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Smart meters to be installed this summer

BC Hydro hasn't set dates but installations must be finished by end of 2012



Don't be alarmed this summer if you see a trades worker walking up to your house and tampering with your electrical meter.

It's not a burglar - it's a BC Hydro employee tiptoeing around you to attach a "smart meter" to your house.

The device, which will start to be installed on all British Columbia homes this summer, is the Crown corporation's new method for taking stock of electricity use throughout the province. It aims to provide real-time information about your electricity use.

Situated in a Burnaby industrial park the laboratory, which Pique visited recently, looks like a control centre.

It's a single room with meters mounted on the walls and others scattered across tables and desks. A computer monitor mounted on a wall opposite shows precisely how much electricity a particular meter is measuring at a given time.

The initiative, known more formally as the Smart Metering and Infrastructure (SMI) program, requires a major capital investment of $930 million in order to purchase the meters themselves and develop a "smart grid" network to relay their information back to BC Hydro.

The look of the smart meter is an upgrade in itself. Customers currently measure their electricity use on a series of dials that help measure how many kilowatt hours (kWh) you've used in a given period. The dials read right to left, giving you a four- or five-digit number.

You take the five-digit number in one month and subtract it from the last, and the difference between the two is the amount of electricity you've consumed in your home or your business.

In the world of electrical meters, the current model is analog and the "smart meter" is digital.

Dave DeYagher, smart meter solutions architect for BC Hydro, said a "smart grid" network for meter information would be blanketed over the province in order to transmit data from those meters and back to the mothership.

"It's a network of networks with meters associated with smart meters," he said. "This meter, it talks to a local cell router, it's a little collection point in the neighbourhood that can sit on the top of an electrical pole. So that meter sends a signal through a router, sitting on a BC Hydro pole and sends it back to BC Hydro."

In addition to real-time information about power usage, the meters also allow direct contact with BC Hydro in the event of an outage.

The way it works right now, if your power goes out you have to call BC Hydro and let them know you can't turn on your TV. You have to hope they'll show up to fix the outage in time for you to catch the end of your favourite TV show.