Maybe you've heard about all the issues PG&E got into when rolling out the first wave of smart meters. Maybe you were even one of their customers who decided to sue them because you thought it was their smart meter that was raising your utility bills (which probably had more to do with bad customer relations by PG&E and less with a faulty meter). I recently read that sometimes the smart meter is accurate one, while it's the old meter that was inaccurate, causing lower billing!
But if you want to know what it's like to live with a smart meter, you should check out Gary Hart's post about living with a PG&E smart meter for one year. Gary highlights several things that he learned in his excellent summary, but the most telling came as the last point:
The surprising lesson in all of this is that my smart meter has almost nothing to do with any of these lessons. The data I rely upon was available before my smart meter was installed and the monthly summaries are still the most useful data available for my purposes. So where is the consumer benefit from smart meters? As far as I can tell all the benefits are flowing to PG&E, but my rates are still going up.
I touched on these topics in our introduction to the smart grid:
With the adoption of the Smart Grid, utilities will be able to see in real time what users who have Smart meters (meters that communicate information back to the utility over a network) are using. Users will also be able to see much more detailed statistics about how they use power. Basically, a smart meter is a TED that you and the utilities use together for your home.
This provides you with a monitoring function so you can better manage your consumption, but it provides the utility the ability to charge a tiered rate for their power. Basically, if you are using power on a hot afternoon (when electricity use is at its highest – mostly due to air conditioners) you will pay a higher rate than if you are using electricity at 3 AM, when demand is low. Why should what you pay for electricity not follow the economic laws of supply and demand?
I also hit on the question in our post "Smart Grid: Who Benefits Most - Utilities or Customers?", where I closed with:
I look forward to seeing what the smart grid has to offer, and I love seeing how it unfolds and the perceptions that people have of its progression. In any scenario, I believe consumers in the near future will use less electricity either due to increased energy awareness or higher bills from their enlightened utilities. Either way, we’ll all be better off.
If you're an energy geek, and love analyzing data to save energy, then a smart meter will almost certainly help you save energy and money. However, if you don't care that much about drilling down into the data (like Gary), then chances are a smart meter will be of little value to you, unless your utility can use the data from the meter to tailor its energy saving tips specifically to your lifestyle. An example of this would be the meter recording electricity consumption peaks close together on hot summer days and suggesting to turn down your thermostat a few degrees or telling you that your home's standby load is on average 30% higher than similar houses in your area, and you should look at killing vampire loads. But if you're not an energy geek and your utility isn't offering these services, then your smart meter may just be a tool for them to figure out how to base their tiered rates.
Aside from people worried that a smart meter is somehow misreading their energy consumption, the other concern is smart meter electromagnetic radiation. Is there any truth to safety concerns of this radiation? Grist.org had an excellent article on smart meter radiation in which they basically debunked any worries. Yet the blog StopSmartMeters would assuredly disagree, even though it seems that they've done little of the scientific analysis that Grist has done.
So will smart meters be a boon or burden for homeowners? That answer (like so many) is: It depends. It depends on how engaged the homeowners are and how they use the data from the smart meter to make energy conservation decisions. More than likely, smart meters won't give you cancer, but who knows how much help they'll be in helping reduce your energy consumption. Smart meters are simply a tool. You can choose to use or ignore the tool. And for those protesting the installation of smart meters, I have good news: You can live off-grid! Remember, utility service is a benefit, not a right. If you don't like what the utility is doing, you can always create your own electricity.