Smart electricity meters coming to Rhode Island Energy customers

PROVIDENCE — In a unanimous vote last month, state utilities regulators approved a proposal to replace electric meters in Rhode Island with smart meters that supporters say will put the state on track to modernize the power grid and help meet climate goals. 

The 500,000 advanced meters that Rhode Island Energy, the state's main energy utility, plans to install will use a radio signal to send usage data in near-real time to the company, enabling it to better manage how electricity is delivered to its customers and help integrate new supplies from renewable generators.  Electric Meters

Smart electricity meters coming to Rhode Island Energy customers

The project represents a big step forward for the utility and it could also lead to changes in how Rhode Islanders use electricity. 

Here are answers to some important questions about what’s in store for the state. 

Rhode Island Energy has already started working on the computer systems that will process and store data from the new meters. Once those systems are in place sometime late next year, the company will roll out the new meters, starting in the Westerly area and moving north. The installation process is expected to be completed in mid-2026. 

The company says it will send out more details to customers before the replacement program starts up. Rhode Island customers will also have the option to opt out of the program and keep their current meter. But anyone who does so will be charged a fee, because Rhode Island Energy technicians will have to read their meter manually. 

The upgrade is being done now because 60% of the meters currently in use, a mixture of electromechanical meters and solid-state meters, are reaching the end of their 20-year design life and will need to be replaced starting in 2024. Replacing them with a single technology will allow for more uniform collection of data, according to Rhode Island Energy. 

Information from the current meters is collected only once a month, meaning Rhode Island Energy must rely on past information, future projections and models to manage the grid. The new meters will transmit data every 15 minutes, meaning the company will be able to understand in near-real time where electricity is coming from and where it’s needed. 

If it can more efficiently manage electric supplies, then Rhode Island Energy may be able to put off infrastructure projects, such as substation upgrades or new power lines, the costs of which are passed on to ratepayers. 

The new meters will also have the capability to send out “last-gasp” alerts when the power is cut off, so the company won’t have to rely on customers calling in to report outages. In Pennsylvania, where PPL, Rhode Island Energy's parent company, has had smart meters in use for several years, the company says it’s now being alerted to outages 22 minutes sooner on average. 

Meeting the mandates set out by the Act on Climate, the 2021 state law that requires the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, means electrifying as much of the economy as possible. Electric load in Rhode Island is expected to nearly double in that time as more people switch to electric cars and electric heating systems. 

It’s not just that the electric system is set to grow in size and importance. The grid is also undergoing sweeping changes as it’s transformed from a system that relies on power from a limited number of large fossil fuel-burning generators to one that has many smaller, intermittent suppliers that use power from the sun and wind. Adding to the mix, more power is coming from behind-the-meter renewable systems installed by homes and businesses. 

It all means that the power grid is becoming infinitely more complex than it once was. Utilities like Rhode Island Energy say they need more sophisticated technology to manage these new power sources to ensure operations continue to go smoothly. 

The three members of the state Public Utilities Commission all voted for the smart meter proposal. 

Every other party that intervened in the docket also supported the adoption of smart meters, though there were differences among them on timing, costs and estimated benefits.  

The parties include the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers, the sister agency to the PUC which advocates for ratepayer interests in proceedings, the Office of Energy Resources and the Attorney General’s office. 

In 2021, about 111 million smart meters had been installed in the United States, equal to 69% of all electric meters in the country, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That number is expected to rise to 84% by the end of 2026. 

The Public Utilities Commission capped the cost of the program at $153 million. Rhode Island Energy plans to recover costs incrementally over time, but it has yet to make specific tariff filings with the commission. 

At the beginning of the program, the estimated monthly bill impact for a typical customer that uses 500 kilowatt hours of electricity is expected to be 7 cents. As the installation process ramps up, that cost will grow, but will stay below $4 a month, according to the company. 

The program is expected to have net cost benefits to the state. While Rhode Island Energy estimates the benefits to total $729 million over 20 years, the Division of Public Utilities and Carriers puts the number at $266 million. 

The benefits would come from savings from faster outage notifications; fewer field investigations and reduced staff levels; avoided energy costs; climate and public health benefits realized through lowered greenhouse gas emissions; and, eventually, time-variable electric rates. 

These are rates that change based on the time of day, dipping down when usage is low, such as the early-morning hours, and edging up when demand climbs, say around dinner time when people are home from work. 

They’re considered an important tool in making customers more aware of the actual costs of power and changing their usage habits. Time-variable rates could, for example, convince someone to put their clothes dryer on late at night, which could save them money and also benefit the utility by easing pressure on the system at times when demand is higher. 

Rhode Island Energy says it can’t set up a time-variable rate structure while the current meters are in use because they can’t collect the granular data necessary for such a proposal. It’s unclear when the company will make a proposal. For now, it’s only saying that a filing will come after installation of the smart meters. 

The switch to electric cars will put a huge strain on the power system. The state currently uses about 7,7000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year. Replacing all the cars and trucks in Rhode Island with electric models will drive up usage by another 6,000 gigawatt hours, according to state estimates. 

One way of reducing that impact is by incentivizing owners to charge their vehicles during off-peak hours. Time-variable rates are considered an essential tool in making that happen. 

The plan is to use meters from Landis+Gyr, a Switzerland-based manufacturer of meters for gas and electric utilities that’s been in business since 1896 and is considered a worldwide leader in the technology. 

PPL installed an earlier generation of Landis+Gyr meters in Pennsylvania four years ago and a similar effort is underway for its customers in Kentucky. 

In Rhode Island, the company would deploy its latest model, known as the Revelo, which would allow data to be submitted to Rhode Island Energy every 15 minutes and go from the meter to a customer portal every 30-45 minutes. That’s much quicker than in Pennsylvania, where data processing can take 4-6 hours. 

Rhode Island Energy didn’t go out to bid for the new meters in Rhode Island, arguing instead that it made sense to stick with Landis+Gyr, and would save ratepayers millions, because the smart meter systems it already has in place use the company’s software and technology.  

A link to a page on the Revelo meters can be found online at 

Only about 14% of meters in Rhode Island are located inside a building. While replacing those devices will require a technician to come inside, for all others, the work will be conducted outside. Customers will receive notice of the timing and have the opportunity to schedule the exchange. 

Installing the new meter will take 15 minutes, during which power will briefly be interrupted. A video summarizing the installation process in Pennsylvania can be found at 

Yes, customers will also be able to access data on their usage in close to real time. It could allow them to pinpoint activities or appliances that drive up usage and make adjustments. 

The meters will also be able to be paired with mobile or computer applications to manage usage and with smart home systems like Amazon Alexa or Google Home. 

There are two major concerns in some circles when it comes to smart meters: privacy breaches and negative health effects. 

On privacy, Rhode Island Energy says it has developed a plan to protect customer information. Typically, usage data transmitted by smart meters does not include personal information, such as account names or addresses. Only once it’s received by utilities is it paired with account information. 

Smart electricity meters coming to Rhode Island Energy customers

Surge Protector Breaker In regard to health impacts, some people fear that the radio waves emitted by smart meters could cause headaches and even cancer. However, the World Health Organization says there’s no scientific evidence for negative health effects from the type of low-frequency signals used by smart meters. The Federal Communications Commission has come to a similar conclusion. The governments in Canada and England have also found that radio frequency exposure from smart meters is below guideline limits.