Nova Scotia Power will spend $133 million to install smart meters in the homes and businesses of its 500,000 customers to automatically measure electricity usage.

Pending regulatory approval, the company said the installation of the meters will start on a pilot basis in late 2018, with full rollout beginning in 2019. All of the meters should be installed by the end of 2020.

"It will allow us to have real-time information and it will improve the accuracy of the usage and the accuracy of the billing experience," Nova Scotia Power president Karen Hutt told CBC News on Thursday.

"It will also improve reliability because through these pieces of technology, we will instantly know if a customer's power goes off, which is not the situation today."

Nova Scotia Power said the smart meters will not cost customers any money. The company estimates it will spend about $250 per customer to install the meters, which cost $115 per unit. NSP has not yet selected its supplier.

No more meter readers 

The company expects to save $38 million over the next 20 years, primarily because it will no longer have to manually read customers' meters.

At present, meters are manually read every 60 days. Smart meters will be read remotely and will update every 15 minutes. 

"A big part of it is changing the manual process to an automated process. That's a huge part of it," Hutt said of the savings.

They will be among the first smart meters used in Nova Scotia, following a pilot project in Lunenburg rolled out by the town's electric utility in 2013.

Nova Scotia Power said digital meters in use at some homes are not smart meters that can provide automated readings.

Right now, the utility employs 55 meter readers who are a mix of full-time and term workers. Hutt minimized the potential job losses, saying many will find work elsewhere in the company.

"We are already talking to them about what other things they can do in the business, so we are not expecting wholesale job losses as a result of this," she said. "In fact, we think there are exciting new things for people to focus their career on."

Thumbs up from the McNeil government

On Thursday, Nova Scotia Energy Minister Geoff MacLellan predicted the arrival of smart meters will help drive down electricity consumption — and costs — as customers get a better picture of their usage.

When the system is up and running, customers will be able to go online and check their hour-by-hour power consumption.

"We want that to be a successful program because we want our power rates lower, quite frankly," MacLellan said. "NSP has recognized this and is making a long-term investment."

The company filed its application for "advanced metering infrastructure" with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board on Thursday.

In it, the company said it will leverage lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have already deployed smart meters.