Pretty soon the “meter reader” will no longer show up unannounced, as utility companies go digital by installing SmartMeters.
The meter records a home’s electricity use every 15 minutes and reports back to the utility via two-way radio. Homeowners can get near real-time consumption information. “Findings are that people save 5% a month just by being [more] aware of how much [electricity] they’re using,” says Keith Voight, spokesperson for Edison Electric Institute, an association of electric companies, in Washington, D.C.
Customers of utility PG&E — which spent $2.2 billion installing the meters in Northern and Central California — have questioned the safety of continuous exposure to radiation from wireless devices. (There are no conclusive studies linking illness to exposure; the meter emits less radiation than a cell phone.) Many protested by removing their homes’ SmartMeters.
A standoff between PG&E and its customers in mid-December 2011 may lead to an opt-out provision, whereby customers can choose a SmartMeter with the transmitter turned off or another digital meter without a transmitter, but they may have to pay more for the alternative meter.
In the future, the meter will communicate with smart appliances and smart thermostats, and there will be smart rates: homeowners would save money by using appliances at off-peak hours.
—Stacey Freed, senior editor, REMODELING.