Consumers and Smart Meters

Recently, the state ‘s Public Utility Commission has ordered Oncor to offer customers who bought smart meters free meter accuracy tests in order to garner public support. Customers already charged by Oncor will also be refunded the $25.00 charge for smart meter testing. Oncor usually receives about 400 requests a month to test smart meters, but in January and February the number jumped to a whopping 4000. Apparently smart meters aren’t all that smart.

This problem isn’t solely regulated to Texas either.  In California, people are making complaints about being charged thousands of dollars for appliances that aren’t even on in addition to the hiked rates though the Pacific Gas & Electric Meter Company says there are no problems and the bills are increased “because of a combination of regularly scheduled rate increases.” Are smart meters really a good idea from the consumer’s perspective?

Part of the purpose of smart meters is to inform users of their energy usage in order to change their energy habits by affecting the information they receive, but there is little evidence that this does anything to change their habits. Also, smart meters aren’t practical in every application. Some apartment buildings are bulk metered and would require expensive rewiring and renovating in order to allow individual apartments to be smart metered.

The whole concept is based around influencing people’s habits. While the information about the energy usage and carbon output of individual appliances might not affect much, the price fluctuation just might. Smart meters allow energy companies to charge more per kW-hr during peak times and less when there is less demand: basically a capitalistic approach based on demand. People don’t like this, as they see an increase in their electric bills, but from a global and corporate perspective it makes sense. So smart meters favor the community, at the cost of the individual, at least right now. In the future, when all the bugs have been worked out (if ever) and they are more commonplace, I expect the cost to the consumer to drastically fall off as demand-specific rates become the norm.

Smart meters are gaining popularity, but it seems like they are one of those things where people will only begrudgingly accept them over time.



1 Comment

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One response to “Consumers and Smart Meters

  1. agfay

    Smart meters are destined to become the standard for energy use monitoring and billing, so although there are obviously issues with the new technology, it’s great to see customers taking the plunge. It’s also good to see that energy companies and regulatory agencies are keeping a close eye smart meters.

    Some customers are bothered that the smart meter testing is being conducted by Oncor and are demanding that a third party handle this testing. Oncor is now providing free smart meter testing to customers who request it and is refunding the cost of the test to customers who have already had their meters tested, yet people still seem convinced that smart meters are just a means of increasing revenue.

    The initial side-by-side testing by Oncor of a number of smart meters around Texas has only seen discrepancies between old meters and smart meters that would account for a <$1 difference in monthly bills. In most cases, there was no substantial difference between the two.

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