When it gets hot this summer and you have the air conditioning going full blast you won’t have to wait until you receive your monthly electric bill to find out how much all that air conditioning is costing you. This summer Forest Park residents will only have to wait one day to find out how much electricity they used the day before.
Forest Park is one of nine communities that ComEd has selected to try out new digital electrical meters that will enable customers to find out how much electricity they are using with only a one day delay. This technology could be the beginning of what is known as the smart grid.
ComEd workers are currently installing the new meters for all customers in Forest Park, Oak Park, River Forest and six other communities in the near west suburbs and the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago. This area was selected to participate in the pilot project because these communities represent a good cross section of the types of customers ComEd serves said Alicia Zatkowski, a ComEd spokesperson.
In all ComEd will install about 131,000 of the new meters in the one year pilot project said Zatkowski.
“The meters that we’re installing now are digital,” Zatkowski said. “Currently the information is just going one way; it’s going from the customer to ComEd. These meters with the digital technology enables the information to go both ways. When the pilot is fully kicked off we’re going to be testing technology that provides customers with information the day after they use it. Instead of waiting until the end of the month to get your bill you can actually go check to see how much (electricity) you’ve used from the day before.”
When the pilot project goes into full swing on June 1 customers will be able to go to a Web site and look up much electricity they used the day before. If customers see they are using a lot of electricity they can cut back or adjust other spending to keep their monthly budgets intact.
“Times are hard and times are tight so that if you know your electricity is going to be higher this month it may help you manage costs elsewhere, especially in the summer months,” Zatkowski said. “It’s giving people more information as to how they’re spending as opposed to having to wait.”
The new digital meters will send usage information to ComEd every 30 minutes.
The pilot project is designed to let ComEd and customers try out new technology which could potentially reshape how we use and pay for electricity.
“The purpose of the pilot is to really assess the potential operational, environmental, and customer benefits,” Zatkowski said. “Once we complete this pilot, taking a look at that information, we can determine what the next steps will look like.”
Currently most Forest Parkers will continue to pay one flat rate per kilowatt of electricity no matter when they flip the switch. But in the future the new smart meters could allow for variable real time pricing. Under this system the cost of electricity can vary throughout the day. Electricity would cost more at times of peak demand, such as four in the afternoon on a 95 degree summer day, and cost less at other times such as in the evening or late at night.
A few customers in Forest Park may be part of a mini pilot where customers are given more advanced technology, such as counter top meters, that provide immediate real time read outs of electricity consumption.
Some 8,000 ComEd customers in the pilot region will be given this advanced technology and these customers may be put on a variable pricing program.
“We’re trying to determine what kind of technology customers gravitate to,” Zatkowski said.
The utility watchdog group, the Citizens Utility Board (CUB), welcomes the installation of smart grid technology. The use of smart grid technology could eventually result in savings of about 15 percent said Evan La Ruffa of CUB who spoke at the Forest Park Library last week to a small audience of 10 people.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” La Ruffa said. “We think this is going to be able to save people money at home.”