Traditional meters record energy consumption, but they have a downside – the electricity distributor has to send a representative to come to your home and check your energy consumption by reading the meter before drafting your energy bills. Now, utility companies use meter data to know how much energy buildings consume. Smart meters work by monitoring and recording your electricity usage then transmitting this data to the utility company. You can configure your smart meter to improve your net metering.
Let’s dig into the smart meter, how it works, its benefits, and other relevant information that will give you a full appraisal of how smart meters function.
A Short History of the Smart Meter
Theodore Paraskevakos invented a sensor monitoring system in 1972 while working in Alabama. This smart device utilized digital transmission for medical, fire, and security alarm systems. This also includes meter reading functionalities. The telephone line ID system or caller ID inspired this technology.
2 years later, Paraskevakos got a U.S. patent for his invention, and in 1977, he launched his company, Metretrek Inc. This company is credited with the design, development, and manufacturing of the first smart meters in the world. Owing to the fact that this invention was launched in the pre-internet era, these smart devices used the IBM series 1 mini-computer.
What Is a Smart Meter?
A smart meter (or a digital electricity meter) is a digital device that records how much electricity a home uses within a minimum of a half-hour period and sends its meter readings automatically to the relevant utility company. Although reading the meter isn’t an ability attributed to just the electricity company, regular homeowners can also do it. However, many of us don’t know how to read how much power we’ve used because it’s not displayed on the device itself.
Aside from how much energy your household consumes, the smart meter installed also transmits data on the voltage level, power factor, and current. The smart meter also transmits the energy consumption data to the consumer, which helps them watch their energy usage. Smart metering enables back-and-forth communication between the device itself and the central system of the power company.
The smart meters installed often use wireless means to transmit their readings, but there are also fixed wired communications, such as the power line carrier. When it comes to the much more popular means, the wireless option, smart meters communicate via WiFi, cellular networks, wireless mesh networks, a secure smart data network, low power long-range wireless, and so on. Smart meters are vital components of a smart grid.
Smart meters are not restricted to natural gas and electricity usage; they also extend to water and heating. So there are smart water meters, smart gas meters, and heating meters.
Pros and Cons of Using Smart Meters
Though the smart meter is a much-welcome development, there are both upsides and downsides to its use. Let’s take a look at them:
- Accurate billing based on exact energy use: There’s no factor for human error or manipulation because the smart meter data is automatically generated within specified intervals and transmitted to utility companies. This is unlike traditional metering, which results in estimated bills.
- Gives detailed readings: Whether it’s your energy use or the export data of your solar panels, smart electricity meters give quite detailed readings that can help homeowners improve their energy efficiency.
- Smart meter saves money: This is one of its best upsides. Smart meter systems give detailed readings that can help you adjust your energy usage, which will mean reduced bills from your energy supplier. With a smart meter, you can choose the best power plans for your business and use minimal electricity during peak times. This makes smart meter installation an investment.
- It’s easier to read than a traditional meter.
- It makes the home more energy-efficient.
- Installing smart meters is advisable if you want to export and sell excess electricity from solar panels back to the grid.
- It makes it easier for your utility company to monitor the quality of your electricity supply in real-time.
- Most smart meters display statistics which can be helpful in helping you find accurately sized home solar panel systems.
- These devices send meter readings automatically, making it more convenient since the energy suppliers can get the data without leaving the office.
- It integrates easily with a renewable energy system.
- It makes it easy to identify faulty appliances in the home.
- Smart meters can’t be installed DIY; they require the services of a professional.
- There could be issues with the wireless connectivity.
- Its installation incurs additional costs.
- It involves the adoption of new processes such as reading meters and data collection.
Now that you know the benefits and downsides of using a smart meter, let’s show you how to read a smart meter.
How to Read a Smart Meter?
It’s one thing to know that smart meters record energy usage and another thing to know how to read what it displays. As you know, its readings are quite detailed, but this automated meter reading won’t reveal everything to the consumers. So how do I read its data? There are two ways to go about it.
The first way is if the data has been made accessible to the consumer by the utility company, while the second way is by acquiring an in-home display. We recommend using your energy distributor’s app because it’s simple and affordable. A lot of utility companies all over the world have applications that you can install on your phone to track your electricity consumption. Others will rather have the relevant information displayed on your account.
