Energy Goes Smart: How Smart Meters Are Changing the Energy Industry

Energy Goes Smart: How Smart Meters Are Changing the Energy Industry

These new meters have taken the industry by storm—and for good reason. By using more advanced technology, these meters take a lot of the mystery out of energy usage for consumers like you.

Through a surplus of data, these new devices are arming homeowners and energy suppliers with new information that can be used to better understand energy consumption habits. This is a major change because, for the first time,  detailed information is being shared in both directions. Now you and your energy company can receive updates regarding your energy supply in real-time.

These meters have the potential to help consumers become more energy efficient, all while offering ample opportunities and insights to help you save money on your next energy bill.

To better understand how smart meters work, it’s important to first know what a smart meter is and how it works.

Regular Meters vs. Smart Meters

When it comes to energy meters, there are two main types: the standard energy meters and smart meters.

Regular meters—also known as analog meters—function by logging the amount of electricity that you use each month. This data is then analyzed by your utility company and shared with you in your monthly bill. This bill represents your energy consumption for the month.

Smart meters, on the other hand, are more advanced electronic devices because they keep track of your precise electricity usage and record the data. These meters send regular electricity-use data back to the utility company, making monthly bill estimates obsolete.[2]

Analog Meters

In order to use and pay for utilities like water and electricity, your usage needs to be measured first.

How Do Regular Analog Meters Work?

Traditional meters work by simply logging the amount of energy consumed. Once a month, these meters must be read by a utility company employee who comes to check the meter once a month. The information is then recorded and analyzed, giving your utility company the information they need to calculate your monthly bill.

Smart Meters

Since being adopted in developed countries—especially those in Europe—smart meters have given energy suppliers and utility companies greater insight into your habits. Smart meters can automatically send usage data to the utility company on both a daily and hourly basis. This provides real-time data allowing both parties are a more in-depth view of the current usage habits.

Utility companies no longer need to schedule time for an employee to travel from meter to meter, recording and interpreting the data. For the first time, consumers like you have an idea of how, when, and where you’re using their utilities, arming them with the necessary information to make a change.

How Do Smart Meters Work?

Smart meters communicate directly with a central computer system. By talking to these central computer systems via RF transmissions, smart meters can talk via power-lines, Wi-Fi, radio, cell phones, satellites, and even pagers.

How To Read Different Types of Meters

Reading a smart meter depends on which type of meter installed at your home, find yours in the following options:

Regular Meters

These standard meters measure energy by the number of units of energy you use each hour.[2]

Digital Meters

Electronic meters that have an LCD screen that displays a row of numbers are called a digital meter. To read this type of meter, you should note the first five figures. You can ignore the final figure if it begins with a 0.1. To find the reading display, press the button.[2]

Dial Meters

These clock-like meters show six dials. Dial meters tend to look more complicated than both digital or standard meters. When reading this meter, pay attention to only the first five dials. If the last dial is red, you can ignore it. Note the numbers that have dials pointing towards them. If the dial is between two figures, record the number it is just past.[3]

Prepayment Meters

Are you looking to pay-as-you-go? If so, you might be interested in the prepayment meters. These meters allow you to pay for your energy in advance by using a card or a key.

To read these meters, you can read from left to right while disregarding any red numbers.

Smart Meters

One of the main benefits of these meters is that there is no need to read them. This is because they send the information directly to the utility companies.

Smart Meter Benefits

Here are some of the most important benefits of smart meters broken down by consumer and company benefits.

Consumer Benefits

Smart meters help consumers in a number of ways. Below you’ll find some of the most important consumer benefits:

Improved Information

With a smart meter, energy consumers can now begin to improve energy efficiency at home. By better understanding their usage patterns, you can make small changes to reduce their energy usage or optimize their usage based on local demand load for electricity. From tweaking AC settings while at work, to running the washer and dishwasher simultaneously, there are a number of quick fixes that can have a significant impact on energy usage.

Increased Supplier Options

With more informed consumers in the mix, some people feel comfortable switching energy suppliers in pursuit of the best deal. Keep in mind that consumers aren’t just changing suppliers for price-driven reasons—some customers are now choosing to pay for their energy through companies who reflect their values.

Peer-to-Peer

By giving the power back to the consumer, people are now getting creative with how they interact with the system. Nowadays people are forming microgrids where energy is bought and sold. These mini-marketplaces might include neighbors with rooftop solar panels.

Outage Information

One of the most important consumer benefits regarding the smart meter focuses on power outages. When power is lost, many people assume that someone else will notify the utility company when, in fact, no one actually has. Smart meters eliminate this problem by providing a final reading that indicates exactly when the power went out in the area.

Utility Company Benefits

Below you’ll find some of the most important company benefits:

Better Networks

The more data the company can collect, the more opportunities utility companies have to optimize and improve their overall network planning and infrastructure, both of which diminish the chance of power loss or outages.

Decreased Energy Consumption

By gaining more visibility into their energy consumption patterns, customers typically change their habits. When this happens, companies can offer a Time of Use tariff, making energy cheaper for customers who use energy if off-peak hours.

Reduced Theft

Thanks to tamper controls, companies are alerted when power theft is a danger. Because the data is assessed to detect unusual consumption habits, companies can help block potential energy theft.

Smart Meter Complaints

While there are many “pros” of adopting and using smart meters, but some have a few complaints. 

Smart Meter Safety Concerns

Some detractors have raised concerns about the safety of smart meters, mainly because they give off the same kinds of radiofrequency (RF) waves as cell phones and Wi-Fi devices. [4]

At the moment, there is no conclusive evidence that smart meters are hazardous to human health. Indeed, even if they are, the risk they pose is similar to that of being exposed to wireless internet or your cell phone, which most of us are all day, every day. [4]

Smart Meter Privacy Concerns

Like any new technology, there are some potential kinks that still need to be ironed out. For example, some question the ethics behind these smart meters. Because these meters are constantly monitoring your home’s energy usage, it’s constantly sending data back to your utility company

Due to this consistent flow of information, some worry that the utility companies have access to too much information about their customers that should remain private.

Thanks to smart meters, you can uncover your home’s true level of energy efficiency. Through consistent readings and constant communication, both you and your energy supplier can learn valuable data from your meter. Take the time to understand your energy habits and then work with your supplier to make the most of your energy.

If you’re interested in learning more about how smart technology can help you reduce your energy consumption, check out the ecobee thermostat. This smart thermostat gives you full control of your home’s ecosystem. From lights to air-conditioning, controlling your home has never been more convenient.

 

Sources:

[1]Alejandro, Lisa, et al. “Global Market for Smart Electricity Meters: Government Policies Driving Strong Growth.” U.S. International Trade Commission. ID-037 (June 2014): 2-6. https://www.usitc.gov/publications/332/id-037smart_meters_final.pdf. 

[2] “Nearly half of all U.S. electricity customers have smart meters.” Annual Electric Power Industry Report. U.S. Energy Information Administration. (June 2017). https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=34012

[3] “How to Read Residential Electric and Natural Gas Meters.” Energy Saver. U.S. Department of Energy. https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/how-read-residential-electric-and-natural-gas-meters  

[4] Microwaves, Radio Waves, and Other Types of Radiofrequency Radiation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/radiofrequency-radiation.html