In Southern California, San Diego Gas & Electric is among the first of the utilities to launch its program -- a $572 million effort that will bring smart meters and access to the Google PowerMeter gadget to the energy company's 1.4 million residential and business customers by 2011.
"We see the smart meter as being one of the key components of a smart grid," SDG&E Director of Innovations Alex Kim told GreenBiz.com today.
The news from Google and SDG&E comes within days of the announcement by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke of developments in efforts to establish a nationwide smart electric power grid that will enable users and energy suppliers to connect directly through two-way, real-time communication technology.
Following a meeting of industry leaders at the White House, Chu and Locke detailed the first set of standards that are needed for interoperability and security of the smart grid. They also said the Energy Department is providing $10 million in Recovery Act funds to the National Institute of Standards and Technology for the development of such standards.
In addition, Chu said the Obama administration is raising the maximum award available in Recovery Act funds for the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program to $200 million from the original $20 million. The maximum grant for Smart Grid Demonstration Projects will increase to $100 million; it had been $40 million.
Google, which wants to organize energy consumption information around the world and make it available online, has been a strong advocate for a smart grid in the U.S.
"We've been participating in the dialogue in Washington, DC and with public agencies in the U.S. and other parts of the world to advocate for investment in the building of a 'smart grid,' to bring our 1950s-era electricity grid into the digital age," Google's Ed Lu wrote in the company's blog in February. Lu detailed the Google partnership with the eight utilities in his blog Tuesday night.
In addition to SDG&E, the energy companies partnering with Google are TXU Energy in Texas, JEA in Florida, Reliance Energy in India, the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation, White River Valley Electric Cooperative in Missouri, Toronto Hydro–Electric System Limited in Canada and Glasgow EPB in Kentucky.
Itron, a tech firm specializing in metering devices and software, is working Google to make smart meters for the initiative.
SDG&E began installing its first batch of Itron smart meters -- some 200,000 -- in March. As of today those participating in the pilot are able to go online to see how much energy their properties consumed the day before.
The Google PowerMeter includes a that graph displays energy use hour by hour, and the users can view consumption totals day to day, across a week or more. The information displays in box that sits on a user's personalized iGoogle homepage.
The smart meter program provides "customers greater choice, convenience and control of their energy consumption," SDG&E's Kim said.
The utility said its research has shown that customers typically cut their energy consumption by at least 5 percent to 10 percent when they know how much they are using. The idea, Kim said, is to help people manage their energy consumption, reduce their costs and become more energy efficient.
SDG&E's testing program is expected to run through June. The broader installation project is expected to be complete by the end of 2011.
In April, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz rolled the $200 million "Energy Smart Miami" smart grid project -- a partnership with General Electric, Cisco Systems, Florida Power & Light and Silver Spring Networks.
Deploying smart meters in every home and most businesses in Miami-Dade County is a key component of the project to overhaul the city's electrical grid. Other elements include installing solar power systems at several schools and universities and adding 300 plug-in hybrid vehicles to the city's fleet. The pilot for the ambitious initiative is to bring home energy use dashboards, smart appliances and smart-meter thermostats to 1,000 utility customers.