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What You Need to Know About SmartMeters

Author: Linda Tolliver Terry
February, 2013 Issue

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has mandated that all investor-owned utilities, including PG&E, install SmartMeters for all of their customers. As a result, millions of SmartMeters are being installed across California.
What is a SmartMeter?
A SmartMeter is a digital device that records the amount of energy used in your home or business. It tracks energy use in 15-minute increments and transmits the data to the utility via wireless network.
SmartMeters track both electrical and natural gas consumption, though in areas where natural gas isn’t available, a SmartMeter tracks only electrical use. According to the CPUC, all consumers were scheduled to have SmartMeters by the end of 2012, but some residential customers opted to keep their digital or analog meters for an additional service fee.
How will SmartMeters affect bills?
If you had an old analog meter, you most likely will see an increase in your energy costs. This is because mechanical analog meters slow over time as they wear out. The meter becomes increasingly inaccurate as it ages. When an analog meter is replaced with a new digital SmartMeter, the energy use is captured more accurately.
Utilities are installing SmartMeters for a variety of reasons. They eliminate the need for meter readers, provide more accurate use records and reduce response time in outages. Additionally, while analog meters track total consumption, SmartMeters let the utility track when electricity is used. This assists utilities in balancing grid demand during high use times.
Because SmartMeters track when power is used, utilities can change the way they bill customers. One of these ways is Time of Use billing (TOU). Under TOU, customers are charged a premium for power used during “peak” use times (weekdays and during the summer). Billing at higher rates during these times “encourages” customers to reduce their load during these periods.
PG&E already switched all nonresidential customers to TOU billing effective November 1, 2012, and are on track to switch residential customers to TOU by the end of 2014.
How can SmartMeters help consumers control energy costs?
One of the goals in using SmartMeters is to help consumers understand their energy use so they can make decisions to control their costs. Because the meters track when it’s used, customers can decide to use power during non-peak hours at a cheaper rate.
SmartMeters let consumers have greater control over their energy use and make smart decisions on how and when they use power. When the utility is able to balance grid demand, there will be fewer blackouts, brownouts and a reduced need for more power plants. Because information is transmitted wirelessly, meter readers (and their vehicles) are eliminated, thus reducing greenhouse gasses.
Solar and SmartMeters
Solar energy has long been a great investment and is even more valuable when used with SmartMeters. Since solar energy systems produce the most electricity during “peak” use times (during the day and particularly during the summer), solar customers are credited for their production at the higher day rates. If customers can also shift the bulk of their personal use to “off peak” times, they’ll benefit even more by “banking” kilowatt hours at the higher day rate and buying needed kilowatt hours at the lower, off-peak rates. As customers learn more about how to effectively manage their energy use, they’ll require even smaller solar energy systems to offset that use.
It’s no secret that SmartMeters will let PG&E increase its revenues by more accurately capturing energy costs and reducing the staff needed to manually read meters. There’s no reason to believe PG&E won’t continue its rate creep (an average of 6.5 percent annual increases over the past 10 years). Investing in solar now will lock in your energy costs for the next 25 years. So outsmart the SmartMeters and install solar now.
The cost of solar panels and installation are at an all-time low, and there are state and federal rebates and incentives available. Additionally, abundant finance options let consumers switch to solar with little or no money out of pocket. Consumers in Sonoma County, for example, can take advantage of the innovative Sonoma County Energy Independence Program (SCEIP; financing program, which lets homeowners go solar and pay for the systems with an assessment on their property taxes.
Linda Tolliver Terry is the manager at Solar Works in Sebastopol. You can reach her at (707) 829-8282 or


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