Milton updates meter readers for online access

A Southern Ontario town is one of the first communities in Canada to deploy a wireless smart meter network that allows residents to measure their consumption hourly via the Web.

Since June, Milton Hydro has installed smart meters to 250 residential homes in the Town of Milton, which has a population of 47,500 (2004) as part of a pilot project with Ozz Corp. and smart meter technology firm Trilliant Networks Inc. Based on wireless mesh network technology, the information is transmitted back to Ozz’s data centre in Concord, Ont. via multiple networks including Motorola’s Canopy wireless broadband and the Telus Mobility network. This project builds on Milton’s existing telephone-based smart meter implementation.

“The purpose of the pilot is to test the technology and to test its reliability,” said Milton Hydro president and CEO Don Thorne. “This is new technology and we’re going to put it through its paces to make sure it meets all of our requirements, particularly from a reliability standpoint.”

The smart meters contain a module that communicates with a connector using industry standard IEEE 802.15.4 protocol. The connector, which is approximately 100 to 2000 metres away from the smart meter, relays the information over the network to the data centre where the information is stored on a server. To date, Ozz has deployed more than 5,000 smart meters in the province. Trilliant has more than 75,000 smart meters deployed in Canada and over 200,000 in North America.

Ozz Energy Solutions Inc., a division of Ozz Corp., general manager Robert Lister said Milton has always been a vanguard in testing new smart metering technologies. The town mandated smart metering on all new construction effective January 2003. On a broader scale, the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) plans to have smart meters for all customers in place by 2010.

“This was the next logical progression in that it’s the mesh wireless technology,” said Lister. “(Milton) is at the forefront of technology on the smart metering.”

With this technology in place, residential and small commercial customers that are currently billed for their electricity usage on a tiered rate structure will, starting in October, be billed for the time of their use rates. In the old structure, for the first 750 kilowatt (kWh) hours users pay a lower rate and pay a higher rate for the balance of time thereafter. Under the new billing structure, set by the OEB earlier this year, electricity rates now reflect the price paid to generators based on OEB forecasts. Starting in spring 2006, the price of electricity will be subject to fluctuations in OEB forecasts.

Lister said while many larger businesses have energy management systems in place, residential and medium-sized businesses will likely bear the brunt of these changes.

“Consumers can see what kind of electricity consumption they have and start adjusting their consumption behaviours,” said Lister. “It will make quite a difference over time as the spread between the low rate period and the high rate period in the day increases.”

In addition to cost savings, Thorne expects the new pricing structure combined with the technology will eventually change how people consume energy.

“This will be very interesting not only from Milton Hydro’s perspective and the town’s perspective,” said Thorne. “Regulators are also going to start seeing customer reaction from this rate structure.”

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