Black & Veatch, a consultancy company, evaluated a one-year smart meter pilot program for ComEd, the Chicago-area utility. They found customers of the utility could save $2.8 billion on their electric bills over the 20-year life of a smart meter. These savings are in addition to any savings customers would experience by using smart meters to manage their own energy usage.

The analysis demonstrates that the benefits would more than offset the cost of installing smart meter technology. The savings identified in the report result from operational improvements. A few factors would generate this net $2.8 billion in cumulative customer benefits.

For example, manual meter reading would be virtually eliminated, saving labor costs. Automated and digital readings would mean more accurate bills and fewer service visits and calls to the Customer Call Center. ComEd noted that employees impacted by this automation will be transitioned to other areas.

Additionally, electricity theft detection would be improved, and new customers could be signed up more quickly. Disconnection and reconnection of electric service would be optimized, minimizing collection costs.

“Smart meter system technology can improve service, help customers make more informed decisions about energy use, and contribute to lower energy costs,” said Anne Pramaggiore, president and chief operating officer, ComEd.

The Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act (Senate Bill 1652), which would authorize a multibillion-dollar investment in modernizing Illinois’ electric grid while maintaining strict regulatory oversight and consumer protections, passed both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly in May.

“As other states are building more efficient and reliable electric grids, Illinois is in danger of falling behind,” Pramaggiore said. “The jobs and economic development opportunities generated by this investment will provide a much-needed push to our state’s economy. Coupled with new pricing options and opportunities for customers to lower their electricity bills, this legislation will positively benefit every one of our customers.”

If the legislation were to take effect this year, installation would likely begin next year and run through 2021. In addition to the savings documented by Black & Veatch, consumers also could save on energy costs by taking advantage of new pricing options and information made possible by the digital technology at the core of a smart grid.

To illustrate the advantages of a smart grid, and implementation of smart meters, ComEd stated that, if a smart grid had been fully operational during the July 11 storm that struck northern Illinois and interrupted power to more than 850,000 customers, smart grid system technology would have pinpointed outages, allowing the utility to dispatch crews more quickly to restore service. Digital automation would have rerouted power or have corrected a problem before an outage occurred meaning fewer customers would have seen outages, and if outages did occur, some of them would have been shorter in duration. ComEd estimates that a more modern grid would have avoided from 100,000 to 175,000 customer interruptions of the more than 850,000 customer interruptions during the storm.