By - Jim Vess

What’s the Big Deal with Smart Meters?


By Jim Vess

ComEd recently announced the installation of its one millionth smart meter in its service territory. The utility plans to have nearly four million smart meters installed by 2018 – three years ahead of its original schedule.

“One million smart meters means one million customers now have access to tools and information that will help them better control and manage their energy use,” Michael McMahan, ComEd’s Vice President of Automated Metering Infrastructure Implementation said in a ComEd press release.

Utilities throughout the United States – such as Pacific Gas & Electric, Baltimore Gas & Electric, and Austin Energy – are in the process of upgrading to smart meters. Smart meters use two-way radio communications to collect energy usage information and securely transmit it back to the utility through a wireless connection. The smart meter records consumption on an hourly or shorter time frequency, which allows the consumer to better monitor their usage and to make more informed energy choices. The meters will also inform the utility of a power outage and provide the utility to remotely connect and disconnect electric service.

And since the smart meter relays information back to the utility through a wireless connection, there will be fewer estimated bills because it would not be necessary for a meter reader to try to sneak past your man-eating poodle to read an analog meter.

It seems that with all the advantages a smart meter has over the analog meter it would be a no-brainer for consumers to want that tired old analog meter replaced with a digital smart meter. So then why do some states require utilities to offer an opt-out program to their customers?

Health Effects: Some people believe there are negative health effects from the radio frequency (RF) waves that smart meters use to communicate. The truth is smart meters emit less RF energy than many other commonly-used wireless devices, like cell phones and microwave ovens. All of these devices, including smart meters, are safe and FCC-approved.

Big Brother: There are those who fear “big brother” and want to “stay off the grid.” They wonder why the utility would want to constantly monitor their power usage and feel it is an invasion of privacy.

Identity Theft: With all the news about hackers stealing personal information, there is a concern that the smart meters will be vulnerable to hacking. The reality is smart meters are as secure as smart phones. When information is collected from a smart meter and transmitted to the utility, the data contains specific unique identifiers associated with the customers meter number and service address. These fields are validated numerous times to ensure accuracy before the data is used for billing. This process is similar to smart phone technology wherein each cell phone has a unique number that goes with every communication which is used to identify a cell tower and connect a call.

While most will see the benefits of a smart meter and a smart grid, there will always be those that do not see technological advances as a good thing. Those are the folks who are more than willing to pay extra to keep their analog meters and have a utility employee come by each month to read the meter.

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