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Westar takes questions on smart meters and WattSaver program

June 1, 2011

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Westar Energy

From smart meters to power outages, Westar Energy has been in the news quite a bit lately. On Wednesday, June 1, at 10 a.m., Westar representatives will take your questions during an online chat.

Among the topics they are eager to talk about are two energy-saving programs: SmartStar and WattSaver. Both programs have the potential to change the way customers consume energy.

Moderator:

Good morning everybody. Westar representatives are here and ready to take your questions. Today we have quite a crew. Answering your questions will be Gina Penzig, the director of corporate communications, Paula Carvell, manager of energy efficiency and demand side management, Hal Jensen, director of the Smart Star program, Matt Lehrman, Smart Star program analyst, Kim Gronniger, manager of consumer services and Chad Luce, manager of customer and community relations.

Clearly they have a wide range of folks ready to answer your questions. So let's get started.

Moderator:

Welcome everyone.

Westar Energy:

Good morning! We are happy to be here today to answer your questions.

Westar Energy:

Good morning! We are happy to be here today to answer your questions.

Moderator:

Okay. Let's get started. We'll cover the WattSaver program first and then talk about SmartStar.

shleppy:

with the wattsaver program it sounds like my air conditioner will be shut off when i want it most. can you explain the cycling process?

Westar Energy:

First of all, I'd like to mention that during the 2010 cycling season (i.e,, June 1 through Sept 30) we cycled less than 20 hours. We surveyed program participants to get their feedback and 72% didn't notice any change in their comfort level. In fact, most didn't even realize that we even cycled. How it works is very simple. On days we initiate a cycling event, your compressor will operate at 50 percent of its normal run time (e.g., on for 15 minutes and off for 15 minutes), and the system fan will continue to circulate cool air (generated prior to the start of the cycling event) throughout your home or business. Cycling events normally last about 4-6 hours or less and will occur between noon and 8:00 p.m. Cycling events will occur infrequently and only on weekdays - never on weekdays or holidays.

KRichards:

Can I opt out of the wattsaver and return the thermostat if the cycling/controlling of my thermostat is unacceptable to my condition?

Westar Energy:

Absolutely. WattSaver is completely voluntary and you may opt out at any time. An installer will reinstall your original thermostat and remove our WattSaver thermostat at no cost to you.

palmettostar:

I currently live in a 1 bedroom apartment, can I sign up for either of the engery-saving programs? After this past weather and paying over $200 in heating bills 3 months in a row, something has to change! And now that summer is here, I am worried I'll end up paying just as much in air conditioning costs.

Westar Energy:

Regarding the WattSaver program, apartment installations require the landlord or property owner's permission, and all units must participate in the program. Air conditioning equipment must meet basic guidelines. For more information, please visit our website at www.WestarEnergy.com/WattSaver.

For the SmartStar program, if you have a Westar electric meter currently you will be receiving a SmartStar meter in the next few months. All meters in Lawrence are being upgraded in the program to provide better reliability of our local electric delivery. Once received, what you participate in is entirely up to you. You will have the availability of the online dashboard shortly following the exchange which will give you access to up to date use, cost and environmental information. You can also choose to receive budget alerts, energy use spike alerts and weekly and/or monthly detailed use summaries. These will all be available at westarenergy.com under the "my account" secure sign on.

Moderator:

Well that covers all the WattSaver questions we've received so far. Now we'll move on to your questions about the smart meters that are being installed in Lawrence.

techmanmacho:

What is the current schedule for smart meter installation in the Lawrence area?

Westar Energy:

We installed about 1500 meters in January in our pilot deployment area, primarily the Deerfield neighborhood. We'll begin the city wide exchange in late July, early August and that will take about 4 months to complete. We are currently working on finalizing the design of the installation schedule and when determined that will be available in a general fashion on our westarenergy.com/smartstar web page in the installation section. We'll continue to provide updates on that webpage as well as on Facebook and Twitter and in the Lawrence Journal World.

dontsheep:

It's been a few months since the initial meters were installed in Lawrence. How are they performing? What kind of savings are homes/businesses experiencing?

Westar Energy:

The initial meters were installed to complete the communication network and test performance prior to further deployment. The meters have performed exceptionally well. The information available on the dashboard was just made available to these customers last week (Tuesday) so they're now experiencing the ability to get online and have the information to better understand their energy use. We'll ask for feedback from these customers to find out more about how they're able to use the information to help save.

On the distribution side, the program also includes a number of distribution upgrades with automated equipment designed to minimize the extent of outages when problems occur. These have also worked well to date and have kept power on for several hundred customers that otherwise would have lost service.

Moderator:

We've got a rather lengthy question from DougCounty who is interested in how the smart meters communicates information back and forth to Westar. Here are three of his questions.

