Sensor-a-rama Part 3: You can't save power without measuring it

This is the third in my separate but kinda sorta related blogs about all manner of green tech sensors that help measure and adjust electricity usage. The subject is a collaboration between Burbank Water and Power in California and SmartSynch, which provides technology called SmartMeters that communicate two-way via Wi-Fi and provide information about utility service usage.

This is the third in my separate but kinda sorta related blogs about all manner of green tech sensors that help measure and adjust electricity usage. The subject is a collaboration between Burbank Water and Power in California and SmartSynch, which provides technology called SmartMeters that communicate two-way via Wi-Fi and provide information about utility service usage.

SmartMeters allow a utility service provider to request and receive real-time usage information. The process of collecting information can also be automated according to some sort of schedule: meaning that meters can be read proactively in a more efficient manner than is currently possible. (Heck, our meter guy visited just last week and was astonished to find us at home so he could get into our basement. Usually, our utility guess-timates our usage based on historical data, which can really be a bummer when the comparison month was subjected to extreme weather.)

Since the SmartMeters technology communicates two ways, the utility can be smarter about managing its supply AND consumers also can get a better grip on what they are using and take action to reduce not only their consumption but also, potentially, what they are paying for it. So far, SmartSynch reports that 65 of the largest utilities in the country are using its technology.

Henry Jones, CTO of SmartSynch, says his company is working with Burbank Water and Power to deploy the SmartMeters across about 30 percent of the city geographically. FYI: This particular service area includes the utility's largest customers and accounts for about 50 percent of the electricity it generates. The so-called "SmartGrid" project is being piggybacked on top of Burbank's municipal Wi-Fi deployment, which covers about 20 acres, Jones says.

The main goals of the project initially are to track and respond to outages, and balance load across the grid during peak usage. In the future, the meters could be used to help measure the contribution of alternative energy resources as they are added. (For example, if someone adds solar to their home, the meters will keep track of what the household is contributing back to the grid and offer an incentive.) It could also be used to track and optimize the use of another precious and expensive resource in California, water.