As the Johnson City Power Board looks to the future of billing with its time-of-use policy, officials hope new technology will help break down the billing process as the utility moves forward with the program.
The peak-time use program, which has been adopted by the Tennessee Valley Authority, will charge a higher rate for electricity used during peak periods of high demand.
Peak-use periods change according to the season but typically range from 5-11 a.m. in the winter to 2-8 p.m. in the summer.
TVA officials still have not determined what retail customer rates will be for peak and nonpeak times.
The Power Board plans on initiating time-of-use billing through a pilot program in October. Employees, the utility’s board of directors and other volunteer participants will be part of the pilot program, which will run for about a year, according to Power Board CEO Jeff Dykes.
“Until we know more about it through the pilot (program), it’s m o r e looking into it and seeing what’s there and how TVA develops with theirs,” he said.
For the last several years, the Power Board has been implementing new pieces of technology, such as smart meters, a fiber optic backbone, a data management system and a mobile app that are designed to help the utility communicate more effectively with customers.
“This has really guided our behavior over the last several years and our goal is to make sure our customers have the best use, the best opportunities to be served and we try to use technology to do that,” said Robert White, the utility’s chief public relations officer.
The Power Board began deploying advanced meters in 2009, and the second generation of those meters is now what is installed across the utility’s service area.
There are more than 75,000 advanced meters in use by the utility.
About 1,100 of the advanced meters that are in place are equipped with the ability to perform remote connects and disconnects, which means they can be turned on and off from the utility’s headquarters.
White said most of those meters have been installed in areas surrounding East Tennessee State University.
“They come in handy, especially in a college town during the months of April and August when students are moving out or moving in. We have so many landlords that have those situations and so those we have strategically placed in those areas,” he said.
The advanced meters transmit their data via a wireless signal to neighboring meters. Antennae then transmit that data to a radio receiver tower, which automatically sends that data to the Power Board through the fiber optic backbone.
In 2010, the Power Board began installation of its fiber backbone, which allows for more information to be sent between the utility and its substations more effectively than before.
All of the data is fed into a meter data management system, allowing the Power Board to better read customers’ energy usage.
The new advanced meter infrastructure gives the utility the opportunity to read information from Power Board headquarters rather than having to send an employee out to gather the information.
In using the AMI system, information can be broken down into hourly and daily usage, which White said is a huge help when it comes to understanding billing.
“It doesn’t tells us what you have in your home. It simply shows us how you have used your power, which helps us better help you,” he said.
All of the developments paved the way for SmartHub, a mobile and Web app that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store or Apple’s App Store.
The app allows E-Bill customers to utilize mobile technology to see their own energy usage, provide information about outages and receive up-to-date outage information.
“We have an advanced meter infrastructure, we have a fiber backbone that allows us to communicate a lot quicker and we now have a meter data management system, and when you combine all of those together, they provide the information quickly and update it in a way that it stores all of this information that you get to have at your fingertips,” White said.
By the time the Power Board initiates time-of-use billing for all of its customers, SmartHub will be one of the integral tools in helping customers better understand their billing and possibly changing their energy usage habits.
“They may be doing something at home or may be considering putting in a new piece of equipment. ... They can look at the meter and see how much energy is being used at certain times,” Dykes said. “With SmartHub, people can actually go online and look at their energy usage themselves.”
Since the Power Board has all of this new technology at its disposal, Dykes said it should help the utility in the future as TVA makes further changes to their programs.
“Having the technology in place is going to give us a lot of advantages as TVA offers various programs or makes changes to programs. By already having the technology there, then we don’t have to make that investment later,” he said.
Dykes said the technology that is being used is in place in order to help the customers of the Power Board.
“We’re here to serve the customer and that’s the one thing we need to focus on is what we can do for the customer,” he said.