Aspen, Colorado has taken the first step towards implementing a smart grid that will take both electrical and water usage into account. The goal is to allow residents of the worldrenowned ski resort to know how much energy or water they are using before they get their monthly bill while saving operational costs and increasing the reliability of the entire system.

So far, smart electric services have become available. “We recently purchased about 150 new electric smart meters that can communicate information about how much energy a person is using and when,” said Lee Ledesma, utility operations manager for the city of Aspen, in an interview with the Aspen Times. “Your usage can be managed before the bill goes out.”

So far, the city-owned utility has installed more than 200 smart meters mostly within an affordable housing development. Eventually, the smart meters will connect over the Internet with a Web portal that will allow utility customers to log in remotely and monitor their energy consumption in real time. At the present, homeowners that have a smart meter installed can call the billing department and ask for a report to be sent to them that details energy usage.

“This is really the first step in transitioning to a smart grid system, which will increase response time for outages in addition to clueing customers and the city into energy and water consumption histories,” added Ledesma. He said that Aspen also has about 100 smart water meters available.

The smart meters will help customers better understand how they are using electricity and water. Precise measurement allows for much more accurate billing and by accessing historical data consumers can pinpoint ways that they can conserve.

“Sometimes we’ll get phone calls asking how the customer could have possibly used 250,000 gallons of water,” explained Ledesma. “With a smart meter, we can look at the history and say, ‘On July 18 and 19 you used 200,000 gallons of water.’ Sometimes just knowing the date can help narrow down where that usage is coming from.”

The smart meters are a starting point for the city’s utilities. Aspen is currently going through the processes involved in applying for stimulus funding that would help the city make the smart grid transition more quickly.

“The minimum grant amount is US$300,000,” said Ledesma. He added that the grant money could go a long way towards remotely connecting customers with their usage information over the Internet. “Without having a full customer interface, we aren’t seeing the full benefit.”

The federal stimulus money could also be used to buy more smart meters for the roughly 2,800 electric and 3,700 water customers. The smart electric meters cost US$400 each and the smart water meters cost US$100. The electric meters make consumption reads every hour and transmit that information back to the utility. The water meters transmit read consumption data and transmit the information every six hours.

Ledesma said that Aspen city officials want to know how interested city residents are in the smart meter concept and that anyone who would like to have one installed should contact the utility company. Interested households must be customers of Aspen Electric or Aspen Water.

“If you can monitor your daily usage before you get your bill, you can modify your behaviour,” said Ledesma.

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