-healing in the sense that if service is interrupted ECI REC will know right away because certain components of the grid stop sending data. By ensuring the components of the grid—from substations to switches to home electric meters—are capable of two-way communication, ECI REC can manage distribution more efficiently, be proactive about maintenance, and respond to outages faster.
AMR digital metering devices are a major component of the smart grid system, so ECI REC will be exchanging current AMR meters with new AMI digital meter devices, or “smart meters.” AMI technology and new smart meters will not affect Cooperative members’ kilowatt-hour rate. We anticipate that labor and cost savings from the program will allow the utility to recoup our investment over time. Actual implementation of the AMI system is planned for some time in 2017. Investing in new technology to improve efficiency and reliability is one way ECI REC continues to look out for our members. As the AMI business plan develops, we will keep you informed.