Lawrence to become first city in Kansas to get smart electricity meters

Thanks to a $19 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Lawrence will be the first city in Kansas hooked into the smart grid.

Westar Energy officials have finalized an agreement with the DOE to help fund a three-year, $40 million project to bring 48,000 smart meters to homes in Lawrence.

The meters, which Westar officials said should be installed early next year, will allow residents to go online to check how much energy they are using each day. Smart meters have the potential to connect with home appliances, so household energy consumption can be tailored around peak energy use.

And the new meters will automatically alert Westar when power outages occur.

In October, the DOE announced Westar had been selected as one of 100 applicants to receive funding to install smart grid technology.

Before the meters can be used, the utility’s computer and software technology must be upgraded in Topeka.

Starting in 2011, the utility will offer rate plans where energy would cost more during times of high demand and less during times of low use. These plans would be voluntary for customers.

“There have been a number of smart-grid deployments all over the United States,” said Hal Jensen, who is with Westar’s smart-grid program team. “What we really don’t know is what is right for Kansas and what is right for the Westar customer. So that is our primary objective with this project.”

Once the smart meters go in, customers won’t see a change in their electricity unless they want to access more information online, Jensen said.

The smart grid holds the promise of creating a more efficient electric grid and is perhaps the industry’s most significant technological advancement in the past 100 years.

But across the country, concerns have been raised about the privacy and security risk that would come with the smart grid. According to the Associated Press, security experts believe the smart grid is vulnerable to hackers.

With any technology comes the threat of hackers, Jensen said, noting that Westar complies with the latest security requirements and has a group devoted to security issues.