Smart meters need smart customers for real savings on electricity.
That's why Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. has embarked on a consumer education campaign that will benefit both the utility and customer's bills.
Pete Delaney, president and CEO of OG&E's parent company OGE Energy Corp., said the utility's new SmartHours program allows customers to save money by using electricity at off-peak times.
“We have the opportunity to broaden the legacy of Oklahoma as it relates to innovation in energy,” Delaney said at Oklahoma State University's annual energy conference Tuesday in Oklahoma City. “Smart customers are part of realizing that vision.”
Delaney said if enough people sign up for the voluntary SmartHours program, the utility can delay building a new power plant until at least 2020. The program is the next step after OG&E began installing smart meters across its customer base. The smart meter project is expected to reach all the utility's 780,000 customers by the end of the year.
“We believe the technology now exists to partner with our customers to shift demand using variable price signals,” Delaney said.
“Technology allows us to communicate with the products in our system and our customers.”
Delaney said utilities across the country and around the world are closely watching OG&E's efforts, called demand-side management in industry lingo.
“Nowhere else is this technology being driven this aggressively on a voluntary basis,” Delaney said. “I often get the question: ‘Why is this happening in Oklahoma? Don't you want to burn and use as much as you can?' I think it's a good idea to change that notion. We've got to produce it wisely and use it wisely.”
In response to an audience question, Delaney said it was likely the next generating plant OG&E builds would be powered by natural gas, not coal.
“Our view is no question, it would be a natural gas plant,” he said. “We expect those prices to remain attractive for quite some time. We think natural gas is a winner.”
The shift toward natural gas as a fuel for electricity generation also brings challenges for utilities and gas providers, said Phillip Moeller, a commissioner with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Last year's rolling blackouts and gas-delivery problems during a severe winter storm in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona should be a wake-up call for both industries, he said.
FERC's report on the causes of the February 2011 outages blamed the severity of the weather, but also faulted utilities and gas producers for not adequately preparing plants and equipment for winter weather.
A lack of communication also contributed to the outages.
“As we use more gas, these two industries are coming together but operate very differently,” said Moeller, whose presentation on “Gastricity” kicked off the energy conference's opening panel. “Their regulatory model is very different and there's a general disconnect between the two industries. As they get more dependent, the challenge will be how we can maintain the reliability of both systems.”
FERC's decision this week to approve a liquefied natural gas export terminal at Sabine Pass between Texas and Louisiana also will open a national debate on natural gas exports, Moeller said. That's a contrast from just a few years ago when the country was looking at building terminals to import LNG.
About 10,000 customers were involved in OG&E's pilot program for SmartHours. Any customer with a smart meter can monitor home electricity usage online at myogepower.com. But the SmartHours program also provides programmable thermostats and advance notice via text or email of the peak demand times the next day. That allows customers to better plan their usage so they aren't using electricity at the expensive, peak time of the day