How easy was it for folks in 1950 to envision a man on the moon or, five years ago, to see the United States as a net exporter of oil? And while the Internet seems like it’s been around forever, how easy was it to imagine its impact on our lives today back in, say, 1980?
At La Plata Electric Association, we see a complex future in meeting your energy needs. Renewable energy and distributed generation (electricity generated from remote, dispersed generation facilities, as opposed to large, central plants) are affecting the electric grid in a profound way, and the grid is having to adapt. Originally, more than 100 years ago, the grid was conceived with the belief that electricity could best be generated in bulk and transmitted and distributed to consumers at their homes and businesses over a widespread area, and basically power their lives. As stated, this original concept is evolving.
While certain aspects of the electric grid remain the same simply because of physics – such as the requirement for voltage and frequency stability (In other words, you don’t want power surges and dips to your home) – power no longer flows exclusively from central power generation stations, such as hydro dams or nuclear power plants. The key to managing this shift in our industry truly is simple – information.
Advanced Metering Infrastructure, or AMI – the new meters LPEA is installing throughout our service territory – is all about information. AMI not only provides you with your energy usage, but it also tells us when you’re out of power. I’d love to eliminate power outages, but I’d have to eliminate lightning, raccoons hunting for food and many other events that cause outages. There’s no app for that. But the information the AMI system gives us tells us who is out of power and, in the not too distant future, might be able to tell us exactly where the problem is. It also is helping us in detection and isolation of those “nuisance blink” that we know y’all don’t appreciate.
Real-time outage information helps us serve all of our members better. For example, some of our members – our “snowbirds ” – can be absent from their property for weeks or, in some cases, months at a time. Here, knowing when a service is out of power, is critical information. But for all of LPEA’s members, this information will help us efficiently know the condition of your electric service.
Though it’s something we at LPEA don’t want you – our members – to have to worry about, knowing voltage at its service point (your house) is vital to LPEA. Twenty years ago, the electric wires industry had to deploy volt-recording meters to determine voltage drop on lines. It was a critical part of figuring out how the system had to be improved to sustain the voltage levels we’re required to maintain. AMI meters now give us that intelligence. As LPEA connects and processes more distributed generation – such as solar panels on homes – this voltage information becomes even more important to us in operating the grid.
The cooperative I came from in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has deployed more than 175,000 AMI meters. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas region has deployed in excess of 6 million. All are celebrating the benefits. They’ve realized that AMI technology is essential to how a deregulated electric market functions. In ERCOT just five years ago, electric bulk prices were cleared every hour against power-usage curves. No longer. Now power prices are cleared every five minutes, matching exactly with the power user’s AMI reported usage. I believe the granularity of pricing will get reduced below five minutes at some point in the future. In other words, we’ll know exactly what it costs. Remember electricity is a commodity. The evolution of that market wouldn’t be possible without AMI.
AMI will also provide our members with options for programs, rates and services that will help you, should you so choose, to control your energy usage and power costs. For example, if you’re on the Pre-pay program, it allows you to manage your account remotely and you don’t have to come into the office.
Because LPEA’s AMI system sends hourly readings, you can view your information and manage your electricity usage via SmartHub on LPEA’s website. It offers month-to-month comparisons, plus you can see how your usage varies from day-to-day and hour-to-hour, thus allowing you to understand your usage – and perhaps reduce. The hourly information also helps LPEA’s staff assist you in troubleshooting abnormal usage.
AMI meters are a step to a better, more efficiently managed electricity system. To learn more about managing your energy usage and the new AMI system, visit our website, www.lpea.coop.
Mike Dreyspring is the chief executive officer of La Plata Electric Association. Reach him at email@example.com