After eight years of hesitation, debate and planning, Palo Alto is preparing to move to “smart meters,” a $ 20 million initiative that city leaders say will make local utilities electricity, more efficient and reliable gas and water.
The city is about to approve contracts with three companies that the utilities department has selected to install what is called an “advanced metering infrastructure”, a system in which meters and tools for managing metering. data enables communication between customers and utilities.
A report Department of Utilities calls Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) “a foundational technology that is becoming a standard in the utility industry.” The technology, the report notes, helps improve the customer experience, boosts reliability and enables the community to meet its sustainability goals, according to the report. It could, for example, provide customers with real-time energy consumption data and help them find the optimal time to charge their vehicles or use their devices. It could also alert customers to water leaks.
The city’s switch to smart meters will cost around $ 20 million to implement. This includes a payment of around $ 12.7 million to Sensus, the company the city selected as part of its tendering process to replace the existing 30,326 electricity meters with its own “smart” meters. . Palo Alto also plans to pay up to $ 4.7 million to Utilities Partners of America, a subcontractor to Sensus, for installation services, and $ 1.3 million to Smart Works for data management. .
It will also require a reshuffle of the public services management, where seven meter positions will become obsolete. The report notes that the city will make the “best efforts” to train and reassign seven staff to new roles once the new technology is adopted. At the same time, the city is preparing to create new positions, including an AMI manager, an AMI systems technician and an MDMS (Meter Data Management Systems) data analyst, to manage the systems associated with the new technology.
While smart meters aren’t new, with around half of all utilities and over 80% of utilities owned by investors like PG&E already using them, the city council’s conversion to technology is relatively recent. In 2012, the board chose not to make the switch, citing high costs and uncertain benefits. Council members changed their mind in November 2018, when they unanimously endorsed the technology and approved a roadmap for its implementation.
A key milestone in the implementation process came on July 7, when the Utilities Advisory Board voted to approve the withdrawal of $ 18.5 million from the Department of Canada’s “special electrical projects” reserves. water taxpayers). The board is expected to approve the commission’s recommendation upon returning from summer vacation.
The commission, which has been discussing the project for years, generally agreed that the change will benefit both the city and customers. The only dissenter was Commissioner Phil Metz, who suggested that the city develop a clear plan for “smart grid” programs before proceeding with the investment. Other Commissioners, including AC Johnston and Greg Scharff, have all spoken in favor of moving forward without further delay.
“It’s really exciting to see this move forward and get closer to the actual implementation,” Johnston said during the July 7 discussion.
Johnston and commission chair Lisa Forssell both said they were concerned about potential cybersecurity threats to the advanced counting system. While staff assured them that each of the vendors met industry standards for privacy and security, Forssell urged staff to work with auditors and security companies to perform infiltration tests to ensure guarantee the security of the system.
And while Commissioners generally agreed that the system would bring tangible benefits to electricity and water users, Scharff noted that the benefit to gas customers is less tangible and questioned the need for investment. in the gas utility, which could gradually disappear over the next few years. as the city tries to meet its sustainability goals.
Utility staff noted, however, that maintaining the existing gas meters would force the city to retain the meter readers and thus forgo one of the main economic benefits of switching to the new system.
“Not investing in radios for the gas utility is not economical because we would send meter readers just to read gas meters,” said Shiva Swaminathan, senior resource planner in the utility department.
The project will be carried out in phases, with around 100 meters installed in early 2022 and 3,000 additional meters in late 2022 and early 2023. Teams would then install the remaining 71,000 meters by the end of 2024. In addition to replacing each electricity meter, the project provides for the replacement of 8,369 water meters over 20 years old. The rest would be equipped with “SmartPoints” to allow connection to an advanced metering infrastructure. Around 24,000 gas meters would also be equipped with “SmartPoints” so that each contains a radio that would transmit gas data wirelessly.
Utility staff noted that the system would provide customers with information that would allow them to use gas more efficiently, allowing the city to buy less gas and saving the customer on their bills.
“AMI is very profitable because you help people save money just by providing information. This is where the community realizes bill savings – by not having to purchase that additional gas as it uses information from its AMI system to use energy more efficiently, ”said Jonathan Abendschein, deputy director of the management of utility resources, during the meeting.
Metz, meanwhile, noted that the city has yet to fully define the “smart grid” programs it hopes to implement once the new technology is in place. Utilities officials are signaling their willingness to implement “hour-of-use” tariffs and “distributed energy” systems that encourage, for example, eclectic vehicle owners to charge their cars during off-peak periods. The city, Metz said, should develop a “concrete plan” for these programs to justify the city’s investment in advanced metering infrastructure.
“I kind of feel like ‘smart grid’ was used as a slogan and not fleshed out.… What will we do about it, to take advantage of automated meters?” Metz asked.