FutureStructure

Will Smart Meters Transform Our Power Consumption?

Smart meters may soon become interconnected with household appliances and share information hourly about energy consumption.

by Ed Marcum, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. / October 20, 2015

(TNS) -- The standard electric meter is a pretty basic device that just charts your power usage, but that is going to change dramatically, said Ed Beroset, principal technical leader at the Electric Power Research Institute.

"At the moment, meters are more like microwave ovens," he said. "Your microwave oven does two things pretty capably — it can cook food and it can tell the time, but that's it."

But as household appliances become more sophisticated and able to communicate with each other, an electric meter will become more like a smartphone. It will even be possible to load applications on it to do things like share information between the meter and a transformer.

"In fact, some of our colleagues here are working on an algorithm to be able to identify which transformer goes with which meter," Beroset said.

When repairs are made because of storms or other situations, electrical systems are not always put back together they way they were, he said. An app could be made to allow the utility to sort out the situation quickly and then discard the app.

Beroset and other staff members of the institute demonstrated displays of smart meters, water heaters, an electric car charger, swimming pool pump and other technology as the institute held an open house Monday afternoon to showcase examples of an end-to-end open enabling platform.

Researchers with the institute and other organizations were invited to see the samples of the work taking place at the institute and hopefully share ideas, said Matt Wakefield, director of the information, communication and cyber security division of the institute. Located at 942 Corridor Park Blvd. in West Knoxville, the institute has a staff of about 170. Headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., the organization also has a location in Charlotte, N.C., and a total staff of about 1,000.

The work on display Monday was meant to anticipate future connectivity needs between utility customers and their grids, Wakefield said.

All manner of home appliances and devices will communicate with each other, and the open enabling platform takes the idea outside the home, he said.

Water heaters, stoves, and refrigerators will eventually be in communication not just within the home, but with utilities trying to balance power loads.

This will become more important as use of solar power increases and distribution of power becomes more of a two-way path and not just from the power company to the customer, he said.

The institute is a nonprofit organization that does research for its members, mostly utilities, but makes most of its work available to the public, said Annie Haas, spokeswoman for the institute.

©2015 the Knoxville News-Sentinel (Knoxville, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.