Why do energy companies want smart meters to be installed at the consumers’ side?
Are smart meters safe? Are energy companies going to spy on you through them? Can they know what you use electricity for?
Can smart electricity meters control your appliances and turn them on and off remotely?
I am an electrical engineer with more than a decade of experience, and I wrote this short article in order to help you find out the motives behind installing smart meters for utilities, if they can negatively affect you, and what to do in order to make sure that they won’t make you pay more than what you used to pay.
Without further ado, let’s jump in!
5 Reasons Energy Companies Want Smart Meters
Electronic or digital energy meters are built to work using a technology that is more accurate when reading electric consumption compared to the old analog/mechanical meters with a spinning disk.
Smart meters have no moving parts, which makes them more reliable and accurate as the mechanical meters might have moments where the moving parts might stop moving or move slower or faster than what they should due to manufacturing issues, dust accumulating inside them if they were not properly sealed, or the existence of a magnetic filed caused by other devices around them.
Electronic meters on the other hand are less subject to having accuracy or functionality issues, which makes them a better choice in order to protect the rights of both, the utility and the consumer.
Stop Energy Stealth
The old mechanical meters used to be manipulated by some consumers using magnets in order to stop meters from spinning and illegally lower electric bills.
This is considered a criminal act of stealth, and the authorities would normally take actions against who tries to manipulate the meters in order to steal energy.
But that requires the utility company to detect wherever someone is stealing energy using a magnet, which is not an easy task, as the utility personnel don’t have the ability to monitor millions of meters all the time, and the consumer might be stealing energy during all of the month, expect the days when the utility employee is expected to come in and read the meter.
This is a main reason why energy companies want smart electronic meters to be used in reading and recording electricity consumption, as electronic meters are much harder to manipulate and steal from.
TOU (Time-Of-Use) metering is a way that has become widely used in the past few years in order to charge different tariff rates for the same consumer based on the time of withdrawing energy from the grid.
This is because in some areas, people would consume a lot of energy during certain hours, and a much lower amount during the rest of the day.
And to provide a 24-hour reliable supply in these areas, utility companies would require a big capital in order to significantly upgrade their systems that would work in full capacity only for few hours of the day, and at low capacity during the most of the time.
This means that the payback period of the investment in building these systems would be too long, and the efficiency of operating them would go low because of the system not operating at full capacity most of the time.
That’s why energy companies charge different rates based on the time of energy consumption, the location, and the type of the consumer.
It is in order to encourage customers to redistribute their consumption over all hours by increasing the energy price during peak-load hours, and lowering the price during off-peak hours.
And the old analog meters are not capable to detect how much energy the consumer has withdrawn during each hour, which makes it impossible to implement this tariff structure using them.
And here comes the solution with smart meters that can be used to record the consumption in kWh’s during each hour of the day, for everyday of the month, which makes the electricity companies want to install smart meters so that they can charge consumers based on the TOU metering tariff.
This is why you might notice an electric bill increase after installing a smart meter, but you can combat that and even lower your bill by shifting whatever you can shift of your consumption into the off-peak hours when the cost of energy is the lowest.
Some of the newly made energy meters can send their reading remotely to a collector that is installed somewhere in the neighborhood, and that collector will then send the readings of all the meters connected to it over to the utility company without having anyone to physically go to any meter.
This means that the utility company can now have a much smaller staff, spend much less on mobility and vehicles, and yet take all the readings of utility meters and issue bills in a short amount of time.
This will result in savings for the company, and for more accuracy by eliminating the human error when taking a reading, which is less headache for both, consumer and the company.
Remote Control of The Main Electricity Supply
In some locations, energy companies are allowed to cut off the power supply if the consumer didn’t pay the bill for a certain number of months in row, or after reaching a certain sum that is unpaid.
With analog meters, the company used to send technicians to cut off the supply through physically disconnecting the cable that is connected to the consumer’s meter, either from the meter side, or from the pole side.
That required labor, which costed money, and worse, it could cause injuries to the technicians in some cases as they had to work with live parts of the electrical system.
And after someone paid their due bills, the company had to send the technician again to reconnect the meter to the grid.
By the new smart energy meters can be controlled remotely from the company’s offices, which makes the whole process much faster, less costly, and safer to the staff.
This also means that it is much better for the consumer as they don’t need to wait long after paying the accumulated bills in order to get back the power supply.
These where the main five reasons why energy companies want smart meters to replace the old analog mechanical meters.
But some people ask:
Are Smart Energy Meters Safe?
The answer is yes.
As technology advances, meters get made to operate more reliably and safely, and they can do no harm for people close to the meters.
Another question that people might ask:
Can Smart Energy Meters Be Used to Spy on You?
The answer is no.
Some people think that smart meters can know which exact appliances are being used at what time, and some think that the utility can even control your appliances remotely and turn them on and off through the smart meter, but that’s no true at all.
Smart meters can only record the total amount of energy you use, and the time of using energy, but they cannot know what devices you have and when you operate them.
And they have no access to your appliances and cannot control them remotely through the smart meters.
They can only control the meter itself in case they want to turn off the power because of accumulating a certain amount of money from unpaid bills.
Conclusion – Never Worry about Smart Meters
Smart meters are more accurate and reliable than analog meters, and they allow for more convenience and lower costs by allowing the company to read them remotely and send you the bills on time every month.
The only thing that you should be aware of is that this might be the beginning of a new tariff structure, like the Time-Of-Use tariff structure I explained above.
But this can actually be a good thing for you, and you could lower your monthly bill with it.
To take advantage and decrease your bill instead of increasing it through this structure, you need to check out the company’s website or call them in order to find out if they want to apply such a tariff structure, see which hours are the peak hours, and try to shift as much of your consumption as you can outside these hours.
You can do that by changing the time you do laundry, iron clothes, or operate your dishwasher.
You can also turn off the cooling and heating systems, including the electric water heaters, during these hours, and you can use smart thermostats or water heater timers to save money on energy bill by schedule the time of operating these systems.
And if you want to significantly reduce, or even eliminate your energy bill, then you may consider generating your electricity by yourself through installing a small wind turbine or a solar system that can eliminate electric bill.
Solar panels are more reliable and predictable, and there are a lot of companies that specialize in designing and installing a complete system for you.
But these require space, and you should be the owner of the house or business in case you want to install them.
If this was the case, then there’s another thing to be aware of, which is the initial cost to install them, which depends on the size of the system necessary to cover your needs of electric energy.
But there’s a solution for that.
Some leading solar companies like SunPower offer to help you find the necessary funding for a solar panel system so that you install the complete system without a down payment.
You can visit SunPower’s website, fill in your locations zip code, finish a one-minute survey about your current bills and location, and they will get back to you to arrange for a free appointment to discuss the available funding options.
I hope that my article was helpful for you in understanding why energy companies want to use smart meters instead of the current mechanical ones.
If you still have any question or you need any help related to this topic, please, ask me in the comments’ section below, and I will do my best to help you out 🙂