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Berlin expands energy trail program

BERLIN — Initiation to further test a pilot program that helps determine the efficiency of electricity and water utilities for commercial and residential properties was approved by the Berlin Mayor and Council at its Tuesday, Nov. 13 meeting.

"We’ve seen five presentations over the past nine months, and one thing that’s impressive is that you own this technology," Town Administrator Tony Carson said at the meeting.

Carson was addressing Costa Apostolakis, CEO and founder of NexGrid, a Virginia company that focuses on managing energy consumption, who was asked by the town to provide a demonstration of the program’s capabilities.

"The ultimate payoff is for people to be able to reduce the cost of their water and electric bills," Mayor Gee Williams said.

NexGrid has been developing a relationship with Berlin since it started providing hotspots for the free Wi-Fi service that started this summer.

These gateways also provide a portal that can communicate with Town Hall to report on energy usage.

Residents or businesses interested in the program would purchase a new electric meter, water meter or both to be able to determine exactly how much energy use in their buildings costs.

In conjunction with the devices, customers will have access to a Website that displays in dollars and cents the precise hourly cost of energy use. This Website will also display the expected bill cost that month.

"People can turn things on and off and see the results," Apostolakis said. "They can narrow it down by unplugging things and so forth."

There are also automated alerts that compare a unit’s efficiency to Energy Star standards. For example, if a resident’s water heater is underperforming, he or she will receive a message notifying what more efficient options are available.

Members of the program can also anonymously fill in the property’s information such as year of construction, square footage and how many people occupy the structure. That property will then be compared to the efficiency of a similar, unidentified, Berlin property.

Another device offered in the program is a module that would be placed inside a building’s thermostat. The thermostat will then be able to be controlled online through the company’s Website or a cellphone application.

A device to control light switches is expected to be released next year.

This energy program is also a benefit to the Berlin Electric department in several ways. In the event of a power outage, the electric meter would instantly notify the department. It would let the department know exactly how many outages there are and their location.

"It cuts down on outage time," said Tim Lawrence, electric utility director of Berlin, who said his department would be able to respond to outages much faster.

The utility department would also be able to read the units’ power use online if needed, without having to drive to the property.

Costs for all devices vary not only by product, but also if the service is being offered to a residential or commercial building. Not all prices were given at the meeting, but a residential electric meter would cost $125.

There is no extra cost for the online service, as it is included in the price.

The town has been testing these electric meters at all five of its Wi-Fi gateways in town for five months, but wants to continue testing with more units before making a final decision on adopting the program.

In this proposal was to make a purchase order for 100 electric meters and 40 water meters that will be placed throughout town, and the server needed to operate the program.

The units will cost the town about $18,000, but the server will be given to the town at no cost.

Town officials will continue testing these units for about six months after they are installed in January.

At the end of Apostolakis’ presentation, the board, minus Councilmember Troy Purnell, who was absent, voted in favor of putting in the purchasing order in a 4-0 vote.