Smarter technology could bring about lower electricity costs for area residents within three years.

Potomac Electric Power Co. wants to install advanced metering technology in 2,250 randomly selected homes across all eight wards of the District this year. It’s part of a two-year pilot project designed to evaluate residents’ electrical costs and needs.

"It’s an appropriate time to look to new technology that would allow consumers to better control their energy costs," said Steve Sunderhauf, Pepco’s lead manager for demand response programs.

Pepco filed a proposed rate tariff and meter application with the D.C. Public Service Commission earlier this month and is awaiting approval before it can begin installations. Pepco serves 676,532 residential customers in D.C. and the Maryland suburbs.

"Smart meters" and "smart thermostats" would be installed to measure residents’ electricity use at 15 -minute intervals. Besides notifying customers of their daily electrical costs and monthly bill totals, the devices can be programmed to automatically control air conditioners around peak price times — particularly summer weekday afternoons.

The project, known as SmartPowerDC, will determine how best to serve residents’ needs by randomly assigning three different pricing options to trial consumers and monitoring their responses.

"Consumer response is the key part," Sunderhauf said. "Do consumers shift their energy use enough to make the technology worthwhile — do they save enough money? We don’t want it to be burdensome — we want to make their lives better."

Sunderhauf said three motivators spurred the project’s development: the dramatic increase in energy prices in recent years; new technology developments; and the affordability of such technology for most consumers.

The $2 million project will be funded by Pepco and will be free to participating residents. It was conceived in conjunction with various District offices and boards, including the D.C. Office of the People’s Counsel.

"We look forward to what we can learn … and how the information can be used to benefit D.C. consumers," OPC’s Elizabeth A. Noel said in a news release.

"If successful, this will be the next phase for the utility industry of the future," Sunderhauf said. "It could make a major change."

Ways to lower costs

» Check your air conditioning filter regularly

» Keep thermostat setting between 75 - 78 degrees

» Be sure all windows are shut and outside doors are closed

Source: Pepco