Another advantage of smart meters is their function in helping to stabilize the electricity grid by ensuring that adequate power can be delivered to meet customer demand at any given time. And coupled with a digitized, modern power grid, these meters give utilities a better ability to integrate different sources of electricity generation, such as wind and solar power.
These are just a few of the customer benefits. As smart meters are rolled out, customers also want to be informed of any potential downside. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions:
Are smart meters accurate?
Yes. The meters rely on an extensive data validation processes to protect the accuracy of billing records. Smart meters must meet rigorous requirements for accuracy, which were developed by independent standard-setting organizations. A recent study by an independent testing group found that 99.91 percent of smart meters were accurate within 0.5 percent—a greater level of accuracy than traditional meters. And utilities routinely monitor meter performance.
Does the radio frequency (RF) signal produced from smart meters cause health effects?
No. Some smart meters use technologies that transmit RF to enable communication between electric companies and their customers. While questions have been raised about the potential effect of the RF generated by meters that use it, numerous studies have shown that smart meters using RF technologies pose no health risk. In fact, RF exposure from a smart meter is far below—and less frequent—than other common electrical devices, including cell phones, baby monitors, and microwave ovens. Exposure levels also are well below levels permitted by the Federal Communications Commission.
Are smart meters a threat to the privacy of customers’ data?
No. Electric companies use advanced encryption technologies to protect the privacy of the data transmitted by smart meters. The companies also comply with the data privacy guidelines and regulations set by state public utility commissions. Electric companies are working with federal agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to adapt existing privacy and security standards to meet the new data requirements that accompany smart grid technology.
Do smart meters present any physical hazard, such as fires?
No. Electric meters, whether the older analog meters or the advanced smart meters, often receive blame for overheating, and in very rare cases, a fire. However, the root cause of this problem is typically a defective or “hot” socket into which the meter is installed. Changing meters has always been an everyday activity of a utility, and it’s not uncommon to discover in the meter change process old meter sockets that are defective.
All meters are required to pass national standards for safe operation before they can be used, and installation technicians inspect for poor socket connections during smart meter installations.
Today’s households on average contain more than 20 items that use electricity—from decades-old kitchen staples such as the toaster, to cutting edge communications technologies like iPads and smart phones. People depend on electricity more than ever before. Smart meters are a crucial tool that will help utilities meet customers’ growing needs and expectations, making the electrical distribution system more reliable while giving consumers information about their energy use that can lead to lower monthly bills.
Boucher heads the Government Strategies group at the firm, Sidley Austin LLP. He also served for 28 years as a Virginia member of the U.S. House of Representatives, during which time he was a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and chair its Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality with jurisdiction over federal electricity policy. He was the chief sponsor of the smart meter provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.