We found some invisibility in the widespread adoption of smart meters in residential and commercial properties across the country. There have been some security issues in the past, but we hope most energy companies have addressed them. Beyond that, however, privacy concerns and other concerns are factors to consider when using these devices.
Table of contents
- What is a smart meter?
- Smart Meters and Smart Grids
- Smart Meter Reports to Power Company
- Advantages of smart meters
- Disadvantages of smart meters
- How many smart meters are there in the US?
- Are Smart Meters Dangerous?
- Final thoughts on smart meters
What is a smart meter?
Your electric company or utility provider may already have a smart meter installed in your home or office. Smart meters allow and facilitate two-way (networked) communication between the meter and the central electrical system. That's why it's "smart". In short, this means that the utility company can remotely read your electric meter.
Compare this to the old meters with the manual dial divided into 5 clock faces that you had to read manually to get the current total kWh. The digital readout is easier to read for consumers and professionals.
Networked meters eliminate the need for company visits and keep employees away from your property (and away from dogs, horses and other animals that could cause problems for meter readers). It also put many meter readers out of work. While this may be good news for utilities, it's not so good news for those traditional meter readers.
Smart Meters and Smart Grids
An advantage of smart meters themselves is that they can be more easily integrated into the smart grid. This means utilities (power companies) can buy and distribute electricity more efficiently. Usually, we think this is a good thing. The smart grid is undoubtedly the future and integral to the survival of the admittedly antiquated American grid.
Now, you might think that saving all that labor would immediately lower your energy costs, right?
For consumers, smart meters have potential downsides. Mostly, this involves using smart meters to monitor energy usage, which divides electricity consumption into different time periods. Just like we've seen with cell phones in the past, utilities can now charge more for prime-time electricity usage.
Government regulators have been looking for better ways to match consumption with generation for some time. This represents a potential "dark side" of using the smart grid. Traditional meters will only tell you how much you have consumed for a given period of time. They won't tell you when that energy was expended.
Smart Meter Reports to Power Company
Smart meters change all that. They enable utilities and other regulators to consider charging more at certain times of day. Alternatively, they can change the rate at different times of the year.
Imagine, for example, that if you live in the South, your electricity bills will be higher in the summer – and if you live in the North, your electricity bills will be higher in the winter. Want to fire up these tools throughout the day? If you use a 15 amp table saw at night, it will probably cost less (although neighbors may want to get you involved!)
The advent of electric vehicles will almost certainly increase nighttime electricity consumption. It also heightens the importance of utilities managing electricity usage around the clock.
Advantages of smart meters
- More available information on energy use
- Make it easier for consumers to read meters and better monitor usage habits
- Improve utility company prioritization and resource organization during outages and storms to accelerate response times and restore power to customers
- Similar to above, utilities can also perform load balancing at critical times to maintain maximum power coverage
- Reduce utility company costs by eliminating manual meter reading
- Allows utilities to monitor entire electrical systems in real time
- Better use of electricity resources allows for more efficient use of existing power plants
Disadvantages of smart meters
- Higher new meter installation costs and fees
- Allow the collection of personal electronic usage data that ultimately relates to you personally
- Additional equipment, training and resources are required to handle advanced data storage, interpretation and management
- Increased hardware costs due to advanced electronics
- Additional security is required due to managing more complex grids
How many smart meters are there in the US?
We checked on the US EIA website and found that as of 2019, the number of smart meters installed in the US has exceeded 94.8 million. Of these, approximately 83.4 million were residential (approximately 88%). As of now, more than half of U.S. electricity customers have smart meters. Much of this is driven by national policy and a desire to modernize the U.S. smart grid.
The real leap forward came with the Smart Grid Investment Grant Program under the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 . Thanks to these grants, millions of smart electricity meters have been installed across the country.
Are Smart Meters Dangerous?
In the beginning, some events happened on the smart meter. However, they now appear to be in widespread use without many incident reports. Back in 2014, Lakeland Electric (our local electric utility) had to replace over 10,000 residential Sensus smart meters. These gauges have the ability to overheat in rather alarming ways and have caused more than a few fires across the country.
Initially, the case was said to have been caused by a loose base of a meter installed outside the home. Electricity is eventually able to travel through the air gap, creating heat that can eventually lead to a fire or the house itself to burn. Reasons given later included that water would seep into the meter and cause a short circuit.
As a result of that smart meter recall, consumers lost approximately $3.3 million between the initial cost and the replacement device. That's before considering labor costs.
With tens of millions of smart meters installed across the country, we believe it is impractical for utilities to allow defective products into homes and businesses. Aside from those early incidents, overheating and short-circuit problems now only occur in a very small percentage of products. After all, it's in everyone's best interest to have these smart meters function as intended.
We consider these products to be absolutely safe to use.
Final thoughts on smart meters
So, are smart meters good for residential electricity consumers? Maybe… maybe not. I mean, if they gave me free nights and weekends, I'd be all for it, but if I'm going to see my house price go up because I live in Florida and want to run a little AC in the middle of 101- This afternoon, well, I might have to reconsider how much tech I put in my home.