Entergy Texas to install advanced metering systems

The Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) voted Dec. 14, 2017, to approve Entergy Texas’ request to deploy advanced metering systems in the company’s market.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) defines an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), also called a smart meter, as “a metering system that records customer consumption hourly or more frequently and that provides for daily or more frequent transmittal of measurements over a communication network to a central collection point.”

According to Entergy Texas, upgrading to AMI will have numerous benefits:

• Customers can get timely and more detailed information, so they can better manage their energy usage, which can lead to energy reduction and potentially lower bills.

• Entergy Texas will have a clearer real-time picture of the power grid and how it is operating. Outages can be identified remotely and more accurately, so crews can make repairs and restore electricity faster.

• With better information, Entergy can answer customers’ billing and service questions more quickly and effectively, improving customer service.

• Utilities in Texas have installed advanced meters across the state, with approximately 7 million meters deployed.

“The PUCT’s approval will allow us to move forward with a landmark investment in new technology that will improve how we serve our customers,” said Sallie Rainer, Entergy Texas president and CEO. “This system will lay the foundation for grid modernization technologies that offer a wide range of benefits to our customers.”

Sam Bethea, customer service manager for Entergy Texas, shared more detailed information about the new meters at the Wednesday, Feb. 21 meeting of the Beaumont Rotary Club.

According to Bethea, over the next 18 months, Entergy Texas will build and deploy the communications networks and IT systems needed.

“As approved by the PUCT, we will begin upgrading meters with new, advanced meters in 2019 with completion projected in 2021,” he said.

Advanced meters offer two-way communications between the meter and the utility, via a wireless network. They read energy use in near real-time, helping to identify outages faster, improve reliability and resolve billing issues quicker.

The meters also pave the way for new applications and programs that can help customers save money and energy such as customer Web portals and in-home displays.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sharing key results and benefits from 70 projects involved in a 2009 Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) Program and implementing AMI and customer system technologies, “information technologies encourage customers to better manage their electricity consumption by providing them with near real-time data about their electricity consumption and costs through in-home displays (IHDs), Web portals, and text/e-mail.

“Web portals and IHDs provide information in visually appealing ways to improve understanding and insight about actions that can save energy and reduce bills. Web portals often provide electricity ‘dashboards’ that give customers access to their historical and near-real-time usage information. IHDs and mobile devices offer alerts on electricity usage and notification of critical peak events.”

New capabilities for tamper and theft detection are also possible through AMI deployments, enhancing revenue and cost recovery for utility companies, according to the DOE report.

Customers have been known to go to great lengths to steal electricity, often breaking into or attempting to bypass meters. In many cases, people tampering with meters risk getting burned, electrocuted or even killed, DOE states.

While only small numbers of customers are typically involved in meter tampering and electricity theft, Forbes reported in 2013 that electricity thefts amount to about $6 billion annually, which would make electricity the nation’s “third most stolen item, after credit card data and automobiles.”

According to DOE, utilities are able to improve revenue collection and cost recovery from enhanced theft detection capabilities, identification of faulty meters, and registering previously unregistered (and therefore non-paying) meters. Additional benefits include labor hour savings, fewer truck rolls, and reduced time to find violators.

However, tamper detection also created new technical challenges for several utilities that faced increased tamper detection costs when false alarms required field investigations, says the DOE.

“Several utilities are now working to develop better data analytics to differentiate actual theft incidents from the many different events that can trigger tamper alarms. Data analytics can be used to reduce the number of false positives and unnecessary truck rolls,” the report states.

With Entergy Texas’ current reading system, customers use energy throughout the month but only see their bill at the end of their 30-day billing period. However, according to Bethea, with AMI, customers will be able to view their energy usage in 15-minute increments the day after their usage occurs.

Bethea shared a few success stories from other energy companies that deployed AMI, one of which was Houston-based CenterPoint Energy.

According to Bethea, CenterPoint Energy embarked on a planned five-year smart meter deployment in 2009. Today, 2.2 million Houstonians have more control over their energy use, while CenterPoint Energy continues to improve electric reliability and restoration of power following weather events. Smart meters virtually eliminate manual meter reading, providing customers with more privacy and more accurate digital meter readings, he said, adding that starting and stopping service is easier, faster, and cheaper.

According to PUCT, not only can AMI be read automatically and remotely by Entergy, the company can also connect or disconnect service remotely.

“We’ll be able to read your meters from a central station,” Bethea said. “We won’t have to send someone out there to physically get a meter reading.”

According to a report by the DOE on AMI, utilities can also use AMI voltage monitoring capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of automated controls for voltage and reactive power management, particularly for conservation voltage reduction programs. Benefits from these practices include reduced line losses and peak demands, improvements in power factors, and energy savings.

Beginning in January and through December 2022, there will be a monthly $2.92 surcharge added to Entergy Texas residential customers’ bills. Following, the surcharge will drop to $1.59 per month through 2029.The charge will read “advanced metering charge.”

For more information, visit energyfuturetexas.com

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