East L.A. gas meters go high-tech

Old gas meter (left) before it becomes retrofitted into an “advance meter” (right)/C.J. Salgado.

By C.J. Salgado

Southern California Gas Company crews were out in East L. A. last week installing new “advanced meters.” Actually, existing meters just get a new retrofit attachment consisting of an instrument module with analog gauges showing gas usage but they will also able to radio transmit continuous usage data back to SoCal Gas. This upgrade takes about 15 minutes with normally no gas service interruption. However, if the existing meter is too old, the entire meter will be replaced with a modern one with a built-in communication module, so that takes about twice as long to complete.

About 6 million meters will be installed throughout the gas company service territory, a project which started late last year and is to last more several years. Why? Well, conventional meters use technology that’s a good century old. I had just recently been to the Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park, where I had seen an interesting display of a  horse-drawn wagon from the Los Angeles Gas & Electric Co. loaded with old gas meters. Wow, I thought, those old meters kind of look like the one at home.

Fast forward to present day…

The new advanced meters coupled with the associated radio communications network will allow customers to access in (near) real-time more detailed online gas usage information, e.g., hourly figures to, conceivably, facilitate better management of gas usage to reduce our utility cost.

But will SoCal Gas customers really get that “into” their gas usage? It’s hard to change our energy consumption habits. Another question is whether those radio transmissions are secure. For example, could a customer get billed for their neighbor’s gas usage if the radio transmissions are somehow crossed? SoCal Gas says, no, because they utilize a unique identifier pegged to each meter and service address.

Regardless, progress with digital technologies marches on. Well, what if a customer doesn’t want the new advanced meter installed? Supposedly, a customer may be able to defer now and eventually “opt out” of getting a new unit installed. But  doing so may mean having to pay the applicable fees vs. getting the new meter for “free,” so to speak.

Is it time to relegate our old gas meters to the museum? Guess, we’ve got something to think about while staring online at our gas usage.

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C.J. Salgado lives in East Los Angeles

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