Living with a Smart Meter

Maybe you've heard about all the issues PG&E got into when rolling out the first wave of smart meters.  Maybe you were even one of their customers who decided to sue them because you thought it was their smart meter that was raising your utility bills (which probably had more to do with bad customer relations by PG&E and less with a faulty meter).  I recently read that sometimes the smart meter is accurate one, while it's the old meter that was inaccurate, causing lower billing!

But if you want to know what it's like to live with a smart meter, you should check out Gary Hart's post about living with a PG&E smart meter for one year.  Gary highlights several things that he learned in his excellent summary, but the most telling came as the last point:

The surprising lesson in all of this is that my smart meter has almost nothing to do with any of these lessons.  The data I rely upon was available before my smart meter was installed and the monthly summaries are still the most useful data available for my purposes.  So where is the consumer benefit from smart meters?  As far as I can tell all the benefits are flowing to PG&E, but my rates are still going up.

I touched on these topics in our introduction to the smart grid:

With the adoption of the Smart Grid, utilities will be able to see in real time what users who have Smart meters (meters that communicate information back to the utility over a network) are using.  Users will also be able to see much more detailed statistics about how they use power.  Basically, a smart meter is a TED that you and the utilities use together for your home.

This provides you with a monitoring function so you can better manage your consumption, but it provides the utility the ability to charge a tiered rate for their power.  Basically, if you are using power on a hot afternoon (when electricity use is at its highest – mostly due to air conditioners) you will pay a higher rate than if you are using electricity at 3 AM, when demand is low.  Why should what you pay for electricity not follow the economic laws of supply and demand?

I also hit on the question in our post "Smart Grid: Who Benefits Most - Utilities or Customers?", where I closed with:

I look forward to seeing what the smart grid has to offer, and I love seeing how it unfolds and the perceptions that people have of its progression.  In any scenario, I believe consumers in the near future will use less electricity either due to increased energy awareness or higher bills from their enlightened utilities.  Either way, we’ll all be better off.

If you're an energy geek, and love analyzing data to save energy, then a smart meter will almost certainly help you save energy and money.  However, if you don't care that much about drilling down into the data (like Gary), then chances are a smart meter will be of little value to you, unless your utility can use the data from the meter to tailor its energy saving tips specifically to your lifestyle.  An example of this would be the meter recording electricity consumption peaks close together on hot summer days and suggesting to turn down your thermostat a few degrees or telling you that your home's standby load is on average 30% higher than similar houses in your area, and you should look at killing vampire loads.  But if you're not an energy geek and your utility isn't offering these services, then your smart meter may just be a tool for them to figure out how to base their tiered rates.

Aside from people worried that a smart meter is somehow misreading their energy consumption, the other concern is smart meter electromagnetic radiation.  Is there any truth to safety concerns of this radiation? had an excellent article on smart meter radiation in which they basically debunked any worries.  Yet the blog StopSmartMeters would assuredly disagree, even though it seems that they've done little of the scientific analysis that Grist has done.

So will smart meters be a boon or  burden for homeowners?  That answer (like so many) is: It depends.  It depends on how engaged the homeowners are and how they use the data from the smart meter to make energy conservation decisions. More than likely, smart meters won't give you cancer, but who knows how much help they'll be in helping reduce your energy consumption.  Smart meters are simply a tool. You can choose to use or ignore the tool.  And for those protesting the installation of smart meters, I have good news: You can live off-grid!   Remember, utility service is a benefit, not a right.  If you don't like what the utility is doing, you can always create your own electricity.

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


@RobertWilliams: That story is about cell phones. Yes both cell phones and smart meters use radio waves - but the level of exposure is radically different. 1) You hold a cell phone against your head - distance to the brain is an inch. Your electricity meter is outside your house. Let's assume that it's about 20 feet from your head - 240 times as far, so the inverse square law says you receive 57600 times less exposure. 2) The cell phone is communicating with a cell tower perhaps a mile away. The meter is in a mesh network with other meters. In an urban area it only needs to transmit to the next house 50-100 feet away. Do some more math on how much lower the exposure is for the lower power transmitter. 3) The cell phone is transmitting constantly (while you are making a call). The Italian who won his lawsuit in the video claimed several hours of calls each day. Your meter transmits for a fraction of a second each hour. Do some more math on how much less exposure you will receive from a smart meter. So even if radio signals from cell phones are an issue - it would appear that they are not that big of a problem (despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people have cell phones, there doesn't appear to be a massive rise in the number of brain tumours). Smart meters would expose people to maybe a million times less radio waves than a cell phone.
ckmapawatt's picture
Great overview Tony! That's how I feel. People are misdirecting their concerns because they see smart meters as a much easier target than cell phones.
INSURANCE COMPANIES WON'T INSURE THE HEALTH RISKS FROM WIRELESS Smart Meters And Insurance companies don't sacrifice insurance premiums for nothing. VIDEO: Insurance Companies Won't Insure Wireless Device Health Risks (3 minutes, 13 seconds)
PG&E came through my neighbourhood and replaced all the old meters with smart meters - except for mine. Because I have solar panels on my roof I already have a semi-smart meter that does time-of-use billing. But it doesn't provide hourly usage data. Ironic: I'm on a tariff that means that I could actually benefit from knowing when I'm using most power, and PG&E won't give me a meter that provides that data.
Tony, ugh, that sounds all too familiar. We also had semi-smart AMR meters, but when I got solar, the Xcel (human) meter reader started driving a few miles out to my house to <a HREF="" rel="nofollow">read the meters manually</A>. This probably negates a big chunk of any good my solar install might do. An Xcel person was nice enough to comment, but the answer was sadly bureaucratic: "our current contract with Cellnet doesn’t include wireless reading of bi-directional meters" - not exactly nimble business practices, eh?
What drives me rather crazy about this stuff is that the "dumb" meter I have today -already- sends at least daily data to my utility. It's just that well, I can't see it. We're getting swanky new wireless water meters installed soon, 72h data logging, the works. Guess how much data I can see? Zip. Even in Gary's situation - the utility gets 15m updates, he gets daily updates 24h later? Or was it just aggregate monthly stats? Maybe most people don't care, but why the hell can't those who do see the data on the same resolution that is available to the utility? Grr. I like TED &amp; BlueLine as much as the next guy, but if we could just get data out of our existing meters, I'd happily put them out of business, for the sake of sanity and efficiency - I already HAVE a whole house meter... As for Gary - 60+ kWh/day? Wow. He needs new appliances if his fridge is 2.2kWh/day (90W avg), his washer+dryer is 5kWh/load, dishwasher is 2.1kWh/load... ouch! I hope he was tongue in cheek when he said these revelations about excessive use made him wish for cheap coal (vs. motivating him to reduce consumption...)
Hi Chris December 2012 - we have written up some additional thoughts based on using this data - we have had our Smart meter since March this year. But bottom line in my opinion - if you are about energy the Smart meter will validate what you have already done - and if you do not - it is unlikely that you will look at the data, let alone be able to seriously use it to change the amount of electricity you use. If you need to replace an appliance - you do not need to have the exact KWh of the old unit to know that it needs replacing - and the Smart meter is not going to help you make a wise decision when selecting the new one!

Post new comment

Subscribe to Comments for "Living with a Smart Meter"