March 15, 2014 5:50 am JST

Japan's power utilities accelerating plans for smart meters

TOKYO -- Regional power monopolies in Japan will finish installing smart meters for all residential customers much sooner than originally scheduled so that the utilities can better prepare for the competition expected to come after electricity retailing is deregulated.

     Under plans they will present to a Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry meeting Monday, the 10 utilities will accelerate installation by up to eight years. The Tokyo area's Tepco will finish first, in fiscal 2020.

     The target year is fiscal 2022 for Kansai Electric Power, or Kepco, and Chubu Electric Power. Six others will complete the process the following year. Okinawa Electric Power will move up the expected completion to fiscal 2024 from the originally planned fiscal 2032.

     The smart meters will take power usage readings every 30 minutes for all 80 million or so of the utilities' residential customers.

     Tepco will step up installation next month, furnishing some 100,000 units at a time. Kepco, which has already deployed about 2 million meters, now expects to complete installation a year ahead of the initial timeline.

     Regional power utilities are bolstering installation efforts as they brace for the loss of their monopolies and the competition from new entrants after, according to government plans, retail sales of electricity to households is deregulated in 2016.

     Smart meters will let utilities see demand in real time and adjust pricing accordingly, all without dispatching meter readers. The devices are also expected to encourage customers to save more energy.

     The deployment will create a new 1 trillion yen ($9.73 billion)-plus market for smart meters, including installation work and information system costs. Companies that obtain data from the devices will be able to launch new services. One such service could monitor the energy consumption of seniors living alone and send help when it drops.