Debate: Are smart meters living up to their promise? by Metering International February 11, 2015

The Washington Post recently reported that, while there are more than 50 million smart meters deployed across the United States, the technology itself is failing to live up to the high hopes that initially accompanied metering rollouts.

The Big Question is: Why are the benefits of better power usage, lower bills and increased energy efficiency not being realised?

And how is the challenge of effecting permanent behaviour change in consumers better managed?

Responses will be published in issue 1 of Metering and Smart Energy International in February 2015.

Montaser: There is no evidence that customers are willing to pay for the limited incremental functionality gained through implementation of [smart meters]. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. For example, industry studies show that only 46 percent of customers are aware of the concept of ‘smart metering,’ and of that percentage, 33 percent associate smart metering with complaints of meter inaccuracy, higher customer bills, invasion of privacy and health concerns.

“Texas has nearly seven million smart meters deployed, but according to the most recently available published data:

  • Only 30,000 customers log in each month to Smart Meter Texas to obtain consumption information. That’s less than ½ of one percent.
  • Only 60,000 customers have ever logged in to Smart Meter Texas, or less than 1% (Smart Meter Texas, 2013).

Megat: The direct benefits to customers are far less compared to the operational benefits gained by the utility/service providers.

Hugues: Direct implementation by itself of smart meters are providing limited benefits to the end customers. Quite real time data on consumption without any associated new services (consumption compare, connected home services, new contract offers) will not change the end customer behavior. On the other hand there are immediate benefits for distributors and providers (more accurate billing, more accurate energy balancing) …

Chuck: The normal consumer doesn’t have a clue about the benefits of smart metering. Benefits include much lower costs for outage processes; implementation of net metering; new pricing models such as free weekends or free evenings (I am not sure these are good programs but they should be); rapid service changes when one moves in or out; better engineering to improve network analysis and reduce infrastructure costs; … Many of these benefits reduce distribution and generation costs and should reduce energy bills. If they don’t then get new regulators who consider customer service and customer rates.

Alexander: “Smart meters may be part of a smart grid, but alone do not constitute a smart grid.”

Steve: As Megat mentioned and I have read over the last several years, the operational benefits accrued to the utility seem to outweigh the end user benefits. Avoiding rolling a truck for turn-ups and cutoffs as well as being able to pinpoint outages are important benefits. They also benefit end users in speed and customer service and potentially emergency response.

It appears that all the more direct benefits are knowledge and the potential to modify behavior. It is not an established HABIT for people to periodically review their real time energy usage as they are only used to getting a bill and (hopefully) paying it.

Are there end user benefits outside of knowledge and the chance for behavior modification?

I think mechanical changes such as lighting, HVAC, and building envelope modifications are more concrete and permanent and there are bigger opportunities to save without relying on behavior modification and commitment from end users which may or may not happen enmasse