JP households to participate in electricity pilot

David Taber

JP Home & Garden

Close to 2,900 homes in three communities, including Jamaica Plain, will serve as guinea pigs for new “smart grid” energy meter technologies starting this fall.

The smart grid pilot program being run by NSTAR is one of a number of programs that utility companies are required to provide under the state’s 2008 Green Communities Act legislation.

The goal of the 18-month project is to reduce peak energy consumption by at least 5 percent, said Sharon Ballard, a staff economist for the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU), which is overseeing the project.

Project participants will be outfitted with a host of high-tech gadgets that will allow them to monitor their energy consumption and their accumulating energy bills in real time, she said.

Essentially, participating homes will be set up with a small wireless “home-area” network so their electricity meters can communicate with their in-home display devices and, via the internet, with NSTAR. Information about utility consumption will also be available to households via a web portal that can be accessed remotely by consumers, Ballard said.

According to a press release from NSTAR, the web portal will, “In instances of high electricity demand…notify customers of incentives available to those willing to lower their use.”

Reducing peak load energy usage is of particular interest for increasing energy efficiency. Because electricity cannot be effectively stored, relatively inexpensive and inefficient liquid natural gas power plants are often brought on-line specifically to cover periods of heavy energy usage.

NSTAR also plans to offer some households thermostats with “load control switches” that will automatically shut off air conditioning units during peak energy usage hours. Residents equipped with that technology will have the option to override it, Ballard said, but they will receive a $5 rebate on their energy bill if they do not.

NSTAR will begin advertising the program this fall. It is open only to households that subscribe to broadband Internet networks.

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