Sustainability | Renewable Energy

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are energy meters with data storage functions, digital, high-speed, real-time two-way communication, and limited remote control by utilities' computers. Many buildings in America today still rely on inefficient energy infrastructure; for instance, older models of energy meters. Older meters should be replaced with modern, cost-effective, energy efficiency technology - smart meters. [1]  It is notable that in 2013 the number of smart meters passed the number of older meters deployed on energy grids throughout the United States. [2]

Smart meters are an invaluable asset in the emerging sector of green buildings. Energy utilities should continue to expand the deployment and implementation of smart meters to market capacity in the United States. Market capacity for smart meter deployment is defined here as replacing all old energy meters with smart meters throughout the United States.

A smart meter records the electrical energy used by a building and transmits that data digitally; in real-time, for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the customer’s energy meter and the utility (also for the energy customer, in many cases). This allows utilities to read meters remotely, and for the utility to take limited operational control of the meter remotely when necessary to optimize energy use.  Smart meters can also track energy consumption and provide data on the energy supply/ demand at the time of use.

Smart meters provide other data for analysis as well; such as power quality and power outages A smart meter can store and transmit data on demand. They are programmable with respect to the data they collect, store, and transmit. Smart meters transmit data wirelessly to utilities (and often to customers); or use cellular networks or power line carriers; if the wireless signal in the area is not sufficiently operative.

The smart meter provides real-time, high-speed data and analytics to utilities (and energy customers). This makes the utility more efficient, responsive, resilient, and reliable. In addition, this data and analytics can be passed on to consumers to make end-use consumer energy-consuming habits more efficient. This sharing of data allows energy customers and utilities to be more informed, and more cost-efficient, with their energy usage.

Efficiency of Smart Meters

Smart meters increase the energy efficiency of the electricity produced by utilities and consumed by energy customers (how smart meters increase energy efficiency for utilities and consumers is further detailed in the “Benefits of Smart Meters” section below). They can reduce customers' energy bills, and reduce electrical energy demand with energy utilities produced for municipal grids (as seen in the examples in the “Case Studies” section below).

Smart meters enable utilities and energy customers to produce and consume energy on a more efficient basis, where energy supply more accurately meets energy demand; as reported from data collected and transmitted. Not only is energy made more efficient with smart meters, energy use is effectively decreased with the implementation of smart meter technology.

Smart Meters Benefit the Environment

By reducing energy production and consumption from the utility/ energy grid and energy customers, and by increasing energy efficiency, smart meters reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Smart meters have been proven to help facilitate GHG reductions associated with power generation (see "Benefits of Smart Meters - for the environment" below). [3]  

"Without smart meters, meeting our climate change targets will be slower, harder and more expensive"   article from -

How Smart Meters are Deployed

Smart meters can be deployed by utilities on a city-wide, statewide, or regional basis. Local governments, city municipalities, or state governments, along with private energy companies, can help promote the use of smart meters. [4] The local/ state utility usually maintains smart meters and related infrastructure, and the utility often maintains customer relations/ accounts.

However, third-party private energy companies (both associated with, and/ or independent from, the utility) can, and continue to do so more and more in the 21st century, take over some services. Often, private energy companies managing smart meters take over management of energy distribution and customer relation management services.

Also gaining popularity are tools such as residential/ business building Energy Management monitoring systems and apps (systems for monitoring energy consumption in buildings, apps for tablets or smartphones) to regulate the efficiency of energy consumers' energy use; based on data from smart meters on energy customer's properties.

Public-Private Smart Meter Partnerships

Today, there are private energy companies that offer these services to customers throughout the United States. In these energy services, a customer signs a contract for a subscription of smart meter compatible equipment, smart meters, and smart appliances. [5]

Public utilities will often continue to maintain and manage the energy infrastructure; in the scenario where a third party private energy company provides energy distribution and energy management services. The customer account/ company customer relations for the energy customer can either continue to be managed by the utility, or the private energy company. [6] This arrangement seeks to create public-private partnerships in the energy sector.

Utilities usually supply most of the up-front capital (energy meters, other energy infrastructure including energy distribution systems), the initial deployment, and the maintenance of energy meters. However, utilities also often depend on public and private efforts made by local municipalities, state governments, and/ or other private energy companies.

More often than not, smart meter deployment and use are driven by, public-private partnerships, involving public utilities, government, and private energy companies. These sectors need to contribute resources and effort in order for a complete switch to smart meters to be made in large areas such as cities, states, and regions.

Pennsylvanian Smart Meter Case Study

Examples of smart meter deployment, and smart meter implementation plans in the immediate future, include Pennsylvania. Additional examples of success with recent smart meter deployment and implementation in other US states are given below. The “Case Studies” section below details the success of smart meter deployment and implementation in these areas of the US, and countries throughout the world,.

