At 1:36PM yesterday the lights went out for 1103 members of Vermont Electric Coop (VEC) in South Hero, including us at our summer place on the Lake. No surprise; tropical storm Irene was raging up Vermont. No need to call VEC in a panic, though; I could see immediately from their website that they knew about the outage including the exact number of customers affected. VEC was the first utility in Vermont to install smart meters and they know immediately when a meter goes silent. Unlike other utilities who haven't installed smart meters yet, VEC doesn't have to wait for customers to call in. Equally important, they can tell from their monitoring system almost exactly where the break is BEFORE the trucks roll so the linepeople can go straight to the problem rather than having to search along the road or through the woods.
At 8:15PM with the wind still raging, the lights came back on for most of us. It's likely some intrepid person went up in a cherrypicker in the storm and made a repair (thank you!). Immediately the outage website showed that 199 South Hero customers were still without power; something must have happened downstream from the original break. Without smart meters, the crews probably wouldn't have known about the second break for quite a while since the people who were cut off by it would have just assumed that the original problem hadn't been fixed yet and wouldn't have called in again until they lost patience or saw their neighbors' lights on.
Within two years most Vermonters should have smart meters thanks partly to a $69 million stimulus grant awarded to Vermont utilities. We'll probably be the first state in the nation to have a near 100% smart grid. Outage management is only one of the many benefits of adding electronics to the power grid that we'll see. But yesterday and today outage management is a very large benefit indeed. Kudos to VEC for installing smart meters for better customer service even before they got a grant and helping to show the whole state what the advantages of a smart grid are.