Savvy smart meters save energy at Fermilab

Smart meters at Fermilab help conserve energy and reduce costs. Photo: Cedric Madison, FESS

The comfort of a warm home is often accompanied by uncomfortably high heating bills this time of year. Your bill is tallied by a meter that monitors how much energy you use each month, which then feeds the information to electric and gas companies. Now compare your home with the more than 400 buildings on Fermilab grounds, and imagine what kind of bill the lab must receive. Thankfully, Fermilab gets help from some of its meters.

Approximately 30 buildings at Fermilab are individually equipped with “smart meters,” in addition to power feeders serving all facilities on site. These smart meters are similar to the meters at your home but have more capabilities. For instance, smart meters transfer their data to an online database. The data include both present and past energy consumption, which employees in FESS then use to project future energy costs, participate in power curtailment savings and develop conservation methods.

“Smart meters are essential to what we do,” said FESS’s Steve Krstulovich, the site energy manager. “They are the way we manage our power and save on energy costs.”

Like most sophisticated technology, these smart meters cost more than the average, run-of-the-mill house meter. However, they pay for themselves in the long run, Krstulovich said. Smart meters generally allow one to reduce energy costs for their respective buildings by about 2 percent. At this rate, it takes up to 10 years for the smart meter to save the laboratory the amount of money for which it was purchased.

In addition to conserving energy, the smart meters also help FESS determine how much renewable, green energy the laboratory can use. Fermilab is required to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy each year, and the power feeder smart meters help Fermilab assess what portion of the total site power goes to which buildings.

In 2006, DOE established a memorandum for meter usage at all DOE sites. Regulations stated that all new buildings must receive smart meters—including NML, CMTF and IARC at Fermilab—and that some existing buildings must also receive them. The decision on which existing buildings to outfit depended on which were most cost-effective to equip. At Fermilab, these included Wilson Hall and the Industrial Buildings.

“We’re proud to say that in September of last year we met our goals with DOE and fulfilled all metering commitments in the memorandum,” Krstulovich said. “We continue to be conscientious of energy consumption and work hard to conserve as much as possible and reduce costs with the help of smart meters.”

Jessica Orwig