Improving technology already has given electricity consumers greater control of their energy usage.
New technology over the next few years promises to produce even greater improvements.
“As we modernize our system, we will be able to interact with our customers better and with our technology,” said Jessie Langston, vice president of retail energy at OG&E. “Our SmartHours technology allows us to do things today that we could not do five years ago.”
SmartHours provides consumers with far more data than was previously available. The system allows consumers to see how much electricity they use throughout the day. The data can also show consumers how much money and electricity they can save with small changes such as adjusting the thermostat or not using an older, inefficient refrigerator or window-mounted room air conditioner.
Technology upgrades have also allowed the utility to identify and repair power outages more quickly.
Other improvements are designed to help customers who have waited too long to pay their bills. OG&E three years ago began testing kiosk payment machines throughout the state. More than 150 are in place today.
“Today, with the 150 kiosk machines and the smart grid, if customers find themselves without power, they can go to a kiosk machine and pay their bills,” Langston said. “The system will automatically see the payment and restore power. The customers will probably have the lights on when they get home.”
Along with the smart grid system, smart thermostats have the potential to help consumers use less energy throughout the day.
Programmable thermostats have been available for many years, but few consumers take the time to program or fully use the intelligent boxes. Newer technology has allowed “smart” thermostats to program themselves based on usage.
Public Service Co. of Oklahoma does not officially endorse smart thermostats, but consumer program manager Eric Raines said the utility sees the potential for such improvements.
“We've found that the simpler, the better with thermostats,” Rains said. “More people are finding they're willing to use the programmable thermostats as long as they're easy to control.”
Other upgrades to existing equipment includes improved lightbulbs.
LED, or light-emitting diodes, use as little as one quarter of the energy of traditional lightbulbs. PSO has partnered with retailers throughout its service area to discount the price on compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.
The upgrades can help reduce several costs, Raines said.
“Incandescent bulbs put off heat,” he said. “When you replace that with (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) and LEDs they use less electricity and put off less heat.”
Other forecasts have shown that more consumers will likely install their own renewable generation, including solar panels and wind turbines. Utilities are already preparing for the possibility of more consumers generating their own power.
OG&E now has 126 customers who have wind or solar generators at their homes or businesses, together representing less than 1 megawatt of capacity.
“Today it represents a very small portion of our system,” Langston said. “One reason is because our rates are still cheaper than the alternative.”