Norcross, Ga., will implement a new smart-grid-as-a-service offering from General Electric to revitalize the city’s electric grid and deploy technologies to improve energy efficiency.

Approved on Nov. 7 by the Norcross City Council, the undertaking is a three-way partnership between the city, GE Energy and Electric Cities of Georgia (ECG), an organization that provides strategic and technical services to community-owned utility systems in Georgia. The new technology will allow Norcross to respond faster to power outages, give online portal access to citizens so they can look at home energy usage patterns, and provide automated meter reading and billing.

The city will use GE’s Grid IQ: Solutions as a Service, which is designed specifically for municipalities that operate their own utilities. With the modernized system, Norcross’ electric department will have access to state-of-the-art energy management tools and hardware to enhance services citywide. The GE Grid IQ: Solution as a Service program also can integrate with existing utility systems, including customer information systems, billing and integrated voice response.

Norcross City Manager Rudolph Smith said city workers will have an easier time identifying where power outages are with the new system.

“We normally have to physically troubleshoot in the city to see if a limb or something had fallen on a wire, but now this tells us exactly where the location is from the office so you can go directly to it and get service back on,” Smith explained.

In addition, since the system employs automated electric meters that transmit readings directly to the city, Norcross won’t need multiple people to read meters or a truck to take them house to house.

Although use of automated meters is fairly common, Smith said the GE system will allow Norcross employees to remotely turn off or restore power for customers and simplify the billing process for both the utility and citizens.

Specifically, customers who can’t afford a $450 deposit to turn on power can now “advance pay” a smaller amount up front and add more money to their account later. Customers who fail to add more funds can be automatically disconnected by the system.

The new electric grid also gives city employees a heads-up about potential theft.

“If one of those meters that is supposed to be off goes on without us turning it on, an alert comes in telling us that meter shouldn’t be working,” Smith said. “You have people doing construction and they know how to transfer meters and they will take a meter from Georgia Power, set it on the meter base and turn on service. This system alerts you that this address should not have service to it.”

According to Smith, the city will charge customers an extra $1.36 per month to help pay for the system. The total cost is approximately $80,000 per year, which also takes care of any upgrades the grid may need.

Norcross will start deploying the new technology in spring 2012, with the first 150 meters being installed early next year for testing. The project should be complete later that year.

Brian Heaton  | 

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.