Smart meters, or digital power meters, are now going up on thousands of West Michigan homes.
Consumers Energy started installing them in Muskegon, Monday. In the span of a week, they hope to replace 1,000 of the old analog meters with the new ones.
The new technology will allow the utility company to access how much energy customers are using in real time.
The days of being surprised by estimated electric bills will be a thing of the past. The new smart meters will record a home's energy use every hour. Wireless signal will send back a reading to Consumers Energy.
They have been controversial. Critics worry about the long-term health effects and privacy. But, Consumers Energy maintains only one message will be sent back a day, and only kilowatt hour and meter numbers will be released.
Technicians will be in and out of Muskegon neighborhoods at first, dressed in neon vests and carrying ID. Residents do not have to be home when they are installed.
By next spring, customers will be able to track and compare their hourly energy usage.
"When the power goes out at your home, right now we dont know it's your home," said Roger Morgenstern of Consumers Energy. "We rely on a customer to call us. This will send a signal saying the power is out ... and we'll quickly know the scope of the outage so we can get servicemen and women out and get the power back on."
Consumers Energy hopes to install 50,000 meters across Muskegon and portions of southern Oceana and northern Ottawa counties by the end of 2012. Kent county can expect to see smart meters by Spring of 2013.
Customers can opt out by calling Consumers Energy.