The promise of the smart meter is that it will be able to make our grids more efficient by creating a better picture of real time electricity demand allowing Texas electricity to be delivered to areas of need at the right time. They will be able lower utility operational costs and reduce carbon emissions by ending the inefficient practice of using human meter readers. They will allow for faster outage detection and encourage use of electricity during off peak hours by giving consumers a better picture of their energy usage habits.
The ultimate goal is the “smart grid”. The smart grid would involve two way communications between the source of electricity and the recipient. This would allow utilities among other things to offer hourly billing rate options. This would mean higher rates for peak demand times. While the initial reaction of the consumer may be to oppose this idea, the flip side is that electricity could be cheaper during low demand hours. This would allow consumers to adjust their behavior to make more efficient use of the energy resources we have. It would even allow a future generation of smart appliances to use electricity more intelligently allowing for a two way communication between our appliances and the electricity grid.
Washers and driers and dish washers could be program to operate at times when electricity demand and thus prices are low. The electricity grid could broadcast real time electricity rates and appliances could be programmed to automatically run during cheaper periods and pause during demand (and rate) spikes.
The possibilities expand even further when you consider the next generation of electric cars that could be programmed to recharge their batteries when rates are low or even give power back to the grid or to your appliances when demand and rates are high.
But all of this is a long way off and would require smart meters and other equipment that are at least a generation ahead of the current smart meter technology. And the initial rollout of smart meters in Texas, California and the Northeast has gone anything but smoothly.
Consumers in Texas have not welcomed smart meters with open arms. Many contend that the smart meters are recording more kilowatt hours than they actually consumed and that their electricity bills have gone up dramatically because of the new meters. Customers feel doubly aggrieved because the smart meters are also expensive at anywhere from $250 to $500 apiece. A price ultimately paid by the consumer.
Utilities companies contend that there are no accuracy issues with the meters and any increases in electricity bills following installation of the meters can be attributed to other factors; namely high electricity usage due to weather or unrelated rate increases.
In response to customer complaints in the Killeen-Temple area of central Texas, one utility executive said “Our research and one-on-one conversations with these electric customers indicate that, in nearly every case, the factors driving higher electric bills in the Killeen-Temple area are extreme winter temperatures and inefficient electric heating sources.”
Indeed studies commissioned to answer the question have come down on the side of the smart meters on the accuracy question. A report entitle Evaluation of Advanced Metering System (AMS) Deployment in Texas conducted by Navigant Consulting LLC, at the request of the Texas Public Utility Commission concluded that the new Smart Meters are, in fact, more accurate than the technology they are replacing.
Despite the rough start and the potential uphill battle ahead, Texas electricity consumers should be aware that Smart Meters are here to stay.