Smart Meters and Energy Efficiency

Smart meters are being promoted as a key part of a strategy for improving energy efficiency. Some utilities, such as Commonwealth Edison, have sold state legislatures a bill of goods so that utilities can charge customers for installing smart meters.

Whether smart meters can improve energy efficiency is questionable, but they do save utilities money.

In Illinois, Commonwealth Edison wins both ways, charging customers higher rates while cutting costs.

The main savings come from eliminating meter readers. Advanced meters can be read at the utility’s office so there is no need to send a person to people’s homes to read the meter.

Smart meters also make it easier for utilities to identify the location of faults, such as downed power lines. This results in quicker fixes and shorter outages for customers, but it doesn’t improve energy efficiency.

Some magazines, such as energybiz, persist on touting smart meters as a way to improve energy efficiency.

A recent article described how smart meters could help utilities maintain required voltage levels more precisely. Voltage is usually maintained between 114 and 126 volts at the home, office or factory. (Appliance motors are designed to operate at no less than 110 volts and a 4 volt line drop in the home would lower a 114 volt input to 110 volts.)

Utilities use voltage regulators, essentially a type of transformer, to maintain voltages within this band. Because it’s currently difficult to know precisely the voltage level at homes, etc., utilities err on the high side and keep the voltage level above 120. (See note.)

The energybiz article claimed that smart meters could identify precise voltage levels at homes, etc., thereby allowing utilities to maintain voltage levels closer to 114 volts which would reduce the power consumed, and result in improved energy efficiency. (Power equals volts times current, with an adjustment for power factor.)

But why not maintain the voltage at closer to 120 volts? This would allow motors to run closer to their rated horsepower and light bulbs or lamps to shine brighter.

In other words, the claim of improved energy efficiency is a shell game that benefits the utility rather than the consumer.

The other claim made by advocates for smart meters is that they would allow homeowners to reduce the amount of electricity they use and save money. This assumes customers would be charged more per kilowatt-hour during peak hours and less during off-peak hours (typically at night).

The claim is spurious since there are very few ways people can change their use of electricity. Customers could use less air conditioning by raising the thermostat and keeping the house warmer in the summer, while lowering the thermostat in the winter and keeping the house cooler.

It also assumes people can shift usage from peak to off-peak hours, but food needs to be cooked at meal time, refrigerators need to run during the day and lights are needed on cloudy days. Theoretically dishes could be washed at night, as could laundry and cloths driers, but this isn’t convenient for most people.

In short, there aren’t very many ways for homeowners to shift their use of electricity from peak to off-peak hours, certainly not enough to justify charging customers for installing smart meters.

A respondent in Florida said, “He couldn’t save anymore unless he switched to candle light”.

There was also a proposal in California to require utilities to use smart meters to control the thermostat in people’s homes, which would facilitate controlling air conditioning and heating loads, especially when there was a need to shave load during periods of peak usage.  Thus far, this bad idea hasn’t been adopted. If the utility can control the thermostat in people’s homes, it’s conceivable government could mandate the high and low temperatures in people’s homes.

Some individuals have claimed that radio waves (electromagnetic fields) emanating from smart meters could affect people’s health, but this is not true, and is no reason to prevent the installation of smart meters.

There are problems with the way in which smart meters are being promoted, but fear of health affects shouldn’t deter their installation.

Advanced meter installations aren’t going to result in large improvements in energy efficiency, though they may lower costs for utilities and improve reliability for customers.

Note: For those who are interested, there is a 2005 report issued by Global Energy Partners entitled, “Evaluation of the Utility Distribution System Efficiency Initiative.”

Photo credit: miheco (Creative Commons)


  1. scot_belle says:

    Years ago, back in the 80s-90s, when I still lived in CA….PG&E had a program for shifting power usage to off-peak hours. They did this by offering a lower rate in the off-peak hours, with a peak hour rate as standard, with something of an internal clock…that was used to identify which power usage was which.

    THIS made excellent financial sense to me, so we had this type of meter system, and I enjoyed doing my laundry in the coolest part of each day. THIS still makes sense to me, and for those who really believe that the world is going to end, it would help to "salve" their little global warming hearts. As for the polar bears, they are now "enjoying" the highest numbers in all of their recorded history. The melting glaciers? Well, one may be melting, but not 30 miles away are several that are growing. The sea level? It has NOT continued to drop, and in fact…is now rising again.

    THIS PLANET HAS CYCLES…and that happens to be one of the perks that I enjoy.

  2. The way most businesses are going today – what really are "off-hours"? As companies have people working Sundays, holidays. nights days, etc, there are no off hours. Some prefer to work at night, weekends, and most any other hour.
    The only thing I find that's "off" is our dedication to God – blue laws at one time meant "resting the seventh day of the week". Satan, is good at "waiting in the wings", has no "off hours" and he certainly doesn't operate in "cycles". Fortunately, God has defeated this nemesis on the cross. We can talk about a planet with cycles and I heartily agree with the above comment – STS all of us must face the fact that when we lie to ourselves whether it's about 'global warming' or the Devil being a myth we hurt only ourselves.

  3. victoriousspirit3 says:

    I agree with both comments above, except the "blue-laws" remark. Sunday rest is what the blue-laws encompassed, not the true Sabbath, which is friday sundown to saturday sundown as per Scripture. When the MOTB comes calling, it will be about the sunday mark (as opposed to God's mark – the Sabbath). And when those days come, we won't give a squat about how many polar bears there are nor about what's melting or not. I agree, the earth has its cycles. The Ice Age was called an "age" for a reason — it wasn't a permanent part of the earth, but rather part of a cycle. IMO, all of this boils down to two things: greed and control. Won't people just love it when, one day, refrigerators will "self-lock" because technology tells the powers that be, "You're getting a little on the heavy side. No entrance until morning." Hahahahaha. Won't that be a trip? NewSpeak. It's all about the NWO.

  4. Smart meters without permission capable of changing my thermostat is an invasion of privacy. And the claim that radio waves are not harmful is a lie. Many people suffer from headaches, fidget attacks, loss of sleep, etc, when simple wifi (energy) signals are present, much less dozens of radio-wave emitting compact fluorescent bulbs, use of microwave ovens or nearby power lines. Many people wondering about their health have organ damage from such waves, These meters just add to the clutter.

  5. Iftruthbeknown says:

    Nothing like getting rid of more jobs (meter readers) at a time when we really need to keep jobs. If people continue propagating and jobs keep declining, how in the world is anyone going to earn a living? Robots and mechanical gizmos are fine, but NOT at the expense of our need to survive. Sometimes less is best.

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