Smart utility meters track use and may hold savings for customers

OAKLAND (KTVU) -- The small Northern Marin Water District is currently experimenting with high-tech smart water meters that can communicate with customers in real time about their water usage and how to conserve.

Consumer advocates say when used correctly, the smart meters -- whether for water, electric or natural gas -- can result in saving for consumers.

The East Bay Municipal Utilities District has also been testing different kinds of smart meter technologies such as meters that read themselves and report back to headquarters as often as needed.

Customers that already have the meters can monitor their utility use online whenever they want. And notices of leaks and excessive water use can be electronically messaged to the customer right away, long before unpleasant surprises on the next bill.

The program is now being expanded.

"This is a study that will be going over the next couple of years and we hope to deploy 10,000 to 20,000 smart meters out into our service area," said Charles Bohlig, East Bay MUD's conservation supervisor.

Pacific Gas & Electric now gives it's customers three ways to access the information logged by their smart meters.

  • Consumers can access an online tool that allows them to get a detailed look at their energy usage. "This is a great tool," said Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokeswoman. "It gives you a breakdown, hour-by-hour of your energy usage."
  • Another PG&E online service called Green Button allows customers to download apps that connect customers to other monitoring systems that track customer's usage in 5-minute increments. 
  • The utility's "Stream My Data" allows ratepayers to monitor their electric use second-by-second and track what the rate is at the time it's used. Consumers can see how much their racking up each day until the next bill. If use is excessive, you'll get electronic alerts.

"You purchase a device (and) that device then connects to your Smart Meter and can see minute-by-minutes information," Sarkissian said. "PG&E does not sell it but other companies do (and they) usually run about $100."

East Bay MUD, is employing PG&E's gas and electric smart meter technology and is looking at how to determine not just how much water is being used but how it's being used.

"So, what we're trying to do is get better profiles of how much water is being heated versus how much is just cold water," Bohlig said. "And from there we can develop conservation programs for East Bay MUD and also for the utility company."

By KTVU reporter Tom Vacar