NB Power is surveying 22,000 households across the province asking them about their power use patterns as it prepares to make the transition to a new smart grid.

Smart grids offer customers more control over how they use electricity. A smart grid system would give customers incentives to use power at non-peak times, such as at night, when there is less demand.

So NB Power will be asking its customers questions, such as what kind of heating they use, the age of their appliances, whether they have air conditioning or if they have high-speed internet.

"It's to get a better handle on how energy is used and to kind of try to work with our customers to see how we can move some of their energy usage to off-peak times," said Brent Staeben, an official with the utility.

Staeben said the new smart grid will help cut back on costs and lessen the environmental impact by improving efficiency and decreasing fluctuations during peak hours.

'So while we may be more energy efficient, in some of the other appliances that we're purchasing, you know we're also adding to our load as we add more devices to our life.' — Brent Staeben, NB Power

He said that during peak times NB Power has to turn to fossil fuel-burning generators.

Staeben said NB Power would like to have a pilot project up and running in the next year.

The NB Power official said the survey will be useful because people are using more electricity but in different ways.

"It's being made up in devices really, in computers and tablets and BlackBerrys and phones and things like that and the charging of them all the time," he said.

"So while we may be more energy efficient, in some of the other appliances that we're purchasing, you know we're also adding to our load as we add more devices to our life."

Green Party Leader David Coon said it’s important for NB Power to get a better understanding of the energy consumption patterns of its customers.

But he said this survey fits into a broader issue of understanding the future power needs of the utility. The Green Party leader said he wants more information on the longer term goal.

"The problem is we are operating in the dark right now. NB Power hasn’t released its plan for what they want to do in the future, their integrated resource plan," he said.

"It is fundamentally important, it lays out what they intend to do in terms of influencing supply and demand of electricity over the coming years."

Smart grid skepticism

Some are skeptical about the need to move toward a smart grid.

Daniel Leblanc, a Moncton environmentalist, said the province doesn't need new gadgets.

"You first have to have smart policies to fill the grid in New Brunswick with renewable energy before you begin this theoretical exercise of saving the environment with smart grid technology," he said.

New Brunswick and Siemens Canada announced an agreement in July 2012 that would see the global technology company create a 10-year energy road map for the province.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard’s 2011 energy plan called for the use of smart grid technology.