In a summer in which demand response has become a new mantra for the power industry, Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co. announced Monday it has begun installing what it is calling its “first wave” of advanced electric meters in a field test that will go on for a number of months. The high-tech meters enable two-way communications between the utility and customers in their homes or businesses.

In the initial field tests, SDG&E plans to install 350 “smart” electric meters and 150 natural gas meters from different vendors in three test areas — urban, suburban and remote. Eventually, SDG&E said it plans to replace all of the 1.3 million electric meters and 825,000 gas meters in its system from mid-2008 into 2010.

SDG&E said it expects the new meters to provide customers with various benefits, including improved customer service, more real-time information on energy use, and faster identification of system outages during events such as the state’s July heat storm.

“Customers should be able to make more informed energy decisions and have greater control over their energy use and costs as a result,” according to Anne Shen Smith, SDG&E senior vice president for customer services. “We are always looking for ways to apply state-of-the-art technologies to improve services to customers. The smart meters are the next major step.”

Smith said the tests will help the utility determine which technologies are best for meeting SDG&E’s customers’ needs, and once the transition is made, the utility should improve its overall operations. “Ultimately, the advanced meters should reduce the likelihood of electricity shortages,” Smith said.

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