Putting GE Smart Power Meters to the Test

General Electric has been testing what it calls the smart grid, using smart meters and smart appliances to push and pull consumers into being smarter about consuming electricity, as my colleague Vennesa Wong wrote here some time back. Soon at least 131,000 customers of ComEd will get to take part in a bigger pilot program in metro Chicago. And one of the electric utility’s partners is, you guessed it, GE.

In early November, ComEd will begin installing GE smart meters in homes and businesses in 10 Chicago suburbs and the city’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. The test could expand to 310,000 customers if the utility, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon, gets $175 million in federal stimulus money. As it is, the test will cost $69 million, which will be paid for by all of ComEd’s 3.8 milllion customers in 2010. (That’s roughly $5 per account.)

ComEd’s test is one of only a few big ones. But it seems tentative compared to efforts by some of its peers. Pacific Gas & Electric, for instance, is spending $1.7 billion to install roughly 5 million electric meters by 2011. It began the rollout in 2006. AEP Ohio, a unit of American Electric Power, also plans to install 110,000 smart meters, about a month or two behind ComEd, under a $150 million project. (Their partner? Who else but GE.)

The meters in Chicago will be smart, but they are not quite geniuses. They will collect usage info every 30 minutes, which will be relayed to the utility with the help of another vendor, Silver Spring Networks. Customers could then get a daily report by looking up their account on the Internet. It seems to me, though, that constant, real-time data would be better carrots and sticks in changing behavior.

Still, it’s a smart move, don’t you think?

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