While Connecticut thankfully has been spared the brunt of the deadly and costly heatwaves blanketing the United States and Europe, we are no stranger to the perils of severe weather. As we’ve learned the hard way, each new storm presents unique challenges to maintaining electric grid reliability. And our collective frustration is compounded by one of the highest electricity rates in the nation.
The situation is improving and we’re now at a critical crossroads in developing the grid of the future — the grid we’ll need to compete. But we have to make informed decisions on how to get there, and one of those decisions must be made now.
Our electricity future requires a more interactive grid which promises to improve reliability, empower consumer choice, and ultimately reduce ratepayer costs. If Connecticut’s grid is to deal with increasing severe weather while adding more clean energy and electric vehicles (EVs), we’ll need the new, advanced technology necessary to support a sophisticated grid that is resilient in the face of severe weather and can rapidly expand clean energy and electric transportation.
Connecticut’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) has asked Eversource and United Illuminating to develop plans for upgrading the electric meters for homes and businesses to ensure these devices do more than just measure energy usage. United Illuminating has been slowly upgrading their meters; Eversource has an aggressive plan to upgrade all meters by 2026. This is a turning point, at which the public and private sections can either invest in status quo technology or invite true innovation to the state, essential to keep our state’s economy competitive.
Utilities can apply for funding from the Department of Energy Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act to transform the grid with innovative technologies and drive down electricity costs for Connecticut residents and businesses.
U.S. DOE Secretary Jennifer Granholm’s Energy Advisory Board recommends that “DOE should not fund retail level smart meters as this technology has already been broadly adopted.” Instead, “program funds should be allocated to electric distribution improvements that enable grid edge applications involving, among other things, demand response, distributed energy resources, [and] the use of EVs.”
How do we enable the grid we need? We need to shift toward investments in transformative, advanced technology, which a) present customer consumption information in a way which will encourage smart energy decisions such as adopting clean energy and greater efficiency, b) provide faster utility response during outages and finally, c) help prioritize subsequent grid infrastructure investments needed to improve reliability and resiliency. All these benefits ultimately lower costs as well, which means ratepayer relief down the road!
Yes, the utilities should therefore invest in advanced meters, but also ensure they build robust IT platforms to take advantage of the rich information provided and provide flexibility to leverage future innovations. This new paradigm promises advanced computing and processing power, enabling real-time data processing within seconds. Real-time data analysis will allow utilities to proactively manage outages, plan timely upgrades, and facilitate solar and EVs expansion.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get it right. PURA will soon be releasing a decision on the utilities’ metering investment proposals. It is imperative that Connecticut pursue metering solutions which will facilitate operating the grid more effectively, provide better information to customers, add more clean energy, and ensure fewer outages. All of these advances will also lead to lower rates down the road.
PURA has done tremendous work over the past two years, asking the right questions to ensure smart meter investments provide value for customers. With a vision for how to use advanced meters to enable the modern grid, Eversource can secure significant federal funding for next-generation technology.
Now is the right time to invest in sound metering technology at the grid edge for the benefit of Connecticut customers and our energy future.
Jonathan Steinberg is a member of the Connecticut House representing the 136th District in Westport.