New Jersey is behind much of the nation when it comes to the technology used to monitor a home's utility usage, but the state appears to be gaining ground thanks to the efforts of certain utility companies.

Analong electric meters would be replaced with digital meters in a plan from Rockland Electric Co. (Melinda Fawver, Thinkstock)

There's a push to switch from analog devices that are monitored by meter readers who go door to door, to wireless "smart meters" that transmit up-to-date information to both the utility companies and the customers themselves.

Rockland Electric Co. currently has a proposal before the Board of Public Utilities to install smart meters at approximately 73,800 businesses and homes in parts of Bergen, Passaic and Sussex counties.

"It's a quantum leap forward in electric service reliability for our customers, and it also provides our customers with greater control over their energy consumption," said Rockland Electric spokesman Michael Donovan.

The digital devices, which will be the subject of two public hearings in the Mahwah Township Municipal Building on Sept. 19, can immediately alert Rockland Electric when an outage occurs, even if it affects only one property.

"We will be able to get a crew out there immediately to address the power situation," Donovan said.

Customers, meanwhile, can review usage reports online and perhaps adjust their usage accordingly in order to shave a few bucks off their next bill.

If the process moves forward without interruption, Donovan said installation of the smart meters would begin in the third quarter of 2017.

He said it's not yet certain whether customers would end up paying higher rates due to the equipment upgrade. Costs for the utility would be cut because they wouldn't need to employ as many meter readers, but customers could refuse the updated devices for a $15 monthly fee.

According to Donovan, more than 40 percent of electric customers nationwide are using this smart technology.

New Jersey is just entering the game.

Suez, which provides water service to approximately 850,000 people in North Jersey, is in the middle of rolling out its sophisticated meter technology. The goal is to get all customers upgraded by the end of 2019.

"More accurate meters means more accurate billing, and there's also security and convenience benefits," said Suez spokeswoman Billie Gallo. "And we've been able to identify leaks in real time. That's something that we weren't able to do before."

Donovan said he's aware of security concerns among privacy advocates, such as the possibility of hackers determining when people are out of their homes. But, he said, there are several layers of protection within their system that are designed to alleviate these concerns.

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