JPS says smart meter customers to have greater benefits

Power can now be connected, disconnected from a remote location

BY JAVENE SKYERS Observer staff reporter skyersj@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

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THE new smart meters which are to be rolled out over the next three months will allow the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) to remotely connect or disconnect electricity for 20,000 of its customers, who will be recipients of the meters, in seven parishes.


The smart meter is a part of the electricity provider’s efforts to advance its operations and services using smart technology, it was announced at the official launch of the ‘Smart Meter Roll-out’ last Thursday at the utility provider’s corporate offices in New Kingston.


"These customers over the next three months will be visited by our technicians, and they’ll change their current meters to cover Kingston, St Catherine, Clarendon, St Ann, St Mary, St. James and Westmoreland. The remaining parishes will be next year; now it doesn’t mean that every customer is going to get a smart meter, [as] we’re doing about probably two to three thousand a parish," chief technology officer at JPS Gary Barrow stated.


He added that the programme, which is going to continue up to 2020, aims to install 40,000 smart meters next year, along with hopes to see an increase in the number of installations as the years progress. The meter switch, which comes at an initial cost of US$5 million, will be incurred by the utility company and also includes the cost of a special smart grid communication network to be provided by US company Silver Spring Networks.


"We are hoping certainly by 2020 to have at least 50 per cent of the population covered with smart meters, most of our large customers are already covered with smart meters, so by 2020 we are going have at least 80 per cent of our revenue base covered by smart meters," Barrow told the launch.


According to director of transmission and distribution asset management at JPS, Steve Dixon, the smart meter will provide greater benefits, such as energy management and conservation, to both the company as well as the customer.


"The beauty about this meter is really having a meter with a computer inside of it, so it provides that flexibility to do anything you want to do with a computer. … It is similar to what you have in your smartphone, so it’s almost the same thing as having a smartphone in the form of a meter," Dixon explained.


The JPS director said that the meter has a similar communication system to a cordless phone and so by using their poles, they will be able to bring information from each individual meter to a substation where it will be then recorded in their system.


"We are used to the existing cell companies to provide GPRS or cellular communication coverage and we know we have challenges with reliability and so what we have done with Silver Springs is to really invest in our own communication infrastructure that we can take advantage of the reliability, security and sustainability," Dixon said.


He added: "The meters are densely installed across the network, so unlike the telecommunication system we borrow from Digicel and Flow where you have one means of communication and if one meter goes down you have issues with this meter. Here it can speak to a next meter beside it so it forms what is called a mesh network, so if you lose communication from one meter you have two or three other meters that can provide information to bring back info to that meter."


By the end of the year, customers with smart meters should have access to a web portal that allows them to sign in and view and compare past and present consumption rates, get estimates of the cost of their next bill and view daily energy usage, among other features.


The company also announced that it will will be launching three smart phone applications later this year for all its customers, where they will be able to receive outage notifications, restoration times, see their real-time consumption, pay bills, and receive other notifications regarding their JPS account.

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