Smart Meters Come to NJ, a Key to Achieving Complete Clean Energy by 2050

Tom Johnson | February 20, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Smart meters and advanced metering can help consumers tame energy use and make utilities far more responsive to brownouts and outages
Credit: Miss Efficiency via Flickr
Smart power meter

It took a while, but New Jersey is finally ready to embrace smart meters and other technology that helps customers better manage their energy use and pushes utilities to respond faster to power outages after extreme weather.

The state Board of Public Utilities yesterday lifted a more-than-two-year moratorium on utilities moving to smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), a technology that already is in place in more than 92 million homes across the country.

With the Murphy administration proposing to move New Jersey to 100% clean energy by mid-century, clean-energy advocates have long argued smart meters and AMI are critical to integrating renewable energy into the power grid and helping customers curb their use of electricity and gas.

BPU wants to see plans

In an order, the board also directed the state’s three largest electric utilities to file plans with the agency within six months to implement smart meters and AMI. Rockland Electric, under a pilot program, has already installed smart meters for its 74,000 customers; project staff and a consultant delivered benefits to those ratepayers.

In lifting the moratorium, the board found that AMI has the potential to benefit the distribution system (where outages most often occur), streamline and modernize utility operations and benefit the environment.

“It will help smooth out the grid, but more importantly, it can be used to integrate renewable energy into the power grid,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

It won’t be cheap, however. Public Service Electric & Gas, the state’s largest utility, already proposed a smart-meter initiative in September 2018 that the BPU never acted on because of its moratorium. That filing suggested spending $794 million to install smart meters over six years for its 2-million-plus electric customers.

No comment from PSE&G

PSE&G officials declined comment yesterday. In the past, Ralph Izzo, its president, CEO and chairman, has told analysts the value of smart meters and AMI is an important component of helping policymakers achieve the governor’s clean-energy agenda.

BPU president Joseph Fiordaliso agreed. “This is quite a move isn’t it?’’ he asked as the board prepared to vote on the order, acknowledging it has been under discussion for a number of years. “This is a big step.’’

The order also aligns the agency with its own recently adopted Energy Master Plan. “AMI is a foundation component of a modernized electric distribution grid and uses an integrated system of smart meters, communications networks, and data management systems to enable two-way communication between utilities and customers,’’ the plan said.

The plan also argues that statewide AMI installation is a prerequisite of many additional clean-energy objectives laid out in the master plan.

Clean-energy advocates agreed. “It is good news because New Jersey is behind the rest of the country,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Smart meters are an expense, but we can’t afford not to have a modern grid, which is key to fighting carbon emissions.’’

Adding renewables to the mix

Because of the intermittent nature of renewable energy, particularly wind and solar, a smarter power grid is critical to integrating those sources into the power mix without adversely affecting the grid’s current reliability, according to energy analysts.

A smarter grid also is critical if the state achieves its goals of electrifying the transportation sector — the largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions. Under that scenario, the state will have to adopt different time-of-use tariffs for optimum times to charge plug-in electric vehicles.

“It will be difficult to implement a different tariff without a smarter grid,’’ said Frank Felder, director of the Center for Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy and the Rutgers Energy Initiative.