San Diego Utility to Roll Out Smart Meters Mid-March

The recession could be standing in the way of some utilities’ smart grid plans, but San Diego Gas & Electric, which services 3.4 million residents across 4,100 square miles, is trying to keep on track. Stephanie Donovan, spokesperson for the utility, told us recently that starting in mid-March San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) will start rolling out 2.3 million electric and gas meters at its customers homes.

That means the utility’s project is just slightly behind schedule, as SDG&E had been planning to start a broad smart meter deployment in February. Itron (s ITRI), which will be providing the meters for the rollout, said last month that some of its utility customers would be changing up deployment schedules, with some moving forward more quickly than expected and others deploying somewhat later than their initial schedule.


SDG&E has chosen to use Itron’s OpenWay smart meters, which use an open-standards approach to provide a two-way communication between the utility and the resident’s home. The OpenWay meters also have a ZigBee chip embedded, enabling the resident to create a home area network that can help cut energy consumption.

For SDG&E, coming close to the deployment deadline is still pretty good — these smart meter projects are a substantial effort for utilities and require years of planning, regulatory approval and hundreds of millions of dollars. SDG&E’s project was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission back in 2007, and the utility estimates expenditures for the project on the order of $572 million (including at least $500 million in capital investments).

That kind of investment is pretty standard for a utility’s smart meter project. Ed Legge, an analyst with the Edison Electric Institute, said an average utility will spend at least $500 million on a large scale smart meter rollout. And it would take at least $50 billion for all of the investor-owned utilities (which make up 70 percent of the U.S. utilities) to roll out smart grid networks.

This week, utilities and smart grid firms will all be waiting for a vote on the stimulus package, which would allocate $4.5 billion for a smarter power grid, with a goal of 40 million smart meters installed. While those funds are just a drop in the bucket for the overall industry, companies like smart grid software maker eMeter are already saying that they’re seeing a stimulus-induced pickup in the market.