PSE&G’s 2.3M smart utility meters will be great for efficiency — here’s why there will be delay in installation

Utility needs to expand capacity of infrastructure to handle new meters, so expect great majority to be deployed in 2023-24

There was only one downside to the news last week that the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities had approved a program by Public Service Electric & Gas to install 2.3 million smart meters throughout the state — meters that will enable customers to see their use down to 15-minute intervals: The meters cannot be instantly deployed.

Fred Daum. (PSE&G)

Fred Daum, the executive director of customer operations at PSE&G, said he’s been thrilled to hear there is so much interest in the program, but he said PSE&G needs time to upgrade its infrastructure to be able to accommodate the smart meters.

Because of this, Daum said there will be a four-year rollout — with the great majority of smart meters being installed in businesses and households in 2023 and 2024. In fact, fewer than 100,000 are expected to be installed this year.

“People want to call us up and make an appointment for us to come by their house tomorrow,” he said. “That’s not possible right now. It may be in the future, but, right now, we are preparing for the deployment, which will need to be very deliberate.”

Daum said PSE&G intends to install approximately 80,000 smart meters this year — but those will be limited to new construction and the replacement of some existing meters that have broken. In 2022, PSE&G expects to install approximately 300,000. It will then install approximately 900,000 over the final two years.

ROI-NJ talked with Daum about the rollout and all that will go into it. Here’s a version of the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI-NJ: Talk more about building out the infrastructure.

Fred Daum: We currently have about 16,000 smart meters in use, and they are tied to a very limited communications network that helps provide the information. We need to build out the capacity of the existing network to be able to handle the additional 2.3 million meters. That takes time. There’s a certain amount of capacity for data that exists within these communication networks. And the current communications network was built out really just to handle the 16,000 meters that we have.

ROI: How long will it take to build up the network?

FD: We should be in a good position by the end of the year.

ROI: So, when the bigger rollout ramps up in 2022 — and especially in 2023-24 — where will it be: Residential or commercial? North, South or Central Jersey?

FD: All of the above. When we get into 2022, the key is for the deployment to be geographic. And, what I mean by that is, we’ll do entire neighborhoods at one time, including both commercial and residential in the same area. That’s important for two reasons: We want to be efficient, so going house-to-house will help us do that. But, it’s always important for tactical reasons: The way that the communications network works is that the meters actually talk to each other. The data will travel from meter to meter, like a router in a neighborhood — and then that router goes back to our systems. So, the meters are a big part of the communications network.

“We certainly understand that this data is extremely meaningful to the commercial customers. So, when we’re looking for where to begin some of these strategic deployments, we definitely will take that into consideration.”

When we do this as a mass deployment throughout the state, we’ll work in all areas as the same time. I can’t say specifically where in each section just yet, but we’ll be working in all three sections concurrently. There will be areas where we do entire commercial parks and entire neighborhoods, but, overall, the rollout will include both commercial and residential at the same time.

ROI: You mentioned some of these smart units already are in place. Who has them now?

FD: Without getting into specific customers, they are some very large manufacturers. All commercial, not residential. They are companies that can really benefit from this information to manage their energy usage.

ROI: With this in mind, wouldn’t it make sense to do commercial buildings first?

FD: We certainly understand that this data is extremely meaningful to the commercial customers. So, when we’re looking for where to begin some of these strategic deployments, we definitely will take that into consideration. But, when we’re in a geographical area, it wouldn’t be practical from a deployment standpoint to just manage our commercial customers and then come back around to do all of the residential customers.

ROI: What if someone wants the old meter — or doesn’t want a new one?

FD: Customers can opt out, but I don’t know why anyone would. If they do, they will be missing a great opportunity to manage their usage and engage in meaningful energy efficiency programs.

ROI: Explain the benefits?

FD: When you consider that you’re going to be able to see your usage at 15-minute intervals, you’ll see you have an incredible ability to understand your bill better. If your monthly bill goes up, instead of trying to remember what you did over the last 30 days, you’ll be able to see a usage pattern over the last 30 days. Here’s a real-world example. You’ll be able to see the usage on the second Saturday was double that of the first Saturday — and, then, be able to go back and remember that was the day you had the big party.

But, it’s more than that. You’ll be able to see how the cost came from having to run the AC — and our customer service reps can explain how much they could save with a higher-efficiency unit. That’s the type of real dialogue and analysis that we’ll be able to engage in with customers to help them make decisions.

ROI: We can see why there is such interest.

FD: These meters will dramatically improve efficiency. So, trust me when I say we really want to get them deployed. We just need a little time to get set up properly. But once that’s done, you’ll see us moving quickly.