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"Smart Meters" Tested On Central Ohio Homeonwers

In an effort to reduce energy costs and curb consumer usage, scientists are developing something called "smart grid" and "smart meter" technologies. Some Central Ohio homeowners already have smart meters. WOSU reports the goal is a smart meter for every home within five years.

Imagine being able to tell when it's cheaper for you to run your dishwasher or wash your clothes - or be able to sign up for an energy-saving program based on your family's needs. That's what scientists and energy providers say "smart meter" technology will do. Simply put, the meters track when you use electricity.

American Electric Power got $75 million in federal stimulus funds to test the "smart meters" in north east Central Ohio homes. The project's total cost is twice that amount. AEP President Joe Hamrock explained customers can track usage on the internet.

"Over the summer, we'll be deploying a web portal, so they'll be able to log into a system and see their usage, patterns, history. And see that compared to what others are doing, get tips on how they can more effectively use electricity and save money," Hamrock said.

Don Hall is an energy consultant with the firm Watt Works. He said many consumers don't know the cost of electricity can differ depending on the time of day. Hall said "smart meters" will help customers find out what's less expensive.

"If you knew it was going to cost you five times as much to run your dryer right now, or three hours from now it would be cheap again, would you make that decision? I think a lot of people would, and if they were rewarded for that. Smart metering makes that possible," Hall said.

But "smart meter" critics say the technology poses privacy issues. Hamrock said AEP will not monitor specifics like when a dishwasher is turned on.

Some fear electric companies will turn off a customer's power if the provider feels too much is being used. Hamrock said that's not why the smart meters were designed.

"There's nothing like that that's planned. It's all about providing the information and the time-differentiated cost of electricity so the consumers can choose the programs that make sense for them," he said.

Hamrock said for AEP customers the smart meters don't cost extra. He could not say exactly how much it would cost to replace all of Central Ohio meter's with new "smart" ones, but he predicts the cost of the meters will decline as technology gets cheaper.

Of course the "smart meters" would be connected to a "smart" power grid. And the hope is millions of customers making little changes will save lots of energy.