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.

Consumer Concern

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.

Going Forward

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.