Does measurement make life better? That’s the fundamental premise behind the rise of smart meters. If consumers know how much energy they’re using and paying for, they can save money. In areas that have different prices throughout the day, a smart meter is meant to help you identify that challenge. However, the reality is quite different. Experiences in the UK and elsewhere have shown that smart meters are more difficult to achieve.
Ownership and access are vital questions when it comes to smart meters. Are the devices meant to be owned and operated by the homeowner? By the government? By the power provider? In light of the challenge of introducing smart meters at scale, there are multiple players involved. A recent initiative in the United Kingdom illustrates some of the challenges we can see with smart meters.
In 2019, UK consumers see advertisements and other messages advocating smart meters as a simple way to combat climate change. However, the BBC reports that problems have been widespread:
“Customers have been reporting issues with both the smart box, which normally sits with your fuse box, and the In Home Display, which is the visible unit for your house. Government figures show that until the end of 2018, nearly 15 million smart meters had been installed. However, those same figures also show that only 12.5 million were operational.”
With millions of smart meters failing to operate successfully, what can we learn from the UK experience? There are significant coordination and implementation problems to overcome. For example, the smart meters need to be comfortable with multiple electricity and gas suppliers. Further, consumers need access to technicians who can provide support for these devices when problems arise. Without this support, there will be an uphill battle to convince customers to adopt smart meters in large numbers.
Enhancing corporate support will only take us so far down the road of adopting smart meter technology. We also need to understand the hardware and software that make smart meters work. Some of the early adoption problems may be cured by increased innovation. To make smart meters work for you, find out what your local utility provides free of charge and remind yourself to check your electricity data regularly. To help understand how smart meters work, look at a few popular smart meter devices.
With over four million smart meters in service, PG&E’s smart meter program is one of the largest in the United States. Unlike traditional electric meters, the SmartMeter includes a network connection, so the meter is capable of two-way communication between your home and PG&E. This communication capability is powered by a network radio, so it doesn’t rely upon your home’s internet connection. Next, power usage data is communicated back to PG&E through a secure radio connection. PG&E uses a mesh network to communicate data between consumers and its home office. By transmitting data wirelessly, the PG&E SmartMeter doesn’t require the installation of new cables. Instead, consumers install the SmartMeter device, and the company handles installing the network infrastructure.
In contrast to the two-way capability of PG&E’s electricity smart meter, the company’s “smart meter” for gas only provides one-way communication; it sends data to the power company. Depending upon your consumption and local natural gas pricing, this simplified natural gas system may be sufficient.
Aside from the smart meter itself, consumers also have access to their energy use data by computer.
Providing convenient access to power usage patterns and using software to make recommendations is a major shift from having to go outside to check the meter or waiting for a monthly bill.
To bring smart meter technology to Texas, consumers can use Smart Meter Texas. Using two-way communication, Smart Meter Texas provides updates to consumers every 15 minutes on their energy usage, so they can monitor while traveling. Thus, if power usage spikes while you’re away, you may have a security problem. For more information on security technology, read our post on personal security technology.
In addition to providing electricity usage data in 15-minute increments, the Texas program lets you use additional hardware. For example, you can install devices to control your energy usage and appliances, such as Nest. By connecting smart home devices to your smart meter, you receive detailed information, such as the top appliances that are consuming power (e.g., your home entertainment system, computers, and air conditioning system). If your goal is to save money on your power bill, these smart home devices are extremely helpful.
In addition to providing insight regarding electricity usage, AEP Texas uses smart meters to provide other information. The company can use smart meters to provide outage notifications and provide faster service.
Despite some problems facing early smart meter projects, the future is bright for this technology for a few reasons. Smart meters offer a relatively simple way for consumers to adjust their behavior in light of climate change. Further, these devices help consumers save money by providing a higher quality of information. The next generation of smart meters will likely include AI to provide power usage recommendations (e.g. “would you like to automatically turn off lights when a room is unoccupied for two minutes?”). In the meantime, you’ll need to develop the habit of reviewing your smart meter reports.