Naperville council plugs into offer for free ePortal pilot

<p>File Photo</p>

File Photo

Naperville officials are taking up an offer for a free trial run of a function that will take the data tracked by the wireless electric meters installed on city homes and businesses last year and tell consumers what it means.
Toronto-based Lowfoot Inc. will install the ePortal software in 100 volunteer participant locations, including businesses and residences. The pilot program will help determine how Lowfoot’s product would work with the 57,000 smart meters that replaced the analog devices as part of the move to a smart grid distribution system.
The portal is designed to provide electricity users with graphic feedback enabling them to monitor their own energy consumption and adapt their habits, if they like, to reduce their power use and the bills they receive from the city-owned utility.
The contractor initially hired to provide the customer interface, Calico Energy Solutions, did not meet the requirements of its $900,000-plus commitment to the city, inked in 2010. The city earlier this year sued Calico for breach of contract, seeking to recover the nearly $780,000 already paid out under the accord. The suit remains in court.
“Calico has answered the city’s complaint. We are continuing to have discussions,” city spokeswoman Linda LaCloche said Wednesday in an email.
Council member Bob Fieseler, who serves on the Smart Grid Steering Committee, said the ePortal to be provided by Lowfoot represents technology that the quickly evolving industry hadn’t yet developed in 2010, and the number of suitable vendors has grown considerably since then. He added that the city already outsources some of its digital services, including the recently launched Naper Notify communications system.
“In this case, we really need to kick the tires a bit to see if there’s a good fit,” Fieseler said. 
Electric Utility Director Mark Curran said at least half of those taking part in the two-month trial, slated to begin around June 1, will be residents. It is not yet known how much Lowfoot’s fees will be if the interface is chosen, but Fieseler said he’s been told to expect it to run about $150,000 annually.
Councilman Grant Wehrli, also a steering committee member for the Smart Grid Initiative, supported the free offer as well.
“They had me at ‘hello’ on the no-cost,” said Wehrli before the council approved the trial unanimously.