Smart meters helping create a more resilient energy grid
Building the energy grid of the future is well on its way. After five years of planning, foundational work and software development, Xcel Energy’s advanced grid initiative achieved a major milestone in 2021 when the first wave of smart meters was deployed at 310,000 Colorado customers’ homes.
The $1.7 billion, multi-year grid transformation deploys industry-leading technology to help Xcel Energy better manage the grid and deliver an optimal customer experience through improved outage response and the ability for customers to better manage their energy use.
The Advanced Grid Initiative enhances distribution operations through the deployment of new software, building a two-way communications network, adding new automated field devices, and installing smart meters at customer homes and businesses. The smart meters deliver numerous customer and operational benefits, providing near real-time communication between the customer and Xcel Energy, so customers know exactly how much energy they are using and what it will cost them. The meters bring cleaner, safer, more reliable energy while giving customers more options to manage energy use.
“Smart meters are the foundational technology needed to enable a new suite of energy-related products and services for our customers,” said Kelly Bloch, area vice president of Distribution System Planning and Grid Transformation. “Our industry-leading Advanced Grid Initiative will deliver outstanding value to our customers, and we are excited about the potential capabilities we see on the horizon.”
Smart meters enable time-of-use rates that encourage customers to use electricity during off-peak hours. Small changes like running the dishwasher or operating washing machines later at night or in the morning will generate savings on energy bills.
Previously, energy rates in Colorado – where customers are switching to time-of-use rates – remained constant at all hours because older meter technology could not differentiate usage by time of day. Time-of-use rates may become an option in other parts of the company’s service territory in the future.
Customers will have new digital tools to make it easy to access their energy information and gain useful insights to better understand and manage their energy use and make smarter energy choices that lower their bills and save money. To prepare for the smart meter rollout, a secure field network communications system was built and expanded, allowing the smart meters to send encrypted information to Xcel Energy through a series of secure communication devices.
Simultaneously, new software tools and controls were deployed for the company’s distribution control centers to increase reliability and resiliency, optimize voltage levels throughout the system and help the company better manage the energy grid throughout its eight-state footprint. An advanced application in the new system software for voltage management, along with the addition of 485 field devices, generated 128 gigawatt hours of energy savings for customers in Colorado last year.
While the rollout will continue in Colorado over the next few years, the first smart meters were installed in Minnesota in April 2022. Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and New Mexico will follow in 2023, with Michigan starting later in 2024. By the end of 2024, nearly 3.9 million smart meters will be deployed across the company’s service territory.
“Our customers and communities will benefit significantly from our industry-leading Advanced Grid Initiative,” Bloch said. “The initiative dovetails nicely with the company’s strategic priorities, including enhancing the customer experience and keeping bills low.”