PG&E built a transfer device for homes in high fire-threat districts to connect backup power sources

Customers in California’s High Fire-Threat Districts (HFTD) who have been issued a rebate for a qualified backup generator through the Generator Rebate Program are now eligible to receive a new backup power transfer meter device, developed by PG&E.

The device itself is pretty neat. PG&E developed this “personal microgrid backup power transfer meter device” to integrate into its existing electric SmartMeter system. It comes with a universal adapter so customers can safely connect off-the-shelf backup power sources as needed. These customers can have it installed by PG&E, free of charge.

“We know that using extension cords with a portable generator is not the most practical solution, and that the cost of purchasing and installing a transfer switch can be prohibitive—in the thousands of dollars. That’s why we created this new backup power transfer meter technology to help our customers maximize connectivity of their backup power source to their home—in a simple fashion—through their electric meter and electrical panel,” said Vincent Davis, Vice President, Customer Operations & Enablement, PG&E.

PG&E’s SmartMeter program team, in consultation with industry partners, designed and built a prototype device from scratch in 2020. The product went through rigorous safety and reliability testing at PG&E’s Applied Technology Services lab and through a third-party testing lab, Exponent. In early 2021, following successful lab testing and customer outreach, PG&E began deploying the new devices to customer sites.

“As the environment in which the grid operates continues to evolve, developing and implementing the backup power transfer meter device is one way we are innovating to help our customers—and electric customers around the country—take control of their energy usage and costs,” said Davis.

How Installation Works

An install diagram from this PG&E PDF.

After customers order the device, PG&E will schedule a time and date for installation. As a part of the installation appointment, a PG&E representative will train and advise each customer on how to safely operate a backup power source using the device during a broader planned or unplanned power outage. Safely connecting a qualified portable generator to a backup power transfer meter device follows an easy-to-understand, six-step process as illustrated in PG&E’s installation guide.

The device provides PG&E grid operators with visibility into when a customer switches their power source to backup generation, and the device will automatically and safely switch the customer back to PG&E grid power when the outage is resolved, and grid power is restored.

Plans for Expansion?

PG&E has installed more than 100 backup power transfer meter devices for eligible customers and anticipates installing thousands more in 2022. PG&E also plans to make the technology available to utilities throughout the United States.

PG&E recently applied for a United States Patent for this backup power transfer meter technology, which the company expects will be approved by 2023. PG&E owns a variety of patents that apply to smart energy metering, electrical grid systems, wires down detection, asset management and mapping, and gas operations. Including the backup power transfer meter application, PG&E has several patent applications pending for a range of technologies including data analytics tools, sensor technologies, and location and marking systems.

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