In the year since a local utility began installing digital meters, officials continue to find more ways to use them.
Johnson County REMC touts the data aspect, where customers can easily track their electric usage by the hour, allowing them to find ways to be more efficient.
Customers now have additional ways to pay, including prepaying their utility bills and conserving energy to last as long as possible. And REMC is saving money, since it no longer has to send employees to walk around and check meters, and can collect that data remotely instead.
But the new meters also are a tool that will help identify and repair outages faster. And that is a function the utility is continuing to research and wants to grow in the future.
Digital meters notify REMC when an outage happens, instead of a customer having to call when they lose power. For example, earlier this summer, an REMC dispatcher was notified of an outage at 2 a.m. by the meters. No customers had even called, Johnson County REMC chief executive officer Chet Aubin said.
“People didn’t even know they were out,” Aubin said.
The digital meters also are able to send more information about outages, including exactly how many customers are affected and what the issue is, such as if a fuse is blown, said Kevin Shelley, director of engineering.
The system can also help identify the location of the problem that is causing the outage, he said. It is designed to predict where the issue is, based on where outages are happening, and is usually within a quarter-mile of where the problem is located, he said. The system also keeps track of where utility workers are in the area, and will send them to where the outage is occurring, he said.
That technology is changing how utilities operate, Aubin said.
Twenty-five years ago, utility workers would do a lot of back and forth, between a substation and where they were working, trying to identify problems and whether they were fixed. Workers used to prepare notecards with all the outages laid out on folding tables in the office, he said.
“This is a huge time saver,” Aubin said.
And more new technology is coming, including programs that can help lessen how many customers are affected by an outage, Aubin said.
REMC is working on a pilot program that is separating its substations with midpoints, which would detect problems. And once a problem was found, it would turn the power back on for customers who were not affected by it, Shelley said.
Currently, if the system has a problem, every customer in that area will lose power. Then, once the problem is found and fixed, their power will come back on, he said.
With this new program, fewer customers would have to lose power. The new program would be able to detect where the problem was, and only keep the customers off who were served by the area with the problem, Shelley said.
“Over future years, we would keep breaking into smaller sections. Less people would be out, and for less time,” Shelley said.
The goal is to have that program be used system-wide in the next five to 10 years, he said.