1) Do these Smart Meters have the capability of potentially communicating with appliances, and if so, will it be through the house wiring, through RF wireless or some other method?

2) If it is wireless RF, how much will this potentially add to the existing background of RF transmission, will the transmissions be strong enough to be picked up outside the home, etc.

3) If this involves wireless transmission of appliance use and have the potential to manipulate appliance use in order to optimize energy use, how secure are these signals, i.e. can other receivers pick them up, are they secure enough to prevent being hacked/manipulated, etc.?

4) Will a series of towers have to be built to collect and transmit the information back to Westar?

Westar Energy:

We won't be able to get real technical in response because we've got the business people here so feel free to email us at smartstar@westarenergy.com if we can provide more detail to your question.

The data transmission back to Westar is accomplished via a private, secure and encrypted wireless network and does not require construction of towers on our part.

In regard to the meters and communications into the home, the meters do have a communication protocol that can be linked to compatible appliances at your discretion. This communication protocol will uniquely identify with your appliances but should not interfere with other transmission. It's important to note that the intent is to work with in home consumer technology as it continues to develop so that customers can take full advantage. We will not control in home appliances or other devices except through a voluntary program like WattSaver.

Moderator:

That covers the questions on smart meters. We have a few more on Westar's Simple Savings Audit and a follow up to the WattSaver program.

DougCounty:

There's an article circulating around that you ought to be aware of:
http://energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-23/problems-smart-grids

It's not a particularly well written article, and the comments section deals with most of the issues it brings up, but it might be worth addressing some of those topics, i.e.:
1) Do these Smart Meters have the capability of potentially communicating with appliances, and if so, will it be through the house wiring, through RF wireless or some other method?
2) If it is wireless RF, how much will this potentially add to the existing background of RF transmission, will the transmissions be strong enough to be picked up outside the home, etc.

Perhaps more importantly in my mind, if this involves wireless transmission of appliance use and have the potential to manipulate appliance use in order to optimize energy use, how secure are these signals, i.e. can other receivers pick them up, are they secure enough to prevent being hacked/manipulated, etc.?

Similarly, will a series of towers have to be built to collect and transmit the information back to Westar? Bottom line is that I'm interested in at least conceptually understanding how the smart meter communicates its information back and forth to and from Westar.

Moderator:

Sorry. I posted DougCounty's full question, which Westar just answered. Here's the next one.

KRichards:

Does the wattsaver program save the consumer any money on their bills, or is this really only to help Westar meet demand?

Westar Energy:

Both. WattSaver is an opportunity for Westar to provide customers with two tools that will help them better manage the energy usage in their home or business- whether they are there or away - so they use the energy they need, but don't waste any. Westar provides a Honeywell UtilityPRO thermostat that can be programmed to use less energy when the customer is away from the home or business. We also provide access to an online energy management system, which allows customers the ability to manage the energy use in their home or business through the internet. By using both tools, customers have the potential to save up to 20% on their heating and cooling energy usage. By participating in WattSaver, customers help delay Westar's need to build additional power plants, which helps keep costs affordable for all of us.

jcstepmom28:

I'm interested in the Simple Savings Audit program, but from what I read it seems like a daunting set of tasks. What's the best way to get started and how long of a process is it really?

Westar Energy:

The Kansas Energy Office has federal funds to help customers improve the energy efficiency of their home or small business by adding insulation, updating heating and cooling equipment and undertaking other recommended measures. The first step is to select an approved auditor from the Efficiency Kansas website at EfficiencyKansas.com. An auditor will conduct a comprehensive inspection and then create a customized Energy Conservation Plan. Audits, typically valued at $500 or more, are currently available for $100 through Sept. 30.

The Westar SimpleSavings program offers a $20,000 limit on residential improvements and a $30,000 limit on small business upgrades. The loans are made at 90 percent of the estimated cost savings. To qualify, you must have 12 months of service at the address and be current on your utility payments.

The process timeframe can vary depending on the auditor's and contractor's schedules. The largest area of interest in the program has been from people 55 and older who live in homes that are 30 years old or older. For more information, please visit www.westarenergy.com/simplesavings or call Westar EfficiencyWorks at 888.WORKS50 (967-5750).

Participation in the Efficiency Kansas program also counts toward Take Charge Challenge points.

Moderator:

Well that's all the questions we have. Thanks to our readers for submitting great questions and thanks Westar representatives for answering them.

Westar Energy:

Thanks everyone for the questions. We will be having an open house tomorrow, June 2, at Deerfield Elementary School from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. We'll be answering questions on the SmartStar energy dashboard which was just launched for customers in Deerfield, plus we'll be there to answer questions on WattSaver, Simple Savings, the SmartStar program and other Westar interests you may have.

We hope you'll come by. Thanks again.

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