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Smart meters can make us smarter consumers

September 1, 2010

San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board

Living in the high-tech 21st century continually gets more complicated, and your electric bill likely will join that trend in the not-too-distant future.

But with the complications come rewards. The expected changes will be designed to enable consumers to exert more control over their power consumption and the size of their energy bills.

From the broad view, the meters and a more sophisticated grid could reduce peak-time consumption and keep the need for expensive new power generation to an absolute minimum by diverting many household tasks to hours when demand is at its lowest.

As the Express-News reported, CPS Energy is preparing to roll out 40,000 so-called “smart meters” as part of an effort to encourage sophisticated consumption. Consumers will be able to monitor their usage on the Internet.

Express-News staff writer Tracy Idell Hamilton noted that in the future the smart meters will be part of a larger innovative smart grid that will allow for an exchange of information between customers and the utility.

The way electricity rates are calculated could change as well. Prices could be higher during peak demand and lower at other times. That approach would more accurately reflect the cost of production. A smart grid would also enable those consumers who produce energy with home solar systems to sell it on the grid.

Hamilton noted that privacy and accuracy concerns remain as similar systems are tested around the nation.

But, frankly, those issues don't seem particularly worrisome. Sending energy consumption data on the Internet or through the power grid is less revealing than credit card numbers.

Smart use of our energy resources is crucial for a sustainable future. Generating electricity is costly and most often a dirty process.

CPS Energy officials are approaching the process with adequate caution and deliberation. Taking more responsibility for monitoring our energy usage likely will make most of us more prudent consumers.

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