Twenty-first century meter-reading technology is becoming a reality for American Electric Power customers in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle.
AEP began switching out meters this month and the work is expected to continue through the end of the year. In all, 41,000 residential and small business customers in Ohio and Marshall counties will see their old, dial-based meters replaced with new ones that display electricity usage in an easier-to-read, digital format and transmit information to a remote device.
"This is an exciting technology that allows the company to read meters more efficiently with a high degree of accuracy and an increased element of safety," said company spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller.
A digital electric meter is shown. American Electric Power is installing these meters on local homes to upgrade the utility’s power system.
AEP has contracted CMI Services of Chipley, Fla., to install the new meters. Customers will receive notification by postcard before technicians from that company visit their neighborhood to replace the old devices.
The process does not require a technician to enter the home - according to AEP, CMI Services personnel will knock on each customer's door prior to replacing the meter. If no one is home, the technician will leave a door hanger indicating the new meter is in service.
Customers may experience a brief power outage during the exchange, likely less than a minute, and are advised to unplug sensitive equipment or use surge protectors to prevent any possible damage to those devices.
Workers with CMI visited homes in Bethlehem earlier this week to switch out meters.
According to AEP, the new meters will result in more accurate ratings based on actual usage, though estimated readings may still be necessary during strong storms. The new devices will transmit information through radio signals that can be collected using a portable receiver in close proximity to the meter, allowing them to be read remotely from the street.
AEP notes the new meters are different from "smart meters," which transmit information with the utility on a continual basis. Those devices are the foundation of the so-called "smart grid" technology that is being tested in other areas of the country.
Although the meter reading process would appear to be less labor-intensive than it was under the old system, AEP doesn't expect a major impact on employment.
"I can tell you that we do not anticipate any full-time employees being negatively impacted as a result of the switch" to automated reading meters, Prati-Miller said.