The in-home display is more expensive, but it’s just as effective. Once purchased and installed, you’ll have to connect it to your smart meter and track your energy usage and the amount it’s costing you.
Now, pay attention. There are several displays on your smart meter; you need to know what they mean, which will help you read your smart meter easily.
Smart Meter Displays
- Display 1 – This shows 8188.8.131.52 if the screen is functioning well. So, if it doesn’t show that, you know what it means.
- Display 2 – The smart meter will show CLS when there’s electricity. If there’s no power, it will show OPN.
- Display 3 – This will show your aggregate energy usage in kWh. This is what will appear on your energy bill.
- Display 3b – This shows the energy demand readings, which are used to determine the quantity of energy that’s being consumed in your area of residence.
- Display 4 – This shows the date in a month-day-year format.
- Display 5 – This shows the time in the 24-hour format (16:45 means 4:45 pm).
- Display 6 – This will show OPEn or OPN if power has been disconnected and CLOSEd or SLS if power is on.
With that being said, how does one get a smart meter? Let’s answer that.
How to Get a Smart Meter?
Well, getting a smart meter is not a big deal. In many cities across the world, the smart meter has become the default meter given as a new or replacement meter to the consumers. So, if your current meter is damaged or you just finished building a new house, you’ll likely get a smart meter from the energy retailer.
Even if your current meter, a non-smart meter, is in good working condition, you can still request a smart meter from your utility company. They should be able to give you one. If they can’t, we recommend requesting the meter from other utility companies in the area, though you may have to switch your energy plan to that retailer.
Is the Use of Smart Meters Eco-friendly?
That’s a big yes. Aside from helping consumers reduce electricity usage, which will involve switching off certain appliances during peak hours, leading to lower energy costs, smart meters significantly contribute to environmental sustainability by easily integrating with clean energy sources.
Is the Transmission of the Smart Meter Data Protected?
Yes, it is. The smart meter works by transmitting information about your electricity usage alone. It doesn’t reveal personal information such as your residential address and name; this makes smart meters safe. So, you don’t have to worry about your information being intercepted by a cyber predator on its way to your energy supplier.
Besides, a major upgrade between traditional meters and smart meters is that these smart devices transmit encrypted information. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautionary measures to ensure there’s no access to it from an unauthorized party. Utility companies around the country have partnered with the government to launch a program referred to as “Green Button,” which mitigates the risk of information hacks.
With the Green Button program, energy consumers can securely download smart meter data on mobile phones.
What is Advanced Metering Infrastructure?
This term describes systems designed for measuring, collecting, and analyzing electric utility usage and communicating real-time data with metering gadgets such as heat, water, gas, and electricity meters on schedule or request. Several government bodies and energy companies are adopting the advanced metering infrastructure as part of the smart grid. However, smart meters on their own are not advanced metering infrastructures,
FAQs on Smart Meters
Q: Do I Need Separate Smart Meters for Electricity and Gas?
A: The answer to this is yes. You need separate meters for both utilities. However, you don’t need to have more than one in-home display to monitor their usage. You can have your utility firm come to install both meters on a single visit to make it convenient. This is if you use a certain supplier for both utilities. On the other hand, using separate suppliers for gas and electricity means two smart meter setups from the suppliers. We recommend installing the electric meter before the gas meter if you have different suppliers.
Q: Is it Necessary for me to Have a Broadband Connection in my Home to Use a Smart Meter?
A: No, you don’t. The smart meter is a top-tier wireless system that doesn’t need your WiFi to function. This means that even if you have a broadband connection in your home, it won’t use it. The smart meter uses a secure national network specifically established for smart meters.
Q: Does the Smart Meter Function Even When There’s a Poor Cellular Signal?
A: It doesn’t matter, especially if you’re using the second generation of smart meters, or “SMETS2,” because it doesn’t depend on the network to convey their data automatically.
Q: Can I Use a Smart Meter if I have Solar Panels Installed in My Home?
A: Sure, you can. The smart meter can integrate seamlessly with a solar panel system. Your electric bills will show the energy you generate via your panels and the one you’re using from the power grid. On the other hand, your in-home display will show the energy you’re buying from the energy company and the electricity prices. In the near future, the in-home display will also evolve to display the amount of electricity generated from your solar panels.