What Are Smart Meters?
A smart meter is an electric, water or gas meter that wirelessly collects and delivers usage information to the utility and the energy customer. Some smart meters read data every hour and provide updates once a day while others are able to gather data in real-time and on-demand.
Two-Way Versus One-Way Smart Meters
The first smart meters were one-way meaning that they just sent information from the meter to the utility company. However, since 2013 two-way smart meters have become more prevalent. A two-way smart meter allows utilities and the customer to access the data.
Advanced (Smart) Metering Infrastructure
Smart meters are a part of the advanced (smart) metering infrastructure (AMI) that’s focused on modernizing the grid so that service is stabilized and more efficient. Not surprisingly, every states with the most smart meters have put emphasis on improving and stabilizing the electric grid.
In fact, it’s the electric, water and gas utilities that decide to install smart meters. That means the customer doesn’t have a say in the type of smart meter that’s installed although customers can opt out of having a smart meter at their property. Another implementation consideration is that each state and region has its own regulations for installation and usage.
Smart Meter Data
The most obvious difference between traditional meters and smart meters is that the utility company no longer needs to send someone out to collect usage data. The data is sent hourly or daily to the utility company, which significantly simplifies the billing process. It also means that there’s no human error in estimating a customer’s usage.
What data is the smart meter generating?
Like the old meters, electric smart meters are measuring the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) used. A kWh is 1,000 watts of electricity used in one hour. Smart gas meters measure flow in cubic feet.
There are two ways to get data from a smart meter. The most convenient method is to log onto your account online. If you have a smart meter your provider should feed that data directly to your account so it’s readily available. You can also look up data the old-school way by checking out the meter itself. The kilowatt usage data is displayed on the digital monitor and gas usage is displayed on dials.
How Utility Companies Benefit From Using Smart Meters
The reason smart meters are becoming the norm is because there’s a lot of upsides for the utilities that install them. Here are a few ways that smart meters help utility companies improve energy distribution:
- Better monitoring of the electric system
- More balanced electric loads for reduced risk of blackouts
- Ability to connect with customers and reduce energy use during peaks
- Improved allocation of energy, which reduces the need for new power plants
- Less manpower needed to analyze usage and bill customers
- Faster identification of when and where outages occur
Ultimately, customers can also benefit from the points above as well. And reduced cost for the utility companies can translate into lower rates for everyone.
How Customers Save Energy With a Smart Meter
Smart meters make day-to-day operations easier for the utility company, but customers can also benefit as well. The major advantage is the potential for energy savings. You can reduce usage by using the smart meter data to analyze behaviors and trends. Some of the things you can analyze include:
- When you are using the most energy
- If your usage is during peak hours (when energy may be more expensive)
- How you are using energy
- Whether a dynamic pricing plan will cost less
All of this information helps gas and electric customers make better choices and save more money. And don’t worry about the accuracy of the information. Smart meters have been thoroughly tested to ensure that the readings are highly accurate.