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Simon Moynihan
Staff Writer

Across the country, 5700 gutsy Irish households embarked upon a landmark trial that could herald the future for all Irish energy customers. On January 1st, these volunteers became the first large group in Ireland to go live with Smart Electricity Meters.

The Smart Meters, which were installed during the first part of 2009, measure electricity consumption in real time and electronically report usage back to the ESB every 30 minutes. What's revolutionary about Smart Metering is that it allows householders and suppliers to map usage patterns, easily identify high consumption periods and help consumers to save energy and money through awareness.

A major goal of the trial is to evaluate whether Smart Metering can reduce the amount of peak electricity used in Ireland. Peak electricity is generally used between 5pm and 7pm during the week. It is the most costly electricity to produce because more expensive generation sources have to be brought online to satisfy demand. This in turn produces higher carbon emissions.

Most Irish electricity customers currently pay a single rate for their electricity regardless of when it is used. Smart Metering can facilitate Time of Use tariffs, which can charge different rates depending on the time of day.

During the Smart Meter trial, volunteers will pay three different rates for their electricity: a night rate (cheapest), a day rate (standard) and a peak rate (most expensive). The night rate will run from 11pm to 8am, the peak rate will run from 5pm to 7pm and the day rate will run for all other times.

Charging higher rates, especially at peak times has been shown to shift electricity consumption away from expensive peak electricity. It is hoped that through awareness and incentives, customers will run major appliances such as dishwashers, dryers and washing machines overnight and save money and resources.

To help volunteers manage their consumption, they will receive In Home Displays, which show consumption in real time, and Smart Bills, which include usage graphs and enhanced consumption information. Smart Web access will also be available.

If any of the volunteer householders find that their usage has cost more than it would had they remained on a normal tariff, they will be reimbursed.

In the UK, Smart Metering is currently available in many areas through First:Utility, a new utility company. First:Utility has successfully installed thousands of Smart Meters and given electricity customers the ability to view consumption data, graphs and real time usage information over the Internet. First:Utility claims that an average customer can reduce usage and save 10% on bills just through awareness.

The Irish program, which is being overseen by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), is scheduled to run for one year. The ESB will maintain the program with a view a nationwide rollout of Smart Meters. The success of the program will be measured against a control group, which although equipped with Smart Meters, will not be charged multiple rates on Time of Use tariffs.

More information on the Smart Metering Project is available through the Commission for Energy Regulation website at