OUR OPINION: Meter technology takes a giant leap

By NEMS Daily Journal

Tupelo Water & Light Department has taken a giant technological step forward in committing its own resources, not the city’s general fund, to an upgrade that will remotely read electric meters citywide on residences and commercial buildings.
The $15 million project will replace nine meter-reading positions in the department, but it is not a termination notice because those employees will be shifted to other jobs in the department.
The savings will come because of the new system’s diversity and virtually unlimited capacity.
The installation of signal equipment of all existing meters and each new meter will enable TW&L to precisely calculate each meter’s monthly consumption calculation on the same day and with greater precision.
The change will eliminate the need for meter-reader trucks, their maintenance, and fuel costs.
A fiber optic cable will encircle the city on elevated lines, connect to the seven electricity substations, and from there connect to the sensing equipment on individual meters. The project will be finished in about two years.
In addition, the system will remotely measure water meters and, in 2012, “time of use” technology will allow ratepayers to monitor their use by home computers. City departments like Parks and Recreation will be able to remotely control lighting systems and equipment used in their programs.
TW&L executive director Johnny Timmons said the new technology is expected to be installed in 2012 and afterward across all the systems in the Tennessee Valley Authority service area.
The signals will be transmitted by fiber optic wires, not by wireless.
It will be able to alert the department to individual meter malfunctions, loss of power or partial loss of power, remotely turn electricity on and off, and allow trained system operators to monitor the whole city from their home computers, as necessary.
The system also will monitor all seven substations and allow some corrective functions to be done remotely in case of power outages or malfunctions.
The smart meters will allow consumers to track their usage and make adjustments in their homes or buildings to get the best rates.
In a Houston, Texas, trial, an in-home display on a battery-powered device was placed on a table top or attached to the refrigerator. Getting information from a smart meter, it displayed real-time power use, a forecast of the monthly bill, and changes to rates based on the time of day. Positive response was overwhelming.
The meter advance keeps the spirit of Tupelo’s heritage as the first TVA city, a technical and economic advance over the previous service in the early 1930s.