During Heat Waves, Marblehead's Smart Meters Prove Their Worth
7/30/2013 - Author: William J. Dowd / firstname.lastname@example.org
This past week’s scorching heat wave, the third this season, caused many Marblehead residents to retreat inside their homes, hunker down, crank up air conditioners and place ceiling fans on high to stay cool.
The hot and humid weather also caused local and state agencies to react. On Friday, the Council on Aging kept Marblehead’s Community Center open until 8 p.m. for elders and anyone who may not have had access to air conditioning.
On the same day, the expected high temperatures compelled the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to issue a statement, requesting residents statewide restrict their electricity usage and listing ways residents could do so.
“With the continued extremely hot temperatures, as we enter the weekend, it is very important that everyone make an effort to conserve electricity,” said MEMA’s Director Kurt Schwartz in an email on Friday to the press. “There are a number of easy, common sense steps everyone can take.”
Times like this that weather can require local municipal light departments to provide residents with higher-than-amounts of energy, periods known as “peak demand,” according to the Marblehead Municipal Light Department’s website.
Peak demands can lead to power instability and perhaps even town-wide blackouts from transformers blowing or catching fire, or other disruptions.
Here in Marblehead, the Light Department installed so-called “smart meters” smart-grid program funded by a 50-percent matching grant awarded in 2010 by the federal Department of Energy. The meters allow the MMLD to monitor for potential energy disruptions proactively, stopping them before they happen.
The 300-page grant application, which landed the MMLD $1.35 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, will lead to the replacement of some 10,000 meters that are hooked up to the town’s roughly 1,300 power transformers, the metal cylinder-shaped boxes mounted to street poles.
“We have about 500 smart meters left to install, but the ones that are already installed have helped us greatly during heatwaves,” said MMLD’s General Manager Jay Anderson. “These new meters have allowed us to see energy distributions in real time.”
Phil Sweeney, Light Commission chairman, said the grant accelerated the department's intentions to transfer over to smart meters eventually.
''The grant was an opportunity that was unexpected, so it was an a product of being in the right place at the right time,'' said Sweeney.
Smart meters, which can monitor both commercial and residential property, sends power-usage readings every 15 minutes through an “automated metering infrastructure system” to an Internet-based energy-management portal.
With this portal, Anderson can use his office computer and even his cell phone to monitor the burden on transformers throughout town, helping him make decisions.
“It's pretty slick,” says Anderson.
Peak demands like this past weekend’s place pressure on transformers, but now Anderson and his team can perform maintenance and respond before a transformer blows.
“We usually get 10 to 15 blown transformers in a single heatwave,” Anderson said on Monday morning. “[This heat wave] we did awesome; we didn’t have a single transformer blow.”
As a result of the new smart meters, Anderson reiterated a story he shared with the Reporter after this past winter’s blizzard in which the department had to respond to a power outage on Marblehead Neck.
“By the time a resident had known their power was out, we’d already be on our way or responding to it,” said Anderson. “Prior to this system, we had to wait until employees were finished fixing a transformer before they could move on to other ones. We didn't have enough people on the ground.''
According to the Department of Energy's smart-grid website, before this type of technology existed, utility companies had to be informed of a blown transformers after the fact or by visiting each.
Now, they can access that data by clicking a button, and the information isn't available only to utility companies, Sweeney explained.
Residents and business owners who have smart meters installed on their property can also log onto intelaHome, a website portal, using a web browser or mobile phone application, to monitor and manage their home or office energy usage.
''Information is power, and we are on the cutting edge,'' said Sweeney. ''Other municipalities are just now adopting this technology two years after we did.''
Moreover, Sweeney and Anderson said all of this has already led to reductions in departmental costs, fewer power outages and a smaller carbon footprint, both due to less maintenance and consumers making better decisions.
''[We're] always looking at ways to lower customers' energy cost by implementing technology,'' said Sweeney. ''Twenty years ago, you couldn't pull this information off the Internet by using wireless technology.''