Lincoln County Power Moves to AMI
The amount of electric energy used by your home or business is determined each month by an electric meter. These devices have been around nearly as long as electricity itself. The first generation of electric meters in the late 1800’s involved mercury. Fortunately, those meters were phased out quickly and replaced with the electromechanical meter using an induction disk whose rotational speed was proportional to the current flow in the circuit. You may remember these type of meters as they usually had five small clock dials on the face. The electromechanical meter was the work horse of the industry for over 100 years. Those meters were engineering marvels as evidenced by their long history, but beginning in the 1980s they began to be replaced by a solid state digital meter. By the end of 2010, the last two major electric meter manufacturers stopped production of the electromechanical meter. What drove the change to solid state metering was the need for more advanced functionality that could not be obtained from an electromechanical meter, like determining what time of day energy was being used the most.
Once the digital meter began to become the norm in the industry, utilities soon realized that if they could communicate remotely with the digital meter they could provide additional services to their customers and reduce their operating costs. This desire moved the utility industry to where it stands today with the advent of what is called automated metering infrastructure or AMI. AMI is a system where digital meters measure and then automatically communicate the energy use of a customer on a programmed interval to the utility. That interval is typically every 15 minutes, but could be as little as every five minutes or as long as every 24 hours. AMI systems have been approved by regulatory agencies in all 50 states. According to the U.S. Energy Information System, as of the end of 2017 nearly 50% of all electricity customers in the United States were metered through an AMI system. In Nevada, 96% of the electricity customers are metered through an AMI system.
Source: Institute of Electric Innovation
There are numerous advantages from an AMI system. The most obvious is the ability to not have to send out meter readers to read meters every month. In the case of Lincoln County Power, labor is our second highest cost, behind only the cost of the power we purchase for use in Lincoln County. Anything Lincoln County Power can do to reduce labor costs has a direct benefit to our rate payers. In addition, an AMI system can provide numerous other benefits for Lincoln County Power’s customers. For example, an AMI system will support time of use billing that will better support residential solar installations or the installation of home electric vehicle chargers, will eliminate the need to send a linemen to a person’s home each time a connection or disconnection was requested, will allow voltages to be monitored to ensure power quality meets all required standards, will notify Lincoln County Power any time a customer was without power allowing us to respond faster and manage power outages within our system more efficiently, will allow Lincoln County Power to offer pre-paid billing plans for those customers who would like such plans, and will allow a customer to monitor their own energy use on a near real-time basis through their smart phone or tablet.
The deployment of AMI systems has not been without some controversy. The two main controversies were that the digital meters are not as accurate as the old electromechanical meters and that the radio frequency used by the new digital meters to communicate with the utility may have health effects. The internet is filled with various opinions and claims on these topics. But the facts simply don’t support the claims and as a result the controversy over AMI has largely died out. In regard to accuracy, digital meters are designed and tested to a higher accuracy than the old electromechanical meters. The American National Standards Institute sets the standard for many items including electric meters. The ANSI standards for the old electromechanical meters allowed for a maximum error limit of 2%, while the newer digital meters have a maximum error limit of 1%.
Landis & Gyr Smart Meter, similar to those to be installed by Lincoln County Power.
The concern over health effects from AMI systems has probably received the greatest attention. The concern relates to the fact that most digital meters use a low frequency radio system to communicate with the utility. Other communication technologies are sometimes used, but the predominate method is a low frequency radio. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is an arm of the World Health Organization has listed radio frequency (RF), as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Although this sounds bad, the IARC defines the items listed this category as those where “the evidence of carcinogenicity in humans does not permit a conclusion to be drawn.” In other words, the IARC doesn’t know. The American Cancer Society has also weighed in on this topic and has concluded “…it would be nearly impossible to conduct a study to prove or disprove a link between living in a house with smart meters and cancer because people have so many sources of exposure to RF and the level of exposure from this source is so small. Because, the amount of RF radiation you could be exposed to from a smart meter is much less than what you could be exposed to from a cell phone, it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer.” Similar conclusions have been drawn by the Federal Communication Commission and the Food and Drug Administration. The reason being, a digital meter communicating with a low frequency radio operates at a frequency of 928 MHz or less while a cell phone on a 5G network operates at a frequency of 14,000 MHz or more. A person’s exposure to radio frequencies is dramatically higher from a cell phone.
Comparison of Radio Frequency Output. Source: DTE Energy
After carefully considering the alleged concerns over an AMI system, the potential benefits, and the cost savings and other benefits, Lincoln County Power determined in 2019 to begin to implement an AMI system in Lincoln County. Full deployment of the AMI system will take three years. The AMI system being deployed by Lincoln County Power is being provided by Landis & Gyr who has provided similar systems for over 3,500 utilities including Wells Rural Electric in northern Nevada. Meters are tested to UL standards for safety and security. Lincoln County Power’s AMI system will be an important component of Lincoln County Power’s strategy to minimize operating costs and to develop programs and services to meet the needs of its customers. If you would like additional information on Lincoln County Power’s plans to implement an AMI system, contact Lincoln County Power during normal working hours.