Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) of California, which delivers energy to 15 million people in northern and central California, has announced plans to deploy as many as 3.3 million GE smart meters. PG&E plans to eventually deploy 10.3 million gas and electric smart meters to virtually all of its customers by the end of 2011.

The smart meters will help customers manage their energy consumption and costs, while helping the utility improve customer service. Most customers currently pay one set price for electricity, even though the cost to produce electricity tends to be higher during peak hours and lower during off-peak hours. With time-of-use pricing, smart meter technologies may offer lower prices during off-peak periods, empowering participating consumers to better manage their consumption, and ultimately, how much they pay for electricity.

The GE meters will be equipped with Silver Spring Networks smart grid/advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) communications technology. This technology will enable two-way communication between the utility and the customer, supporting renewable generation at the customer’s home, critical peak and time-of-use pricing, and more.

Efficiency gains achieved by upgrading to a smarter grid from a conventional one would be like switching from a typewriter to a word-processor. The smart grid is a banner for many products, including hardware, such as smart meters and capacitors, and software, such as geospatial information systems and demand-side response. The smart grid is not one product, but rather, a solution suite of products and software technologies improving the grid’s overall performance.

By employing smart meter technology, PG&E also will be better able to detect and respond to power outages in the future.

According to Bob Gilligan, vice president of GE Energy’s transmission and distribution division, the program “will help the utility reduce load and help reduce the need for more expensive generation.”