Outlier

Smart meters and rebounding from power outages

  • By Barry Fischer
  • October 29, 2012

Communities across the Northeast and mid-Atlantic are bracing themselves for Hurricane Sandy — which is expected to knock out power for 8-10 million utility customers this week.

Experts do suggest, however, that there may be one related piece of good news: communities that have installed smart meters — electrical meters that can enable real-time communication of energy usage data to utility companies — may be able to rebound from the outages more quickly.

Although smart meters (there are now 36 million of them installed nationwide) can’t stop tree limbs from falling and damaging power lines, they can transmit precise information to utility companies about where power has gone out and when it has been fully restored. With this detailed real-time information, utility companies can optimize decisions about where to dispatch repair equipment and line crews.

And beyond reducing the severity of power outages in stormy weather, smart meters can also help prevent them in other situations. For example, when the electric grid is over-stressed by air-conditioning demand on hot days, utility companies can leverage smart-meter data to communicate with and reward customers who are willing to dial back their electricity consumption during peak usage hours.

To learn more about the capabilities of smart meters and their proliferation across the country, see the Edison Foundation’s May 2012 report, “Utility-scale Smart Meter Deployments, Plans, and Proposals.”

About Outlier

Outlier explores trends in how people are using energy in the US and around the world. Pulling from an unprecedented (and still growing) amount of energy data—currently drawn from 50 million homes—Opower crunches energy-use information from more than 90 utility partners every day, and cross-references that with weather, household, and demographic information to produce compelling analyses in the Outlier series.