Southern California Edison announced this week that it was expediting the testing and installation of its advanced-metering program - in effect, changing its policy on smart meters. Unlike its two investor-owned utility neighbors, it put up considerable resistance to pressure from the California Public Utilities Commission to create an advanced-metering infrastructure program. The utility began warming to the idea months ago (Circuit, June 30, 2006). Edison distinguishes itself from Pacific Gas & Electric because it will select a nonproprietary computer system. According to Paul De Martini, director of Edison's advanced-meter infrastructure program, open architecture fits more easily with emerging technologies that will allow it to expand its system capabilities. "The reality is that in the 21st century most of the information technology is open," he said. After taking a closer look at the next generation of products and vendors in Asia and Europe, the utility "saw real opportunities," De Martini said. That includes cost savings from increased production of meters and economies of scale, plus making way for increased demand response. The meters are expected to result in peak demand being cut by up to 1,000 MW through a variety of meter-enabled demand-response and bidding programs. These include voluntary participation by homeowners in a program to curb air conditioning use at critical times in exchange for rate reductions and remotely restricting power use via smart thermostats at a later date. Meters that reveal the changing price of power allow for time-of-use and other variable-rate programs. This is seen as the key to increasing consumer awareness of the real-time price of power, leading to shaving demand at the hottest times of the day. Edison supports voluntary participation, not mandatory time-of-use rates. Back in 2004, the utility estimated that installing 5 million electric meters would cost it half a billion dollars. Universal meter installation in Edison territory is estimated to cost about $1.5 billion over the meters' 15-year life. Today, the utility sees some savings but, more significantly, jumps in operational efficiencies, largely from remotely turning residential meters off and on, as well as mechanized meter reading. About 20 percent of residential ratepayers move each year. The Utility Reform Network, which objects to the smart meters' price tag, continues to call on Edison and other utilities to put far more effort into conservation. "Why not look for conservation instead of load shifting?" said Mindy Spatt, TURN spokesperson. Smart meters will also give Edison the ability to count residential solar-powered systems toward its renewables portfolio standards level and tap into smart appliances. One example is a program being tested in the Northwest that allows utilities to remotely turn off the heating components of clothes driers when the grid is strained. The infrastructure program could also be expanded to connect into hybrid vehicles. Edison will expedite filing its updated business scenario at the CPUC - moving it up from the fall of 2008 to next summer. It expects to begin field testing its system in 2007 in up to 25,000 homes and small businesses. Full deployment is expected to take place between 2008 and 2012.