Smart Meters

In this post I would like to talk about smart meters. Specifically I hope to answer the following questions. What are smart meters? What are smart meters used for? Who uses smart meters? What are the benefits of smart meters?

What are smart meters? Smart meters are not much different that the meters of old in that they still record the all of the energy that customers everyday. The difference is that now we are able to communicate with these meter on an instantaneous basis rather than only once per month. Let’s discuss a little bit about how we got to this point. The first type of automation in meter reading was AMR. This system was designed by Itron as a walk by system. Essentially meter readers were given handheld units that would pick up the signal that the meters were sending out with their readings. Next, this evolved into a drive by system. The same concept but now it was faster. This was what is considered one-way communication. The next step in the evolution was being able to call upon these meters at any time and send commands to the meters. This is what makes meters smart. The ability to have two way communication.

Now that the smart meters have the ability to have two way communication what are they used for? They can actually be used for a variety of things. Since many of the smart meters have different communications modules in them, such as cellular communications modules, they have the ability to be placed in hard to reach areas. Smart meters can also be deployed for large industrial customers who want real-time up to date information about their electricity usage. Another way that smart meters can be used, and one of the most popular, is with the remote disconnect. This allows utilities to turn customers on or off from the office whether for non-payment or because they are moving out or are starting a new service.

Who uses smart meters? There are many utilities who are using smart meters now. Small utilities as well as large utilities are beginning to see the benefits of using smart meters. Many times customers even request to have smart meters so that they can be more aware of their energy usage.

What are the benefits of smart meters? There are many benefits of smart meters. One of the benefits of smart meters is specifically related to the remote disconnect feature. This keeps meter readers or cut-on cut-off men from going into backyards with mean dogs or into locked gates. The other benefit of smart meters and the remote disconnect feature on the smart meter is that now utilities have the option on using a prepay system. This allows the utility to collect up front the money from the customer and allows the utility to eliminate some of its bad debt expense. Another one of the benefits of smart meters is up to date data from the meter. This allows dispatchers to know if a customer is still without power when they call in to report an outage.

The smart meters can also be tied into outage management systems that help the systems pinpoint exactly where the fault is during a power outage. This can help reduce truck rolls and can also help to reduce outage time because the lineman can be directed to exactly where the problem is. Other benefits include the ability for customers to log on and monitor their own usage on a regular basis. This helps the customer be more aware of their usage and can actually help them to reduce their usage. Different rate structures can be built in to the meters so that the electricity is more expensive during peak times and less expensive during off peak times as well.

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