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Power is lost in BC Hydro’s grid, but smart meters will help

Posted by Blaine Kyllo

So you're trying to do your part. You turn off the lights when you leave the room, and you unplug your mobile phone charger from the wall when it's not in use. You only run full loads in your dishwasher, and you wash your clothes in cold water.

You avoid wasting energy, you feel Power Smart and you’re saving a few bucks each month. But energy is still getting wasted.

It's not your fault. It’s just that our electricity system is over 50 years old, so it’s not as efficient as you are.

To ensure you’re receiving quality, uninterrupted power, BC Hydro has to transmit more electricity than is needed. Unfortunately, that means we experience line losses along the way.

Line loss explained: consider the garden hose

In the spring, when you're planting the pansies, peonies and primrose, you need water. If you use a garden hose, you can run the water at a trickle for those plants that are close to your house.

To get water to plants that are further from your house, you need to turn up the tap. Sending more water through the hose increases the water pressure, and means you can get water to travel further. But that increased pressure can cause problems, too.

It stresses the hose, and over time will lead to leaks in the hose. Even a pinprick hole can waste buckets of water. And at the end of the hose, you end up with more water flowing out than you need.

BC Hydro's taps – the hydro-electric dams and generating facilities – are located in remote areas of the province. To get that power to where you live, we have to increase the pressure – the voltage – of the electricity. That leads to some power being wasted.

How much is wasted? According to Dave Deyagher, a solutions architect with BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program, about 10 per cent of electricity generated is lost along the way. The Smart Metering Program will enable significant energy savings through voltage optimization, saving up to 184 GWhs of electricity annually – that’s enough to supply 17,000 homes with power for an entire year.

How businesses benefit

Len Horvath is president of the award-winning firm Quantum Lighting, which specializes in energy-efficient lighting design and installation. He sees significant benefits in voltage optimization for commercial customers, in particular.

“Voltage optimization will reduce the electricity consumed by lighting systems and electric motors, extend the life of the lamps in lighting systems and maximize the margin of safety for electrical equipment in the event of a voltage spike or dip in the electrical distribution feed," says Horvath.

Those benefits make Horvath a fan of BC Hydro's Smart Metering Program.

How smart meters will help

Smart meters send and receive information, and track how much power is being used and when it’s being used. They better regulate the flow of electricity into your home, and can help ensure that as little power is wasted as possible.

By installing smart meters across B.C. starting this summer, BC Hydro can ensure that the supply of electricity to you and your neighbours is reliable, while at the same time minimizing the amount of electricity wasted during transmission.

Smart meters will lead to other efficiencies, too. In making it easier for BC Hydro to track when and where the power’s out – right now the utility relies on customers calling in to report outages – the cost and time lost due to power outages will decline.

See our Smart Meter myths and facts

What you can do

Keep looking for ways to be Power Smart, and don’t forget to join Team Power Smart, which offers up a $75 reward for qualified customers who save 10% over 12 months.

The installation of the smart metering system will begin in communities throughout the province this summer. 

In the coming months you will receive more information about the program and the installation of smart meters in your community.

Blaine Kyllo is a North Vancouver-based freelance writer and regular contributor to bchydro.com, Unplug This Blog! and the Connected newsletter.