Sacramento Utility SMUD Signs Silver Spring for Smart Grid

smartmetergenericphotoCalifornia’s capital, Sacramento, has one of the most progressive of the smaller utilities in the U.S.: the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). For example, SMUD says it expects to be the first utility to meet the state clean power mandate, and says it will exceed California’s energy efficiency mandate by 50 percent over the next 10 years. To meet that latter goal, SMUD plans to roll out smart meters to its 600,000 customers, and announced this morning that it is working with smart grid networking firm Silver Spring Networks.

Starting next month, and finishing sometime in 2011, the utility plans to install smart meters made by Landis+Gyr, and intends to offer its customers home energy management products (no mention of those partners yet). Beyond focusing on consumer energy use, the utility’s smart grid buildout will also enable SMUD to run automated distribution, have a more efficient network, and more easily monitor the grid. SMUD’s smart grid infrastructure could potentially include some sort of grid energy storage. The utility didn’t say that specifically in its announcement this morning, but in its 2008 annual report it said: “New battery technologies could assist in making small-scale generation a viable alternative to large power stations.”

We’ve been waiting for SMUD to talk more about its planned smart meter efforts. Last year, the utility started working with energy monitoring startup Positive Energy to offer basic energy reports (often letters in the mail) for 35,000 of its customers to simply enable them to examine their energy consumption and compare it with the average energy consumption of other users. It was kind of like a pre-smart meter energy monitoring test, and SMUD’s project manager, Ali Crawford, told us earlier this year that the results of the project showed that offering just this basic energy info did help reduce customer energy consumption. SMUD also found that the project enabled it to offer customers better service.

As SMUD put it in its 2008 annual report: “Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way for SMUD and Sacramento to move beyond carbon.” The utility went on to say that its “energy efficiency programs have resulted in customer savings of more than $550 million over the last 35 years.” In a difficult economy, when investing in new infrastructure is particularly daunting, figures like that are music to a utility’s ears.

Image courtesy of Tom Raftery and creative commons.