Lawrence residents will have to wait a little longer for smart meters as Westar Energy continues to toil with the technology meant to support them.
The schedule for deploying the smart meters has been pushed back another six weeks to mid or late September, said Hal Jensen, director of Westar’s SmartStar program.
When the program was announced in 2010, Westar had originally set late spring as the date to install more than 44,000 meters to all Westar customers in Lawrence. In May, the installation date was moved back to late July.
“What we are finding, we didn’t allow enough time to work through all the testing and quality assurance and integration type of efforts that had to happen,” Jensen said.
The $39 million SmartStar program that will bring the meters to Lawrence also includes an upgrade in computer and software technology needed to support Westar’s entire customer base. And the technology is intended to integrate data so it can flow between the company departments, such as billing and customer service.
When the meters are installed in Lawrence, Jensen said, the company wants to make sure customers have access to the online information the next day.
With the smart meters, customers will be able to go online and track their energy usage by the hour. The idea is that the information can help customers make better decisions on energy consumption. One day, the meter could provide the data needed to establish a new pricing structure in which energy is most expensive when demand is at its highest.
There are some folks in Lawrence who already have the smart meters.
In bone-chilling temperatures last January, Westar began installing smart meters in a pilot project area of the Deerfield Neighborhood. By the beginning of June, customers in that neighborhood could go online and find detailed information on their energy usage.
So far, Jensen said “there have been no issues with the meters” in the pilot project. However, Westar is still reading the meters manually for billing.
As of now, Westar hasn’t determined what neighborhoods will be the next to get meters. But Jensen said he’s confident that by the end of the year the vast majority will be installed.
Westar holds open house Thursday
Westar Energy will hold an open house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Spring Hill Suites, 1 Riverfront Plaza. The open house will focus on the upgrades Westar Energy is making at its Sixth Street substation. The project, which costs more than $1 million, will replace eight cables leaving from the substation and should improve the reliability of the system.