Smart talk

The future of utility metering for Webster City was discussed Monday night during a City Council work session at City Hall.

The council is looking at options for utility metering – trying to determine whether to replace existing meters with radio read meters or more ahead to installing a smart metering grid system in the city.

“That’s the question before us,” said City Manager Ed Sadler. “Do we do the radio meters now, and then a few years down the road, switch to the smart meters?”

Sadler said that right now, half of the city’s bill each month from Corn Belt is based on demand. That pays for the infrastructure, he said.

“The unfortunate part is the amount of the electrical capacity they bill is to meet that highest demand one-half hour of one month. The rest of the time, it sits around, because it’s not needed,” he said. “But since nobody likes brown outs or black outs you better build for it.”

Sadler said the the cooperative would like to see consumers use the electricity more intelligently. He said the way to achieve that goal is through demand meters.

“Ultimately, that’s the direction we’re going,” he said.

Several representatives of Landis & Gyr, a multinational corporation with 45 companies in more than 30 countries focused on metering and other technologies which deal with management of energy, were on hand to offer a presentation for implementing a smart grid system in the community.

Al Swanson, engineering solutions director for Landis & Gyr, said explained that his company could create the grid system of meters, routers and collection points. The meters in homes, commercial entities and industrial facilities relay usage information and demand to the routers which then pass on the data to the collectors. A central command center would be operated by line department personnel, he said, but system is automated.

Swanson explained the system reports outages and can accurately pin point the location of those outages. The grid then reports when individual homes come back online with the system.

He explained to the council that an optional consumer dashboard application or portal would allow customers the opportunity to view their daily or hourly usage as well as offer comparisons to previous months. Customers could even profile their homes, outlining the appliances used to compare their usage with others in the area.

The smart meters would also integrate water metering, Swanson said. A readily adaptable unit could be attached to existing water meters to tie in with the smart meter reporting.

Swanson explained that the way the grid worked is that meters “look” for the nearest path to send it’s data to the router and eventually on to the collector. He added that if one path of the grid is down due to a power outage, the meters will seek another route to the destination point.

He told the council that there were many options to the package presented. Sadler said the cost for the entire system was between $1 million and $1.5 million for both the electric and water components. The funds are available in the electric reserve, he said, and stressed that if the proposal went forward, the city would not need to raise rates.

“I don’t expect an decision from you tonight,” he told the council. “I’d like you to send me any questions you have so that we can forward them on for answers. Then we’ll pass them back to all of the council.”

Sadler said he would like to see the City Council reconvene on the matter in late August or early September.