Monitoring electricity use will be faster and easier for Inland Power and Light and its members after the Spokane-based utility upgrades all 39,000 meters across its service area next year.
The nonprofit cooperative picked Liberty Lake-based Itron Inc. to supply the advanced meters and Tantalus, a North Carolina company, to provide the “smart grid” communications equipment.
Residential and commercial users will gain the ability to check their electricity use daily and not wait for a monthly statement.
“It gives them much more potential to manage their own energy use,” said John Francisco, chief of energy resources at Inland Power. “Oftentimes you don’t know the extent of your usage until you get the bill, which is typically 20 to 30 days after you use the energy.”
Inland Power will collect power use data nightly via radio signal – a big improvement over the current method. About two-thirds of the members still read their own meters and report the numbers to the co-op.
“The desire for a better understanding of energy use is driving this initiative,” Francisco said.
The new meters also should help improve service and reliability in outage and storm situations, he said. “This system has the ability to tell us when the power goes out at a given location. And so we can know about it much more quickly and then dispatch resources directly to the problem.”
Inland Power, which isn’t releasing the project cost, expects the savings from the new technology will pay for the systemwide upgrade. That’s a conservative estimate, Francisco said.
“We think that there’s more savings than we projected,” he said.
Members will be able to monitor power use on the meter display, on the utility’s Web portal, or even have the data sent to mobile devices. They also will be able to prepay for energy and watch their use to make sure they stay within a budget. “The nightly read gives them instant feedback on where they stand from that prepayment,” Francisco said.
Inland Power will be able to contact meters to check voltage levels or send software updates.
Francisco said only aggregate household use will be collected, and no personal data will be attached.
The new meter rollout will begin in January with 200 meters in Lincoln County, with the full-scale deployment to begin in mid-June and continue through January 2015. Members will be notified when their meters will be changed.
Inland Power serves 36,000 members in Eastern Washington and 3,000 in North Idaho.