When Piedmont Electric began installing “smart meters” in 2006, the co-op anticipated that members would benefit from reduced meter reading costs and more efficient management of the North Carolina co-op’s distribution network. The $3 million upgrade also brought members more direct benefits: they can now use the sophisticated new system to monitor their own electric use.
The new system allows individual consumers to track how much electricity they are using on a daily basis without waiting until the monthly bill arrives. By visiting a website called MyUsage.com, consumers can learn if they are using more electricity than they planned and, forewarned with that information, find faulty equipment or reduce their use before they have to pay a large bill.
They can also sign up for daily emails or email alerts. Not only does this information save money, it also helps the co-op reduce its overall energy use and, ultimately, save members even more money through conservation. As one member reported, “After receiving emails that I had exceeded my projected daily usage number, I took steps to turn off or unplug various energy drains. This way I hope to be a partner in energy conservation.”
Piedmont didn’t stop there, however. The co-op added a prepay program, called FlexPay, that lets members pay as they go for the electricity they use.
Susan Cashion, Piedmont’s Manager of Key Accounts and Public Relations, says 425 members are using the FlexPay program already. It’s a big benefit for many of Piedmont’s members, too. In addition to conserving electricity (studies show prepaid consumers use approximately 12 percent less electricity), she says, “Sometimes it is easier to make weekly or bi-weekly payments rather than one large payment each month.” Cashion says “prepay also lets members get electric service without requiring large deposits.”
Cashion says the co-op’s members are excited by the new choices they have. They aren’t alone. The Raleigh, NC-based Triangle Business Journal awarded Piedmont its 2009 Green Action Program of the Year award for its work with the smart grid. Part of the magazine’s annual Green Awards, Piedmont was honored for taking a “specific action ... to promote environmental sustainability in its community.”
All of which comes in addition to the original benefits the co-op expected from its upgrade. “We began evaluating automated meter reading almost 10 years ago waiting for the technology to evolve and prices to come down,” Cashion says.
R.G. Brecheisen, the cooperative’s CEO, explains, “At Piedmont Electric we’re committed to doing our part to build a smarter grid, making it faster, more efficient and smart enough to handle challenges this century promises to bring. Smart Grid meters allow Piedmont Electric to empower and partner with our member-consumers by helping them save money and use electricity more wisely.”