Global environmental challenges
California utility PG&E is at the head of the class when it comes to smart meters in North America, having installed 2.3 million of them. It is on track to have nearly 10 million working by 2011, according to figures gathered by the utility and a survey of smart metering programs by the Energy Retail Association, of Britain.Smart meters are in their infancy but their numbers are expanding rapidly in the United States and around the world. After PG&E, PECO in Pennsylvania has installed 2.2 million meters — all of its power and natural gas customers. Even at 2.3 million, PG&E and North American utilities lag behind Italy and it biggest utility, Enel, which installed 30 million smart meters nationwide in four years.The digital meters allow for near real-time readings by customer and utility, allowing better informed decisions on cutting demand as well as getting a better handle on whether new power plants and lines are needed. Smart metering also offers the chance for customers to voluntarily set limits so that appliance turn off automatically if prices rise to high.It will cost PG&E customers — the cost is passed through to them — about $2.2 billion to install the 5.3 million electricity and 4.8 million natural gas meters.