Private firms dispute cost of `smart' meters
Energy board estimate of $600 per unit too high, they say
Province targets lower costs through timely use of electricity
Toronto Star - October 30, 2004
by John Spears
An estimate that sophisticated new electricity meters proposed for Ontario
homes and small businesses will cost $600 each is exaggerated, according
to companies working with the technology.
In fact, some new "smart meters" cost under $200, not including
installation, says Constantine Eliadis of Ozz Corp.
And that price might well come down if Ontario proceeds with its plans to
install more than 3.8 million new meters by 2010, Eliadis said.
"The technology is evolving very, very quickly," said Eliadis. Ozz designs
systems that use smart meters, and provides meter reading services to utilities.
He was reacting to an estimate by an Ontario Energy Board working group
that smart meters are likely to cost $600 each — a price that would push
the total bill for re-equipping the province's homes and small businesses
to $2.3 billion.
Jack Robertson, vice-president of Elster Metering in Burlington, said
interval meters can cost as little as $100 each. While that cost might
double by the time the meter is installed and connected to the local
utility, the total cost would still be far less than the working group's
estimate, he said.
Elster is installing new meter systems in Newmarket. The $600 per meter
estimate is based on traditional meter designs used by most utilities, he said.
"Because they've never been exposed to some of these new technologies,
they have misinformation," Robertson said.
Most meters in use today measure the total amount of power used between
meter readings, which are generally taken every month or two.
"Smart meters" can track power use hour by hour, or even every 15 minutes.
That allows utilities to charge more for power used when demand is high,
the system is under stress, and generators are charging high prices to produce power.
Utilities can also reward customers by charging low prices if they use
power at off-peak times when the price paid to generators is much lower.
If enough customers avoid using power during peak periods to escape the
high prices, then fewer generating stations are needed.
In theory, the cost of installing new meters can be less than the cost of
building expensive new generators. Energy minister Dwight Duncan has
argued that the savings will outweigh the costs of the new meters.
A variation on smart meters are less sophisticated "time of use" meters.
They can't give an hour-by-hour readout but are able to divide the day
into as many as six periods.
Utilities can then set different rates for each period, but the rates must
be set in advance, and can only be adjusted every few months. They can't
track daily market changes.
Time of use meters are cheaper than interval meters, which are often
linked to local utilities through a telephone, Internet or wireless connection.
But the more sophisticated interval meters can do more. Eliadis said some
systems can transmit three streams of data: One meter can track
electricity, water and natural gas use, and send the data to each of the
three utilities. That spreads the cost of the meter over a larger base.
Vigorous debate is taking place between proponents of each type of meter,
Eliadis said: "There seem to be two pretty polarized camps."
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