Pros and Cons of Smart Electric Meters

Old, analog meters (left) are being replaced with new, digital smart meters (right).
Courtesy of Southern California Edison

Smart 'electric meters are electronic devices that track and record customers' home electricity use. Electric utilities have been replacing old, analog meters that are read manually once a month with new, digital smart meters that automatically capture information about electricity consumption and transmit it back to electric companies.

Smart meters can provide quick, accurate measurements of electricity use without the need for estimated monthly bills or visits from meter readers.

On the other hand, there are some concerns that smart meters can and do collect unnecessary information about hourly electricity use, thus violating users' privacy.

Smart meters offer the following benefits and challenges to electric utilities, customers, and the environment:

Advantages of Smart Meters

Smart meters can benefit the electric company by...

  • Eliminating manual meter reading
  • Monitoring the electric system more quickly
  • Making it possible to use power resources more efficiently
  • Providing real-time data useful for balancing electric loads and reducing power outages (blackouts)
  • Enabling dynamic pricing (raising or lowering the cost of electricity based on demand)
  • Avoiding the capital expense of building new power plants
  • Helping to optimize income with existing resources

After the electric company has fully installed its advanced metering infrastructure, smart meters can benefit the electricity customer by...

  • Offering more detailed feedback on energy use
  • Enabling them to adjust their habits to lower electric bills
  • Reducing blackouts and system-wide electric failures

Smart meters can ultimately benefit the environment by...

  • Preventing the need for new power plants that would produce pollution
  • Curbing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants
  • Reducing pollution from vehicles driven by meter readers

Disadvantages of Smart Meters

All technology has its advantages and drawbacks; while smart meters have their benefits, they also present challenges to electric utilities and customers. The vast majority of these drawbacks, however, are short term. Once the system has been set up and training is complete, smart meters can be very helpful to both electricity providers and consumers.

Smart meters present these challenges and costs to the electric company...

  • Transitioning to new technology and processes
  • Managing public reaction and customer acceptance of the new meters
  • Making a long-term financial commitment to the new metering technology and related software
  • Managing and storing vast quantities of metering data
  • Ensuring the security of metering data

Smart meters pose these challenges to consumers...

  • Verifying that the new meter is accurate
  • Protecting the privacy of their personal data
  • Paying additional fees for the new meter

Other disadvantages include the reality that smart meters put human meter readers out of work; to date, hundreds of individuals have lost their jobs. In addition, while it was anticipated that that smart meters would save consumers money, consumers rarely check their complex meters and thus are unable to make energy consumption changes.

 

While smart meters certainly make the collection of information simpler and billing less complex and arduous, other advantages have yet to materialize.