April 15, 2012
Across North America and around the globe in many jurisdictions, smart meters are being installed, sometimes without much notice and much choice. Electrical power companies are eager to jump on this efficiency improvement in monitoring and managing power consumption.
Implementation has been so rapid that consumers have not had a chance to digest the information and implications around these new devices. In its early implementation period, consumers and critics have come out speaking against the efficient electrical monitoring devices, citing smart meter issues ranging from impacting health and personal finances, to an increase in illegal electrical energy consumption.
Smart Meter – How it Works as an Efficiency Measure
There are some measurable benefits to the implementation of smart meters to the power grid that make solid business cases. The devices allow the utility companies to accurately monitor the consumption on an hourly basis and by wireless transmission, send the data instantaneously to the power companies. In the better management of power consumption, many utility companies have changed their billing game plan by charging tiered rates for peak and non-peak utilization periods. The consumer, with new gained knowledge on smart meter electrical consumption, would alter consumption patterns to save, and thus the electrical companies would then spend less acquiring external power sources. Reports are citing an average of 8-9% decrease in energy consumption in jurisdictions where the smart meter has been installed.
Smart meter benefits spreadsheet courtesy of emeter.com
The wireless transmission units would also save with the elimination of utility soldiers marching up and down residential and commercial streets, monitoring,reading and recording monthly power consumption by consumers on the old devices. No need for employees when a smart meter can send the data seamlessly through its wireless device. This same work force would either be down-sized or moved to be trained in more value-added positions in the power utility corporations.
The smart meter has been toted as one of these devices that would stamp out the theft of electrical power by those who bypassing old metered systems. These new devices would pinpoint any anomalies in patterns and target the theft issue right at the source. With a track record of normal electricity consumption, utility companies would be monitoring to observe changes in this pattern. This factor alone is said to save the utility companies potentially hundreds of millions in not into the billions in the long-term.
The installation process has not been a smooth one in many areas, with concerned consumers raising concerns and demanding old meters to not be replaced by the newer, more efficient smart meter. In some cases, legal challenges have been initiated by consumers and groups.
Results experienced by consumers to date have been less than favorable with most bills rising in costs. With very little warning and education to adjust to changing methods, the initial period has been disastrous for some residential consumers who are experiencing double the cost for electrical services. This is mostly due to the daily consumption occurring during peak periods. The electrical companies’ strategy of tiered peak changing is hurting mid-lower income level consumers who can’t afford to turn on the lights during peak periods.
Potential Health Risks of the Smart Meter
Posted all over the internet and in the media are reports that the electrical signals coming off of these smart meter devices are powerful and could potential cause severe health risks. Similar to the concerns around cell phone use, advocates are calling for more research and testing prior to autocratic implementation by power companies. Several videos on YouTube demonstrate the measurable power of these wireless signals originating from smart meters. The power companies have rebutted with a “tested and safe for use” message, but this somewhat biased and not coming from independent science sources.
Theft Continues Despite the Implementation of the Smart Meter
In a detailed FBI report, the FBI warned power companies that smart meters and power grids are easily being bypassed and tampered with. It appears that smart meters have not alleviated the issues of power theft as rogues have found new methods of stealing off the grid, outside of where a smart meter measures. The FBI has issued warning that thieves can easily penetrate the smart meter with software hacks and thus power theft at the smart meter level. In Puerto Rico alone, this problem could cost the utility companies $400 Million per year.
Warnings have also been broadcasted about power theft at the street level, before power comes in and is monitored by building smart meters. It would appear that primary thieves such as marijuana grow operators would now find ways of bypassing at the street level and powering up operations, to be unnoticed by power company monitoring.
Critics have called out the strategic placement of smart meters within buildings as the wrong placement and have called for placement of meters at the area level to pinpoint area problems. Critics have also blasted the elimination of employees as most anomalies or identified problems were being observed by humans when physically on site at a location that was stealing power. Gone is that ability to physically monitor and observe with a smart meter device (it’s not that smart to observe).
Smart Meter – Creative Work Around?
As fast as these smart meters can be implemented, the consumers and pseudo-entrepreneurs come out to demonstrate (via Youtube) several methods to counter smart meters. It may be hard to determine if any of these methods, from magnets to tin foil, actually work, but for sure appear to be illegal methods of interfering and tampering with a device (and thus a theft on its own).
The best, more constructive solution to the potential multitude of issues would be to put pressure on power companies, local power authorities and all levels of governments. Voices, feedback needs to be heard on this, and everyone’s collective, valid feedback has power that a smart meter can read.
The Smart Meter – is it really worth it? Too early and not enough research & development to implement? Does it really curb electrical theft? Are we absolutely sure there are no health risks to these wireless transmitting devices? Too costly to be installed broadly then ripped out after a successful consumer legal challenge? Speak out, research more and if you feel unsafe or being gauged, make your voice be heard.
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© 2012 Strategy Plan One