Tech Life: Smart utilities | News | Palo Alto Online |

Real Estate

Tech Life: Smart utilities

Local customers see real-time usage through advanced metering

In order for all area residents to have important local information on the coronavirus health emergency, Palo Alto Online has lifted its pay meter and is providing unlimited access to its website. We need your support to continue our important work. Please join your neighbors and become a subscribing member today.

In a matter of 15 seconds, a technician can swap a "dumb" meter for an advanced meter — one that tracks utility usage in real-time. A quick change transforms a home from an isolated energy user into a piece of the local energy grid.

By 2013, more than 51 million advanced meters were connected to homes throughout the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. On more of a local level, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. says 9.8 million SmartMeters were deployed in Northern and Central California between 2007 and 2014.

"The biggest benefit is the real-time recording of energy usage," says Jil Shingledecker, PG&E corporate relations spokeswoman.

She goes on to explain how the SmartMeters benefits both the consumer and the utilities company. Because of the flow of specific data, PG&E can see outages and respond directly to the problem area. The company isn't waiting for a customer to call in with a complaint; the company can already see it. This same idea can be deployed during a major storm, earthquake or other emergency as well.

On the consumer end, homeowners can watch their hourly gas and electric on PG&E's My Energy site. It allows customers to compare this week to last week or this week to last year. By knowing what they use, people can adjust their habits to save money and take advantage of money-saving rates offered through a utilities provider, PG&E says. Plus, if anything spikes, the monitoring system can send an alert.

PG&E says its customers have embraced the SmartMeters, with more and more people using the real-time data to their advantage.

In Palo Alto, the Utilities Department is operating a pilot program for advanced meters, called CustomerConnect, which goes beyond energy useage to include water usage as well. So while not everyone has an advanced meter yet, home- and money-saving stories have come through the pipeline.

While off enjoying London, a Palo Alto homeowner's water pipe burst. Luckily, he was one of the 300 residents who are participating in the pilot program, so his utilities were connected to the grid. The Utilities Department's smart system alerted the homeowner about the abnormally large volume of water usage, and in turn, the homeowner had his landscaper go check it out right away.

"The landscaper found a huge leak," says Catherine Elvert, City of Palo Alto Utilities communications manager. "Without the smart system, we never would have known."

The pilot meters manufactured by Elster cost around $110 per meter and have been in effect since 2013. They offer similar real-time consumption data in an online platform, like PG&E's SmartMeters. The city decided to test with this particular company and system because it offers gas, electric and water metering.

"It's a neat tool for people to actively monitor their consumption," Elvert says. "We aren't full scale yet because we want to select the best option for us."

But even on the smaller scale, Utilities program manager Lacey Lutes has seen how the numbers would translate to the whole city's population.

"It is mind blowing to me how many people have leaks," she says. "If you extrapolated that ... you'd be amazed."

In her role, she helps customers catch the leak — big or small. The meters transmit data about every six hours, and the system tracks usage down to 7.5-gallon increments, which Utilities staff and the specific customer can view. But when trouble strikes, the software system sends Lutes a report with leak information and account numbers. Next, she contacts the customer to ensure they know about the issue.

"Getting to call someone is my favorite part of the new meter system," she says. "It is saving water, and saving them thousands of dollars."


This article appeared in print in the Fall Home + Garden Design 2015 publication.

We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:31 am

[Post removed due to inaccurate factual assertion.]

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 25, 2015 at 1:12 pm

What baffles me, are the office buildings downtown that have almost every office light on all night long. What a waste of electricity!

29 people like this
Posted by Also
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 10:36 am

No mention of the smart meter fires? Weird.

12 people like this
Posted by Polly Wanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 3, 2015 at 12:23 pm

The internet of blings is here.

37 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Smart high tech utilities.

Doubt it will be smart, or high tech, just cost us more. We can't even get high tech readers to scan our garbage/recycling/compost cans so that we pay only when we put them out.

30 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 3, 2015 at 7:36 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

$110 for the new meter?
How much for the OLD style?

How much does it cost to READ the old style (plus the GAS and Water since there is little savings if the Meter-reader still has to stop by).

34 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Why is the weekly reprinting PG&E PR copy originally published in Fall Home + Garden Design?

48 people like this
Posted by You Gotta Be Kidding,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 3, 2015 at 7:57 pm

There was such an outcry against smart meters because of their inaccuracies. Most of these meters were showing electricity in use when the homes were unoccupied, businesses closed and dark, in both cases no electrical output, the smart meter measuring nothing!

We had one in another city, where PG&E forced it on us, and even though we were out of town 1-2 weeks per month, our electric bill was literally four times higher, in the same house, when we were GONE, than it was with the old meter when we were home thirty days a month. I seriously think PG&E rigs these things.

Before we moved to Palo Alto we called the Utility Dept and asked about smart meters. We were told that Palo Alto would NEVER have them, because everyone knew, possibly even PG&E, that they were wildly inaccurate and prone to external problems ( such as adulteration).

37 people like this
Posted by Ben
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2015 at 8:15 pm

Yes, why is PA Weekly printing such a pr puff piece for PGE?

Since this 'article' is so slanted, some conspiracy mixed with truth is required for some balance!

Here are some articles that right or wrong, put more effort into their stories than the drivel from PGE above:

SFGATE: Is your smart meter spying on you?
Web Link

In-Home Surveillance Using Smart Meters. Privacy, Data Mining and Health Impacts
Web Link

CPUC Investigation Reveals that Senior Execs at PG&E Knew About- and Condoned Spying on Stop Smart Meters! and EMF Safety Network
Web Link

In Drought, Smart Meters Prompt Privacy Concerns
Web Link

Smart Meter Companies Admit: We’re Spying On You
Web Link

19 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 4, 2015 at 12:58 am

"CPUC Investigation Reveals that Senior Execs at PG&E Knew About and Condoned Spying"

This is being pushed by the same type of executive dirtbags at PG&E that neglected pipeline repair, and blew-up 35 homes, and killed eight people in San Bruno... what do you expect.

Shameful journalism by the Weekly.

"2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion" Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by Oxymoron
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 5, 2015 at 8:45 am

Isn't the term "smart utilities" a contradiction of "Soviet Nuclearphysicist", or "GM quality"?

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay up to date on local coronavirus coverage with our daily news digest email.

These local restaurants are donating meals to Bay Area residents in need. Here's how to help.
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 11,109 views

Coronavirus: Plan ahead now for a big outbreak
By Diana Diamond | 19 comments | 4,126 views

Will the Coronavirus Save Lives?
By Sherry Listgarten | 29 comments | 3,894 views

How COVID-19 Affects Communities
By Jessica Zang | 15 comments | 1,242 views

The first few seconds after awakening; before I remember the virus
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 977 views



The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 10, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details