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October 24, 2013
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GO TO 2040 and Smart Grid Opportunities

GO TO 2040 identifies energy conservation and energy demand reduction as critical regional priorities.  On the conservation side, the plan recommends the promotion of energy retrofit programs such as CMAP's Energy Impact Illinois, which has helped implement nearly 6,200 single- and multi-family home retrofits in the last three years.  On the demand side, however, there remains a need to deploy technology that allows customers to see their energy consumption on a real-time basis and respond to price signals.  These kinds of improvements are part of what is often called the "smart grid," which would use better information and improved technology to manage demand by consumers and gain operational efficiencies for utilities.

This spring, the State of Illinois passed legislation to enable the launch of ComEd's full implementation of the "smart grid" which includes the installation of digital meters on homes that allow consumers to see their electricity consumption and inform ComEd about power outages on a near real-time basis.  As of September, ComEd began to install smart meters in homes at a full-scale operation.  The majority of the seven-county northeastern Illinois region should be completed by 2021, a significant step in modernizing the regional grid.

Smart meters have a relevant role to play in reducing regional energy consumption in a number of ways and the potential to open a pathway to increased behavior-based energy reduction. This has previously been a challenging policy strategy to tackle, in part because consumers pay their electric bills a month after they've consumed the energy.  Most metropolitan Chicago residents have no way to clearly link how much their meter moves when they turn any given power switch on or off.  Rather, they only have access to information on a post-use, cumulative basis.  However, studies have shown that energy can be saved simply by choosing to use one's energy consumption more wisely. 

Smart meters allow consumers to monitor how they use electricity daily and by the hour via their on-line ComEd accounts.  This is similar to having on-line access to your cell phone's data usage -- customers can access information in real time and modify behavior immediately to reduce monthly electricity costs.  Consumers should be able to better determine, for example, how much energy their appliances consume when in use, allowing them to make more informed decisions about how to manage their electric consumption and directly influencing the behavior change that has been so challenging to address in energy efficiency programs.

Consumers will also receive other benefits from the smart grid as well.  Smart meters will automatically alert ComEd to storm-related power outages, informing them almost immediately where to dispatch crew and reducing the amount of time residents and businesses are without power.   Currently, ComEd relies on customer calls to determine outages and has limited real-time insight when sending crews to areas where power may or may have not already been restored.   Finally, ComEd expects meter readings and subsequent billing to be more accurate month-to-month instead of relying on meter readers to physically reconcile energy consumption.

Smart grid updates and smart meter installation have the potential to play an important role in behavior-based energy reduction throughout the region and, if they live up to their potential, support the energy-related goals of the GO TO 2040 plan.  


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