Love 'em or hate 'em, the controversial smart meter rollout across Texas was a costly endeavor. But the head of a nonprofit energy research center says it is money well spent.
Customers whose meters have made the switch to the digital power meters have complained of skyrocketing electric bills. Oncor Electric Delivery blamed the higher bills on an unusually cold winter season.
State regulators have hired an independent company to test the accuracy of the meters. As of April 30, the Public Utilities Commission said 1,400 smart meters have met industry standards for accuracy, but testing is not completed.
Jon Shapiro, the founder and CEO of the Texas Institute for Sustainable Technology Research, said the digital meters are here to stay -- and they could drastically change the way North Texas lives and works.
"I think it's going to be a great thing for our region," he said.
Shapiro said customers will be able to shift their energy consumption to off-peak hours after seeing their energy use in real or near-real time through online websites like the one currently available from Oncor.
"That'll allow consumers to take advantage of when utilities have the lowest electric rates early in the morning, but they still have the capacity," said Shapiro.
TXU Energy already has a time-of-use plan in place for smart meter customers who choose to sign a two-year contract.
During peak hours -- from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the summertime -- customers pay a premium of more than 20 cents per kwh. But the other 90 percent of the time, customers can save by locking-in an off-peak rate of just 9 cents per kwh.
"It's a great fit for a two-income family, because they're not home during the day, which is when the peak period tends to be," said John Geary, TXU's vice president of innovation.
With a savings of more than 50 percent, Shapiro said programs such as time-of-use will force big business to rethink the way it operates.
"If I'm a manufacturing company, and I go, 'Wow! Electricity is a big component of my expenses,' and I have people coming to work at 9 a.m. and leaving at 6 p.m., I'm going to have them all come to work at 6 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m. I may be able to knock out 20 or 30 percent of my electric expense," said Shapiro.
And with smart meters, our homes will also one day operate differently. Appliances are already in the works that will communicate with the meters. They'll be programmable to run differently depending on the time of day.
The trickle-down effect of these changes could impact every part of our daily lives.
"Every single aspect of when our food is delivered, when restaurants run or the traffic patterns could be impacted if we shift to take advantage of cheaper power," said Shapiro.
But he said, in the end, we'll be armed with knowledge to control our electric bills and conserve for the future.