PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island is expecting to get a major upgrade in its power grid in the coming years.
Southern New England is all too familiar with power outages but by installing smart meter technology, it could reduce the scope and duration of those outages.
Tropical Storm Irene, Superstorm Sandy, the Blizzard of 2013, the August 2015 macroburst, an October 2017 nor’easter, the March 2018 blizzard—these are just some of the storms in the last decade that caused large-scale power outages in Rhode Island, leaving thousands sometimes hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses in the dark for days.
While major storms can’t be stopped, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers (DPUC) believes upgrading to smart meter technology could make a sizeable dent in the number of outages by providing nearly instant two-way communication between homes and businesses and the power company.
“When there’s a storm, there’s something called a last-gasp transmission that you can get from a smart meter that lets you know when power’s been shut off, but also when power has been restored,” DPUC spokesman Tom Kogut explained.
Replacing all of the traditional meters—about 500,000 of them—with smart meters is estimated to cost roughly $200 million. According to preliminary documents filed last year, National Grid has a goal of completing the project by the end of 2023.
“We had an investigation of the October 2017 storm and one of the things we found is that there were hundreds of crews dispatched to areas that already had power restored,” Kogut said. “If we had smart meters, we would know which entities were up and which were offline and they would have been dispatched to areas where they could have restored service.”
On Block Island, smart meters have been used for more than five years. The president of Block Island Power says they’ve seen significant benefits, first and foremost with managing storms, in some instances cutting the outage time in half.
Roughly half of homes and businesses in the United States already have smart meters. In Florida, it’s estimated the technology prevented 55,000 outages during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.