Electricity Smart Meters - Will They Help Us Lower Energy Consumption?

By: J.C. Dyess

You may have heard about the recent call for installing smart meters in our homes. These meters are advanced electrical meters that identify power consumption in greater detail than ordinary meters, and send that information back to the utility for billing and monitoring. But will they really help reduce power consumption? Let's take a look at what smart meters can and can't do for us.
Traditional power meters regulate only the energy consumed, and not when it was used, meaning that it's hard to match consumption with production. Smart meters are one of the more economical methods of measuring not only consumption, but times other information. This allows power companies to set different prices according to when the power is used. This will allow customers to save money by using power at nonpeak hours and avoiding paying too much for energy. It's hoped that this will keep electricity prices down.
Italy's dominant utility is currently serving over twenty-seven million customers with fully electronic smart meters capable of measuring and managing power, and which have a software controlled disconnect switch. They're solid state, and communicate via low voltage power lines. These systems offer more features to utilities, allowing remote changing of billing plans, the ability to detect outages and unauthorized use, and the ability to turn power on and off remotely.
With the implementation of smart meters well underway in countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, and Scandinavia, it would appear as though it's only a matter of time before they are implemented in the United Kingdom. In America it would seem that there are currently only certain jurisdictions which are currently moving towards smart meter technology, but the trend does look set to continue, given that more and more homeowners now believe they should have the choice with regards to buying their electricity at times when the price is reduced. Likewise, many homeowners feel they should have a choice as to when they should sell excess electricity to the electricity company, should they have any excess power.
The biggest problem with smart meter technologies is generally communication, since each meter must be able to securely and reliably communicate the information to a central point. This can be tricky, given the range of locations and environments in which these meters are located. Some solutions that have been proposed include cellular networks, radio, and power line communications.
Interestingly enough, the U.S. president has just recently called for 40 million smart meters to be installed, including 3,000 miles of transmission lines. As many have pointed out, this will be the first real upgrade to America's electrical grid in more than 40 years. Many also believe that such changes will be so significant; it could be compared to the Internet, the telephone, and the country's railroad. Of course it should be mentioned that one of the main reasons this project is being supported, is because it promises to be able to utilize electricity which has been generated from renewable resources. Additionally, it is also believed that this project will effectively reduce the need for any new power production facilities.
Smart meters can cost anywhere from a hundred to three hundred dollars to install - each. The amount depends on the quality of the smart meter in question, but it will be a significant investment. However, venture capitalists have been investing in this technology recently, so it may be possible. Soon, you could be choosing when you use power based on the price, and possibly saving money and energy.

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Author: Jerry Dyess has been a manager in Texas Electricity for the past 7 years. Get more information on Texas Electric rates.

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