Westar launches website to help Lawrence residents with using smart meters

SmartStar programs will allow customers to monitor energy usage, costs

Hal Jensen, director of SmartStar programs ,talks about the new smart meters that will be installed at residential homes and their capabilities during an interview at the Journal-World News Center. After their installation, the technology that accompanies the meters will allow energy users to monitor their energy consumption and the cost of their bill online.

Most of us have heard by now about the smart meters that soon will installed in every Lawrence home. But somewhere between what smart meters do and how they connect to the smart grid, many of us have gotten a little turned around on what it will mean for our energy bills.

Westar Energy, the utility company that will be installing the smart meters next year, understands our confusion.

Westar has launched a new website — westarenergy.com/smartstar — that’s intended to help guide Lawrence residents through the process of getting a smart meter and tapping into the information that meters will provide on hourly energy usage. And by adding nifty jingles, colorful graphics and a perky voice to narrate short videos, Westar hopes the explanation won’t be too painful.

“We are trying to take a highly technical, engineering (subject) and get past that to what is it and how it benefits (the customer),” said Hal Jensen, director of Westar’s SmartStar programs.

The meat of the website is the tab dubbed the online dashboard. That’s where smart meter users can go to monitor their energy usage.

The meters, which were made possible through a $19 million grant from the federal government, will be installed into 45,000 homes in Lawrence. This January, a pilot neighborhood will receive the first 1,500 meters. Starting in May, Westar is expected to deploy the rest of the meters throughout the city.

A day or two after the smart meters are installed, customers will be able to start monitoring their energy usage online. Energy usage information on the website is broken down hour by hour and available as soon as the next day.

Consumers can also sign up for text and e-mail alerts to tell them when their energy bill has exceed a certain dollar amount or if they’ve reached a new peak in energy usage for the month.

“It’s a great teaching tool,” said Eileen Horn, the Lawrence/Douglas County sustainability coordinator

Horn was on hand Thursday to see Jensen show off the new website. She said the site would help not just residents better manage their energy bills, but governments as well.