As smart meter deployment continues on schedule and on budget, I would like to revisit a topic we touched upon in my column last November. I mentioned that when I look at the Naperville Smart Grid Initiative (NSGI), the benefits fall into four main categories that I call the “4Es” of Smart Grid: Energy, Environment, Education and Economy.

Education has been a long-standing focus of the City with any major initiative or project and will also play a critical role in our society’s ability to become more energy efficient.

When I talk about education with respect to the smart grid, I am referring to its ability to provide more choices and options for our customers. The smart grid will empower customers to securely track their energy use online via an ePortal. Rather than waiting until the end of the month to see how much electricity you have used, you will be able to log into the ePortal and see current usage, rates and many other useful pieces of information. This information may also be accessed through optional new thermostats that can be installed in your home.

Another great feature that the smart grid makes possible is new optional time-of-use electricity rates that will allow customers to save energy and money on their electric bills. In addition to these new rates, the city is also planning for demand-response programs that will allow customers to automatically reduce energy and therefore save money.

Currently, our grid is not sophisticated enough to account for the real costs of electricity. Like many goods or commodities, the price of electricity fluctuates. Electricity actually costs significantly more to produce during the day, when more people are using it, than it does in the middle of the night. We currently charge customers a flat rate for electricity consumed regardless of the time of day. We will continue to offer flat rates to residential and small commercial customers in the future with completion of the smart grid. Large commercial and industrial customers will be transferred to rates that include both energy and demand components.

The smart grid will provide tools that can help customers become more conscious of their energy use and the associated costs through the programs I discussed above. It is through educated choices and leveraging smart grid technology that our society can become more efficient and energy independent.

Finally, the NSGI is giving Naperville-area students a practical tool to learn about energy consumption and conservation and gain firsthand experience on emerging technologies and future careers. Smart grid technology is the future of the utility industry, and smart grid careers are rapidly becoming another way for young adults to earn a living. Our students will be able to learn about this technology right at home in a hands-on, real-world setting.

As always, I applaud the community for its progressive mindset and I hope that each of you will visit to learn more about the NSGI and new programs that can help conserve energy.

Mark Curran is the director of public utilities — electric with the city of Naperville.

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Mark Curran, the Director of Public Utilities – Electric with the City of Naperville submitted 2010