Honeywell has won a $15 million smart-grid contract with Connexus Energy that will provide the utility’s co-op members in seven Minnesota counties with remote electricity reading for the first time.

The project, announced early Wednesday, is expected to help Minnesota’s largest customer-owned electric cooperative improve service, eliminate the need to manually read meters and help the utility’s 130,000 customers better manage energy consumption.

Under the project, Connexus will replace its 22-year-old electricity meters with 138,000 of Honeywell’s EnergyAxis meters and Honeywell’s new SynergyNet mesh networking software.

Honeywell will manage its part of the two-year contract mostly from Raleigh, N.C. However, experts from Honeywell’s Golden Valley campus will help with marketing, product training and project management, said Mike Caranfa, senior vice president of Honeywell’s Smart Energy division.

The new meters are being installed in every Connexus customers’ house or business across Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, Washington and Hennepin counties. So far, 600 meters have been installed. The rest will be installed by mid-2018.

Once fully installed, Connexus’ new meters will communicate with each other, download meter readings to area routers and send the data to Connexus’ headquarters in Ramsey for analysis. The data should create a clearer understanding of electrical usage across its entire region.

“Before Connexus got one meter reading [per customer] a month. Now, they will have hourly meter readings from the members,” Caranfa said.

That should give Connexus real-time data on customer energy consumption and lead to more accurate billing and earlier detection of any meter-tampering or outages, Caranfa said. It may also lead Connexus to set up different pricing for times of peak energy loads.

Connexus CEO Greg Ridderbusch said customers will soon have access to a new button on Connexus’ website that shows them exactly when during the day or night they use the most electricity.

Armed with such information and new pricing incentives, customers will probably move some activities, such as running a dishwasher, washing machine or air conditioner to cheaper, off-peak hours. Those choices are a benefit of the new technology upgrades, Ridderbusch said. “Before, with a single-meter reading, you could never see how you used electricity from day to day.”

Because the new system provides 24/7 remote meter reading across Connexus’ grid, it will save the co-op the time and fuel traditionally needed to manually collect meter data. Connexus Energy’s service territory spans 1,000 square miles of the northern metro. Those and other cost savings will let Connexus pay for the smart grid in fewer than 10 years, said Ridderbusch, who declined to give a savings figure.

“Our mission is simple: keep the lights on for our members by providing electricity in the most cost-effective, reliable and responsible manner,” he said. “Honeywell’s smart-grid technology will help us continue to meet these goals while providing a path for greater efficiencies and innovations in how we deliver electricity to one of Minnesota’s fastest-growing corridors.”

Rob Tupker, president of Smart Energy within Honeywell’s Home and Building Technologies business, called the new smart grid one more game-changer for communities. Honeywell’s smart-grid technology has been deployed to more than 120 water-, gas- and electricity-metering projects worldwide.

The new smart-grid contract with Connexus is one of the first received since this summer, when Honeywell broke up its $15 billion Automation and Control Solutions (ACS) business that had been headquartered in Golden Valley.

In September, about $10 billion of the ACS business became part of a newly created Home and Building Technologies unit that is headquartered in Atlanta. The other part of ACS became Safety and Productivity Solutions (SPS), which is now based in Fort Mill, S.C.

While Golden Valley is no longer headquarters for Honeywell’s now-defunct Automation and Control Solutions division, “it will continue to serve as a center for a number of Home and Building Technologies functions and operations,” said spokesman Bruce Anderson.

Honeywell employs more than 3,300 people across the Twin Cities in five facilities, including Golden Valley.