FORT BRAGG, N.C. - When most people are asked what we pay for electricity on Fort Bragg the answer is usually a simple, "I don't know."

Electrical metering at Fort Bragg has been intermittent at best and historically has only applied to those nongovernment residents who are responsible for reimbursing the installation for electricity used. These reimbursable customers are the only ones who have been getting a monthly bill and therefore are the only facilities on Fort Bragg where electrical energy consumption is known in any kind of baseline.

An electric meter, or energy meter, is a device that measures the amount of electrical energy supplied to or produced by a residence, business or machine.

Electricity is a clean, convenient way to deliver energy and in North Carolina is mainly produced from coal and nuclear power plants.

Today, these forms of fuel are being closely monitored and regulations for federal facilities are starting to take effect. These regulations require the reduction of those forms of fuel for electricity and require use of more renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydroelectric.

Since the electricity meter is how electricity providers measure billable services, it is the first place to start looking for areas where consumption meets accountability.

"If you can measure it, you can manage it," said Jennifer McKenzie, installation energy manager. "The process of installing meters at all electrical delivery points will help the effort to reduce energy intensity on Fort Bragg by locating areas where energy consumption is higher than normal or out of an average balance."

Similar facilities will be compared to one another against known baselines to produce energy indexes. These will be used to develop better plans for energy management, reducing energy intensity and also developing renewable energy projects. In order to be compliant with federal regulations, all buildings on Fort Bragg will require electrical meters and the information coming from those meters will be held in a database for benchmarking and comparative analysis.

"We need to know what's going on in the buildings so we can create baselines and therefore have a better understanding of where to focus our energy," said McKenzie.

The meters being installed will measure kilowatt hours. Typically when used in electricity retailing, the utilities record the values measured by these meters to generate an invoice for the electricity. They may also record other variables including the time when the electricity was used. Since it is expensive to store large amounts of electricity, it must usually be generated as it is needed. More electricity requires more generators, and so, providers want consumers to avoid causing peaks in consumption. This holds true for Fort Bragg, as well.

In the summer, on very hot days and during peak energy usage, the cost of electricity jumps significantly because it costs more to produce at that time. Electricity meters have therefore been devised which encourage users to shift their consumption of power away from peak times, such as the middle of the afternoon, when many buildings turn on air-conditioning. For these applications, meters measure demand, the maximum use of power in some interval.

There is also the potential for interaction by the meter and a central system which may reduce certain electrical load stations. This kind of system is called automated meter infrastructure. In some areas these meters have relays to turn off nonessential equipment.

Providers are also concerned about efficient use of their distribution network, so, they try to maximize the delivery of billable power. Also, the network has to be upgraded with thicker wires, larger transformers, or more generators if parts of it become too hot from excessive currents.

The currents can be caused by either real power, in which the waves of voltage and current coincide, or apparent power, in which the waves of current and voltage do not overlap and cannot deliver power. Since providers can only collect money for real power, they try to maximize the amount of real power delivered by their networks.

Therefore, distribution networks always incorporate electricity meters that measure apparent power, usually by displaying or recording power factors or volt-amp-reactive-hours. Many industrial power meters can measure volt-amp-reactive hours, all of which can be helpful to determine if there are power quality issues on the delivery side of the meter or power issues internal to a facility.

What this all comes down to is that Fort Bragg is going to be getting meters on all facilities. The metering effort is to find baselines in consumption and compare similar buildings to see where energy challenges may exist.

Meters also provide data to show why there is a repetitive equipment failure inside certain facilities due to power quality issues and give data to support corrective measure in the supply management.

Ultimately, Fort Bragg pays nearly $40 million annually in electrical energy cost. Those costs are rising as fast as Fort Bragg is growing, and we have a responsibility to know where the energy is going so that it can be better managed.