CPS Energy smart meter installation coming late summer; first four areas chosen

cps energy logoThe first four areas of San Antonio chosen to receive smart meters were shared with the CPS Energy Board of Trustees on April 28 as part of a comprehensive update on our $290 million Smart Grid Initiative.

The first areas to get the new meters were chosen for a variety of considerations. In the northwest area, a good deal of the new distributed automation system is already in place, so CPS Energy will be able to test how the different parts of the system will work together. Distributed automation is a major part of the smart grid which allows for real-time, automated adjustment of electricity loads, which increases reliability and saves energy.

CPS Energy Smart Meter Installation mapThe downtown area has a lot of meters below ground and in other enclosed places, so we will test and tweak the communications signals between the meters and CPS Energy.

All three outer areas contain a high percentage of our oldest meters, and so are also the places which had the largest number of estimated bills last summer. Installing smart meters will drastically reduce the number of meters we estimate in any given month.

Installation will begin in August, and continue through 2018, when all 740,000 electric meters and 360,000 gas meters will be replaced or upgraded. We installed 40,000 smart meters across all parts of the city in 2011 as a pilot project.

Early next year, we’ll launch an energy management portal, which will allow customers to go online and track their energy use in near real time. Provided by OPower, the portal will allow you to see a running tally of your bill based on the amount of power you’ve used thus far.

That will allow you to make changes to reduce your bill like inching your thermostat up a couple degrees, for example, rather than getting a bill long after you’re able to do anything about how much energy you used.

It’s important to note that CPS Energy will NOT have the ability to change your thermostat or any other appliance through the new meters. We do have voluntary programs, such as Home Manager, which allow access to A/C thermostats, pool pumps and water heaters in exchange for a rebate, but those programs require additional devices, and customers must proactively enroll in them.

With the first installations set for August, CPS Energy will be reaching out to each neighborhood to help customers understand why we’re upgrading our grid, what the upgrades consist of (meters are the most visible to customers, but they’re a small part of the overall project) and how everyone benefits. If your homeowners’ organization or community group is interested in having us come and speak to you about our Smart Grid Initiative, please email talk@cpsenergy.com.

One benefit with the smart grid will be more quickly identifying power outages. Today, if the power goes out, you must call CPS Energy to let us know, and we have to send a crew out to manually search the lines for the outage. With a smart grid, CPS Energy will receive a remote signal from the exact location of the outage, and we’ll be able to fix the problem remotely or more quickly send a truck out.

When power fails, smart meters will send a “last gasp” signal to CPS, and “we’ll know within seconds,” spokesman John Moreno told the San Antonio Express-News. “That’s one of the big benefits of the smart grid. Now we don’t have to wait for that customer to come home and say, ‘I don’t know how long the power has been out, but the food in my refrigerator is warm.’”

A smart grid also means increased privacy. No more will we have to send meter readers to your home each month to read the meter. No more leaving the gate unlocked, no more worrying about the dog — for you or our meter readers! (And it’s important to note, we’re not laying anyone off. Meter readers are being retrained and transitioned to other parts of the company.)

And how about cleaner air? The smart grid helps with that several different ways: we’ll be driving almost 900,000 fewer miles each year since we won’t have to physically read each meter. We’ll save megawatts through better load management with distributed automation, and we’ll be able to better integrate more renewable power into the grid – all three of those changes mean less pollutants in the air.

“Adopting the smart grid for San Antonio is a natural evolution for a city on the rise,” David Jungman, vice president of Corporate Development and Planning told the board. “It positions us for the future.”

GreenStar’s LEDs: an illuminating way to give back to San Antonio

cps energy logoWhen Paul Duran started GreenStar in a small warehouse in Boerne in 2009, he was trying to solve the heating problem created by traditional incandescent lights in the electric refrigerated truck bodies he was manufacturing.

LED lights, he knew, created as much illumination as traditional bulbs, but with the ability to dissipate heat , while using a third of the power.

With traditional bulbs, “you basically heat up a piece of metal so hot it emits light,” said Gabriel Senior, GreenStar’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “With LEDs, you’re exciting electrons, and that emits light. It’s a huge paradigm shift in lighting technology.”

Just five short years after the company began, GreenStar is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba Lighting and Technologies, with its Americas headquarters in San Antonio and selling to municipalities and commercial businesses worldwide — and it’s just recently installed its 50,000th LED light.

Of those, more than 14,000 are now illuminating many of San Antonio’s main thoroughfares, as part of a deal between CPS Energy, GreenStar and the city of San Antonio. The company was one of CPS Energy’s first New Energy Economy partners.

When the upgrade is complete this summer, 25,000 LED streetlights will offer San Antonio drivers brighter, more natural looking and more direct, not to mention longer-lasting illumination of city streets — and use 60 to 70 percent less energy to do so.

Together, the 50,000 lights installed worldwide thus far by GreenStar have saved 10 megawatts of power, according to the company. Annually, that’s 47,000 megawatt hours of power not needed.

LED Lighting-29Since the cleanest energy is that which isn’t used, not generating that 10 MW has avoided spewing 74 million pounds of CO2 emissions per year into the air. That’s the equivalent of getting more than 6,500 cars off the road.

Customers who’ve installed those lights are enjoying the financial benefits, too. GreenStar estimates that together they’ve saved $4 million in energy costs, plus another $2 million in avoided maintenance costs, since GreenStar’s LED lights can last for more than a decade.

LED Lights Greenstar-27And they’re being manufactured right here in San Antonio, employing more than 40 people — almost double the company’s workforce from just a year ago. A giant “We’re Hiring” banner hangs over the entrance to the modular manufacturing site on the city’s far West Side.

“We’re hiring for assembly, warehouse and quality assurance roles on two shifts,” said Tom Wright, vice-president of operations. He said the company manufacturing strategy allows it to quickly and easily increase its production capacity based on customer needs.

Research and development is now headquartered in New Delhi, and employs another 40 or so there.

And while components and parts come from all over the world, GreenStar sources locally whenever it can, said Wright.

“We’ve calculated that about 20-25 percent of what we spend stays right here in San Antonio,” he said, “hundreds and thousands going to other small businesses here each year — and that’s not including payroll.”

The company has made giving back part of its ethos; as part of its deal with CPS Energy, GreenStar agreed to contribute $10 to the University of Texas’ College of Engineering for every light fixture the firm sold to the city.

“This green economy is a new business and we need to teach our kids what it is all about,” Paul Duran told the UTSA publication Giving in the summer of 2012, noting that none of the 14 engineers on his staff at the time were from San Antonio.

The money was used to endow the GreenStar Energy Engineering Professorship in the College of Engineering — the college’s first energy-related endowed professorship.

“It’s just another example of how the new energy economy is coming into play here in San Antonio,” said Wright. “GreenStar is extremely proud of its economic and environmental contributions to not only San Antonio, but the world thus far — and is looking forward to continued growth and a very bright future.”

This story originally appeared in Energized, CPS Energy’s blog.