Tantalus smart meter helps consumers cut costs

BURNABY, BRITISH COLUMBIA - A Burnaby-based company that's marketing "smart meter" technology in Eastern Canada and the U.S. hopes to take a leading role in helping B.C. meet its energy conservation targets in the coming years.

"The B.C. government is looking at smart meters as part of its overall conservation initiative," Eric Murray, senior vice-president and sales and business operations for Tantalus Systems Corp., said in an interview. "And BC Hydro has already done some pilots."

The B.C. government wants all 1.7 million homes in the province equipped with smart meters by 2020, the company says. That will help consumers pick the cheapest time to use electricity, thereby saving money while reducing peak demand on the system.

Murray said the meters look virtually the same as all other electrical meters, but that they include a radio transmitter that lets consumers know when they're spending more money. Energy typically costs more to produce during peak times when more people are using it - around the dinner hour, for instance, when people are cooking, using dishwashers and maybe throwing in a load of laundry.

"They (smart meters) help the consumer understand how much energy they're consuming at any given time," said Murray. "It shows people how they can save energy. At times [around midnight] energy can be very inexpensive. But during a heat wave, it's more expensive because the (main) generating plants must be turned on."

Murray said that each of their meters contains a communication module which transmits information back to the main utility. "The idea is to avoid having everybody using electricity at the same time and no one using it at other times. At 5 p.m., generating plants are working hard to keep up with demand, so the cost is higher.

People with smart meters generally change their habits to turn on appliances later at night when costs are lower, he said. They track their electricity use by logging on to a secure, personal webpage. It shows their monthly, daily and hourly consumption.

Tantalus Systems, which was established in 1989, designs and manufactures wireless, two-way data systems that enable a utility to centrally monitor and control every device in a distribution network. The company's systems have been deployed at utilities in Ontario, California and the southeastern U.S. - but not yet in B.C.

The system can also remotely turn off sources of electrical consumption at peak times and reward consumers for saving energy.

Murray said Tantalus, which has a staff of 60, now has 23 customers across North America, including Chatham-Kent Hydro in Ontario and Anaheim Public Utilities in California.

He also said the company recently raised $20 million to continue developing its technology.

Hugh Bridgen, director of metering and technical services at Chatham-Kent Hydro, said in an interview that he expects their system to be fully operational early this year.

"We've run a pilot for billing and the response has been tremendous. (Customers) can manage their energy usage and bills accordingly. By the third bill, 65 per cent of the group were either cost-neutral or saved money on their energy bill. And the amount of energy used decreased as well."


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