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Blog Jul 3, 2019

What is a Smart Meter?

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Doesn’t it feel like you’re decoding an unsolvable mystery when trying to understand the fluctuations in your electricity bill every month? Many people ask themselves, how could my habits change this often, and what’s determining my monthly bill anyhow? The device behind the numbers is an electric meter which is located outside your home and responsible for measuring the energy you consume.

Nearly half of American electricity users have upgraded from analog meters, but what is a smart meter anyhow? Smart meters are digital electric meters that provide wireless and secure two-way communication between the meter and your energy provider, eliminating the need for an employee of your utility company to come to your home and check it each month. Many people have mixed feelings about the push towards smart meters, sharing concerns about the health  and privacy risks they provide as well as their accuracy. Let’s take a closer look to determine which side of the fence people should land on when it comes to smart meter adoption.

home electric meter

3 Controversies Around Smart Meter Upgrades at Home

1. Health Risk

Some residents have expressed worry over the electromagnetic waves that smart meters emit as well as the potential risk for RF radiation. Both the American Cancer society and the World Health Organization have noted that RF radiation is what cell phone’s also emit, and since that radiation has such low energy–not even enough to ionize particles–it isn’t strong enough to harm your health. Plus, smart meters are more often than not installed outside of your home, providing less exposure to our bodies than the cell phones we keep on us at all times.

2. Accuracy

Many customers have complained that their energy use has been inaccurately over-measured by smart meters and thus they have been overcharged on their monthly electric bills. However, smart meters are tested for accuracy before they leave the manufacturing plant and many public service commissions require that these manufacturers share their test results to prove that they meet the performance standards set by the American National Standards Institute. Your utility company will perform accuracy tests prior to installing a smart meter at your home, often alongside the analog meter it is replacing. These tests have shown that not only are smart meters definitively accurate, but at times have been more accurate than analog meters.

3. Privacy

Smart meters measure your energy based on usage and time of day, offering quite a lot of insight into your household behaviors, such as when residents are home or not. Providers analyze this data to understand usage patterns and improve their customer service. In par with all data sharing, customers have a lot of concerns with what behaviors are being tracked in the privacy of their own homes, as well as who has access to this data. Utility companies have strict policies in place that are in line with state regulations on using personal information for business purposes. Your data is encrypted and your consent is required for the utility company to share it. They also must disclose who is asking for the data and how it will be used. Providers are regularly audited to ensure that their systems comply with privacy and security standards. Rest assured that the details of your energy usage are kept private.

3 Smart Meter Benefits All People Can Get Behind

1. Efficiency

Smart meters offer a more stream-lined experience for measuring your energy usage. Since it sends a reading directly to your energy provider, by the day, hour or minute in some cases, the hassle of having a provider employee come to your home each month to read the meter is eliminated. With estimated bills out of the picture, there are no surprises on your electricity bill. Additionally, smart meters only need a battery placement every ten to twenty years, whereas an analog meter must be serviced yearly to ensure accuracy.

2. Customer Service

By keeping an on-going dialogue with your energy provider, your smart meter can automatically alert the company of a power outage. A “last gap” notification is transmitted in this case to communicate the exact moment that power has been lost. This allows the utility company to respond immediately and get your power back on as quickly as possible. Smart meters can also automatically detect tampering or energy theft and alert your provider, whereas analog meters require a provider employee to have to analyze a long period olf data to detect any possible abnormalities.

3. Smart Decisions

Smart meters allow you to see the amount of energy you use at different times of the day, and this can certainly be used in your favor. For instance, you can see how much energy is used in your home when you are not active in it, such as while you are sleeping or while you are at work. Aim to reduce energy waste during these times by adjusting the thermostat, turning off all fans, and unplugging your devices. Smart meters arm you with the data you need to be more in control of your energy usage and ultimately your energy bill.

To Upgrade or To Opt Out: That is the Question

At the end of the day, it is more advantageous to use a smart meter than an analog meter. Not only will your customer service improve, but you will gain more control over your energy usage when provided with your data. While the issues of health risk, accuracy and privacy have all been ruled out, there are still options for customers who want to opt out of upgrading to a smart meter. Though each state is different, some let you keep your analog meter or whatever your utility company is currently offering, while other states require you to pay an opt out fee of up to $200. It is evident that it is much more worth it to follow along with your utility company and allow them to install a smart meter in your home rather than jumping through hoops to keep your analog meter.

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