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LADWP flips the switch on 52,000 'smart meters'

The LADWP says they flushed 50 miles worth of pipe to make water in Watts run clear.
Photo by Xavier de Jauréguiberry via Flickr Creative Commons
The LADWP says they flushed 50 miles worth of pipe to make water in Watts run clear.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's electrical grid just got a little smarter.

That's because July 1st, the utility turned on 52,000 "smart meters" recently installed on homes and commercial buildings across the city.

These meters are networked and can transmit usage data to DWP in near real time by emitting a low power radio signal.

Related: DWP union, City Hall fight continues while court considers LA's power to audit

Traditional electrical meters aren't necessarily dumb. They keep track of energy use in real time as well, but they must be read in person by a DWP worker.

The new smart meters will give DWP a sense of how Angelenos use power throughout the day and how they might better conserve it.

The move is part of a larger 2 year pilot project called Smart Grid L.A.

"Everything is new and cutting edge, and in a lot of cases hasn't been done before," said Marvin Moon, Director of Power System Engineering with DWP.

Moon says later this summer, the utility will introduce a web-based portal where smart meter users can monitor their own usage and compare it to others nearby.

"You know, so they can see are they an energy hog or a super miser," Moon said. "Right now people don’t even have a clue as far as what kind of usage they are or how they compare."

The project was funded by a $60 million federal grant from the Department of Energy, and $60 million from DWP itself.

As part of the Smart Grid L.A. project, researchers from USC, UCLA and JPL are helping the utility look for ways to boost the cyber security of the power grid and improve infrastructure for electric cars. 

USC's Michael D. Orosz is part of that research team. He says the pilot project is a great opportunity for scientists like himself to learn how a smart grid system can help save energy over time.

DWP officials say if the pilot project is successful, they may expand the smart meter program. Right now less than 5 percent of the company's customer base is using this new technology.