Smart Power Meters… Smart or Evil Government Plot?
OK, the title is somewhat sensationalistic… and no, we don’t really think that our electrical meters are going to rise up and wreak havoc on middle-income suburban humanity. But, there is a certain slyness in the widespread adoption of new smart power meters that are being installed right and left across the country. Let’s take a look at this in a bit more detail by first starting with some definitions.
What are Smart Power Meters
A Smart Meter is a device installed by an electrical company that allows and facilitates two-way (networked) communication between the meter and the central electrical system. That’s what makes it “smart”. In a nutshell, this means that they can read your meter remotely. It also means that it’s going to put a lot of meter readers out of work. That would seem like good news for the electric company, and perhaps not-so-good news for meter readers.
The other advantage is that smart meters can more easily facilitate integration into a smart grid – whereby electricity can be purchased and allocated in a way that is more efficient and redundant. That is generally a good thing and a smart grid is most certainly the future, and integral to the survival of an admittedly outdated electrical grid in America. You’d think the savings of all that labor would translate into instant reductions in energy costs.
There’s a negative side to smart power meters for consumers. And that involves the use of smart power meters to monitor energy use as a means to segregate power consumption into periods of time – and, like cell phones, charge more for prime time use. For some time now, government regulators have been seeking out a better way to match consumption with generation – this is the “dark side” of a smart grid. Legacy meters only tell you the amount of consumption in a given period of time. They don’t tell you when that energy was consumed.
Smart Meters Report Back to Power Companies
A smart meter will change that, giving power companies and other regulatory agencies the ability to consider charging more money at certain times of day – or during different times of the year. Imagine, for example, paying more for your electricity in summertime if you live down south, and more for electricity in the winter if you live up north. Want to crank up those tools during the middle of the day? Your 15-amp table saw will cost you less if you run it at night (though the neighbors may want to engage you on that one).
So, are smart power meters good for residential electricity consumers? Perhaps… or perhaps not. I mean, if they give me free nights and weekends I’m all in, but if I’m going to see my rates skyrocket based on the fact that I live in Florida and want to run a little AC in the middle of the 101-degree afternoon, well, I may have to rethink how much technology I want placed on my home.