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Prashant Shenoy and team conduct smart energy meter project

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are conducting a pilot project with the Holyoke Gas & Electric Co. that will show the utility and its customers how smart electric meters can save money and power. 

Professor Prashant Shenoy and Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor David Irwin are heading up a team of UMass Amherst researchers conducting a pilot project with the Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) Company that will show the utility and its customers how smart electric meters can save money and power. The project is funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

Shenoy's and Irwin's team is using information from several dozen volunteers from HG&E's customer base to demonstrate how to improve electricity use based on their metered use. Shenoy said the key to the entire project is the smart meters that give a detailed record of electricity use in a home and allows the utility and the scientists to see what appliances, lights, and heating and cooling equipment are being used during the day. The meters report electronically every five minutes so there is a detailed record from each house that uses the device.

Since HG&E has already installed the meters in the homes of its more than 18,000 customers, the data is already available, Shenoy said. The project is looking at electricity use for individual homes from the volunteer group and determining where savings can be achieved. The data management task is being done at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke using high-speed computers. Enhanced data collection from the system allows HG&E to conduct analyses and develop strategies relative to load management, network planning, outage prevention and ratepayer incentives.

Shenoy said his team is looking specifically at a few key sources of energy consumption in the home, with an emphasis on heating. He said many homeowners have programmable thermostats, but may not be using them to their peak efficiency. "Significant savings can be collected by programming the heat to come on just prior to people waking up in the morning, reducing the heat again when people leave the house for work or school and turning the heat back on just before the family returns in the late afternoon or evening, said Shenoy. "Refining this program can be accomplished by looking carefully at the meter data that shows 'occupancy information' such as when lights and appliances are turned on. Matching the occupancy information with the heating program can lead to energy savings of between 5 percent and 10 percent in most cases."

For customers, this translates to direct savings on their energy bills through reducing and optimizing energy needs. But what many people don't realize is that energy efficiency also results in cost savings to the utility by reducing capacity, transmission and energy charges, as well as increasing equipment lifespans by minimizing stresses.

"HG&E is a very progressive utility," Shenoy said. The use of the smart meters has a number of critical uses beyond monitoring household use of electricity, as well. Shenoy says HG&E no longer has to send people to read individual meters and in the case of a power outage, it is automatically reported to the utility.

See full press release.