Get smart: A.C. Electric exec explains how new meters, other improvements are modernizing grid, developing workforce

When Doug Mokoid boasts of strides Atlantic City Electric is making in modernizing its energy grid, he’s thinking of more than the expected.

For Mokoid, the utility’s regional president, the expected might include a utility’s reliability for customers — especially at a time in history when they can order a bar of soap online and have it on their doorstep later that day.

“My wife was a big fan of Amazon Prime and I was a holdout on it; but, now, when I order a package, I want it at home right away, like everyone else,” he said. “Customer expectations across the board are rising. We want to meet that challenge, too.”

Under the umbrella of utility modernization for Mokoid also lies other accomplishments: community workforce development, working with diverse suppliers, embracing new technology and renewable energy initiatives.

And the utility, which has a service area that spans South Jersey, finds many of those other aspects of grid modernization in the Smart Energy Network initiative it got underway last year, after it received approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities in July.

The utility just started installing for some commercial customers a small portion of the about a half-million smart meters it has planned in its service area. Mokoid said the utility will begin the rollout in earnest in the fall, when it starts adding the meters to residences. It expects to complete the installation of those meters and the supporting infrastructure by fall 2024.

The installation of these meters is touted as a way of creating more two-way communication between customers and the utility — with the customers receiving more information about their energy usage during peak hours, and the utility getting a better read on where outages are occurring.

What excites Mokoid the most is the way it plays into existing workforce development programs. The initiative’s buildout is creating the sorts of jobs for field technicians and support personnel that the utility has worked to bring to South Jersey communities since 2018, when it joined a consortium of workforce development boards and vocational schools in a six-year, $6.5 million education program to fill next-generation energy roles.

And the program is also doing the expected, Mokoid said. It’s making the grid more reliable.

Paired with investments into upgrading substations, putting more infrastructure underground and other measures to protect the grid from extreme weather events — work that saw the utility, in another modern move, spending more than ever on diverse-certified suppliers — the utility believes its smart meters will help keep customers’ lights on.

“Last year was the most reliable year we’ve had in our history, both in terms of frequency of outages — we saw about a 60% improvement over the past 10 years in that — and from a duration perspective as well,” Mokoid said. “The outage frequency improvement goes to our system investments we’ve made, and the duration decrease is really our employees. That’s our secret ingredient here.”