LAFAYETTE (AP) — Lafayette Utilities System will begin changing out electric and water meters for all of its customers in January as it moves to a smart grid system.

The Advertiser reports (http://bit.ly/s8Ghlg ) the more technologically-advanced system will allow LUS employees to better assess customers’ usage, address problems with unusually high bills and more precisely pinpoint service outages.

The smart grid project has been in the works for the past few years, although its future was unknown back in 2009 when the City-Parish Council resisted a rate increase that would help fund the project. That rate increase ultimately passed, although some have wondered if the project is absolutely necessary.

However, LUS officials have said that the smart grid technology will become common in the future, and will help residents better manage their utility usage.

“This will be almost error-free meter reading,” said Andrew Duhon, LUS’ customer and support services manager. “We’ll also be able to access date more frequently and in a more timely manner. If we’re trying to research a high bill problem, our agent will be able to look at the meter right away and detect the problem. It will also help with our outage detection and management, because we’ll be able to tell a specific address where it is out and manage our responses much more effectively.”

In addition to the new meters, in-home displays will be available to customers at their request. Those devices will show information about utility usage, and about 1,000 will be available. Duhon said future plans also call for building a Web portal for customers to get more data about their utility usage.

On Thursday, LUS announced that it has selected Elster’s EnergyAxis system as the vendor for the project.

“Elster is a well-known metering solutions company,” said Duhon. “Their role is going to be to provide the meters to us, the installation of those and helping us collect information and push it down the fiber system to the head end, or master station, where the information will be collected and used.”

The project has a total cost of about $32 million. LUS has received an $11.6 million U.S. Department of Energy Smart Grid Investment Grant to cover a portion of those costs.

LUS will begin rolling out the new meters in early 2012, and the project will be finished by late 2012 or early 2013. Duhon said the U.S. Department of Energy grant requires that the project is finished by May 2013.

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Information from: The Advertise