In the recent issue of Ruralite Magazine, Dave Luttrell, general manager of Lincoln County Power District No. 1 (LCPD), noted LCPD will soon begin switching over to a new smart meter from the traditional electromechanical meters the public has known for decades.

He explained that in November 2018 LCPD decided to change over from the traditional meters and said “full deployment of the system will take nearly three years.”

Electromechanical meters, with five small clock dials on the face, measuring kilowatt hours, were the workhorse of the industry for more than 100 years.

However, beginning in the 1980s, Luttrell said, a new solid state digital meter was developed, called Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI).

A growing awareness emerged among local power companies of the need for more functionality than what was available with electromechanical meters. For instance, how to determine what time of day electricity was being used the most?

In addition, it was found that if a house meter could communicate remotely with a utility, that would allow for more services to the customer and reduce the person’s operating cost. The most obvious benefit, Luttrell wrote, “was not having to send out meter readers every month, which in the case of the Lincoln County Power District is our second highest, behind the cost of power we have to purchase for use in Lincoln County.”

He explained AMI is a system where digital meters measure, then automatically communicate a customer’s energy use on a programmed interval to the utility office. The interval is normally every 15 minutes, but can be every five minutes, or even just once every 24 hours.

In 2017, the U.S. Energy Information System reported nearly 50 percent of all electrical systems in the nation were using the AIM system. In Nevada, 96 percent have switched over.

Ken Maxwell, manager at the Alamo Power District, said he expects customers in Pahranagat Valley will also be using smart meters eventually. “We have looked into it a little bit. It’s a substantial cost, so that is the biggest drawback. We do have a few in service right now for different things, but not everyone. For us, there are a lot of things that would have to happen for us to switch over totally at the moment. We first need to get new billing software, new software program, etc. But we are looking into it because it is the way things are going.”

Luttrell said an AMI system can provide numerous other benefits for customers as well. For example, “time-of-day billing to better support residential solar installations or the installation of home electric vehicle chargers.”

Another benefit would be eliminating the need to send a lineman to a person’s home for a service connection or disconnect. Smart meters also allow voltages to be monitored to ensure power quality meets all required standards.

Also, Luttrell pointed out, “The system will notify LCPD anytime a customer is without power, allowing for a faster response time and better manage power outages within the system more efficiently.”

Customers will also be able to have pre-paid billing plans and can monitor their own energy use on a near real-time basis through a smartphone or tablet.

However, the AMI system is not without some concerns. Some in the U.S. have raised questions about health concerns. Will all the radio frequencies the new meters cause health problems such as cancer?

Although in the article Luttrell goes into a somewhat technical explanation, the bottom line is, nobody really knows for sure, but it isn’t likely.

Lincoln County Power is getting the meters from Landis + Gyr of Zug, Switzerland, which have already provided about 3,500 meters to Wells Rural Electric.

It is estimated over 76 million smart meters are presently in use in the U.S. with projections of 90 million by 2020.