Employees with Corix Utilities prepare to install one of Southern California Edison's new smart meters. By the end of 2012, SCE will install nearly 5 million smart meters for residential and small business customers. (photo by So Cal Edison)

DOWNTOWN — These days, it seems like you can check just about anything from your smartphone. And by the end of 2011, you’ll be able to check on how much energy you’re using at home from just about anywhere.

In an effort to help the environment, and help their customers save money and energy, Southern California Edison is installing wireless smart meters throughout the region, said Ken Devore, Edison’s SmartConnect program director.

Over the next two months, some 130,000 smart meters will replace Edison customers’ old legacy meters, about 60,000 of them in Santa Monica.

Because Edison will be collecting data on customers’ energy usage wirelessly, the company will phase out its army of meter readers. Devore said that will take between 79,000 and 80,000 vehicles off the road, which will stop about 365,000 tons of greenhouse gas from spewing into the air.

Customers will find the smart meters more interactive, Devore added. The smart meters will utilize many features to help customers better monitor their billing cycle in the same way that they can monitor their bank accounts or text message usage.

Currently, customers have access to how much energy they are using from their monthly billing cycles. With smart meters, customers will be able to see weekly and daily break downs of their energy usage online. Edison hopes this will encourage customers to shift their energy usage away from peak use hours, typically between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Customers can already receive alerts via a smartphone app informing them when their bill approaches a certain amount. New smartphone apps are being developed and will be available to customers in the future, Devore said.

Smart meters have caused controversy in the past. Customers have said that the meters report incorrectly on their energy usage, overcharging them. Edison hopes that the more interactive meters will encourage customers to work with the company to solve technical problems and inaccuracies.

Others have raised questions about the meters’ radio frequency signals and whether or not they pose a threat to public health. Edison said the meters use radio frequency signals similar to cell phones or Wi-Fi routers to communicate, although the meters’ signal strength is typically weaker than that of cell phones.

Customers will be notified by mail when their meter is to be replaced. Installing the new meter will take between five and 10 minutes, Edison officials said. Customers will see a 1.6 percent increase on their bill to help cover the cost of the program.

The Edison SmartConnect program was approved in 2008, and the first smart meters were installed in Downey, Calif. in 2009. Over 2.7 million meters have already been installed, and the program is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.


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