One example of statewide legislation which has led to widespread deployment of smart meters, as well as implementation plans for smart meters, is Act 129 in Pennsylvania. Act 129 of 2008 amended Section 2807 of the Public Utility Code [in Pennsylvania] by adding a requirement for electric distribution companies (EDCs) with greater than 100,000 customers to submit, for PUC approval, a smart meter technology procurement and installation plan.” [7]

Customers of the parent energy company First Energy (in Pennsylvania) can expect old meters to be swapped out for new meters (if it hasn't been done already), as local utilities. Examples include customers of West Penn Power, Penelec, and Met-Ed. These customers continue to get new smart meters; while the roll-out of smart meters for customers of the utility Penn Power is now complete.

Benefits of Smart Meters

Smart meters present an opportunity for 3 main categories of benefits; benefits to energy companies, benefits to energy customers, and benefits to the environment:

Benefits to Energy Companies

  • Monitors electric systems and networks much more quickly, efficiently, AND *aa.
  • Enables dynamic pricing; pricing that adjusts the production of energy based on demand by energy customers. Provides data for energy required for buildings during different times of the day and with different local energy needs based on different weather/ outside temperatures. The cost of electricity based on demand is accordingly adjusted in real time, AND *bb.
  • Makes it possible to use energy resources more efficiently.
  • Provides real-time data that is useful for balancing electric loads while reducing power outages (i.e. blackouts). The utility can quickly problem solve power quality issues, disturbances, and outages effectively and based on accurate real-time data.
  • Reduces the expense to the utility of building new power plants to keep up with energy demand from utility by increasing energy efficiency by customers/ buildings. Decreases energy use by buildings.
  • Helps to optimize income with existing resources.

Benefits to Energy Customers

After the electric company has deployed and implemented all of the features of smart meter technology,  its smart meter infrastructure; smart meters offer the following benefits to electricity customers:

  • *aa. Far greater (and more detailed) feedback regarding energy use (through Energy Management apps and networks).
  • *bb. Enable BOTH utilities AND consumers to adjust their habits (through data analytics software, Energy Management apps) in order to lower energy generation costs and electrical bills. Also lowers electricity bills for energy customers, in addition to lowering the costs of energy production for utilities.
  • Reduces the number of blackouts and system-wide electricity failures.

Benefits to the Environment

  • Reduces the need for new fossil fuel power plants that produce GHGs
  • Reduces GHGs from existing power plants by increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing energy production and consumption.
  • Reduces carbon footprint of energy customers
  • Reduces or eliminates pollution created by vehicles driven by meter readers. [8]

Buildings (residences + commercial & city buildings) represent the #2 source of GHGs in America. (This is only true when the totals of the emissions from energy to create electricity for buildings and energy production for HVAC are combined). [12] Smart meters decrease the share of emissions created by buildings by allowing utilities and customers to generate and use energy more efficiently. [13]

Smart meters are currently being given a hard look by most utilities in the US to replace old meters. In many cases, utilities already have plans to, or have already replaced old, “non-smart”, meters throughout the country. The United States continues to upgrade its energy grid in every state to a modern, 21st century, smart grid. Smart energy meters give utilities, as well as energy customers, a detailed, real-time look at energy consumption in a building (even narrowing the detailed data into categories like ‘HVAC’, and ‘electricity’.

Some building Energy Management apps are able to incorporate the data from smart meters into apps for smartphones or tablets, and further break the data down into sub-categories of energy used by specific appliances in the building; given that the appliance has to also be a smart appliance, and connected to the smart meter, and that the given model of smart meter, and the model of appliance, must have that capability). [9]

Smart meters (and building Energy Management systems) allow utilities to reduce their energy costs during off-peak times by increasing energy efficiency, and by helping utilities recognize energy use patterns for building, and balance energy supply and demand loads, therefore reducing overall energy generation needed for buildings. [10] Utilities can then pass those cost reductions onto customers, re-invest those cost savings in research & development of even more cost-saving technologies, or simply enjoy the greater profit with the increased revenue.

Additionally, smart meters reduce labor costs for the utility- namely the amount of labor needed by the utility to monitor consumption of energy; as technicians from the utility are replaced by automated high-speed wireless data networks. This also poses a direct savings to the utility. Also, energy bills are more accurate with the use of smart meters and smart technology, as opposed to with the human manual readings of energy meters for the utility, as the utility sends people out in the field to go meter by meter recording data when old meters are used by the utility. [11]

Quotes on the benefits of smart meters-

“Smart buildings promise to improve efficiency by [designing] these [smart meter, Energy Management] systems to reduce operating costs and increase the safety, productivity and quality of life of those who work and live inside their walls.” FROM-

“New advanced metering infrastructure [smart meters] that can measure customer load with increased granularity has created opportunities for variable rate structures, effective demand response and increased customer control over their energy use. And now, with the ability to compare real-time usage to historical baselines, the industry can begin to more accurately value efficiency as energy...”  FROM- how-smart-meters-are-changing-energy-efficiency-in-california

Case Studies of smart meter deployment and utilization

The initial expense of smart meter deployment represent substantial up-front costs to utilities (billions of dollars are invested annually by utilities in researching & developing, and deploying, smart meters, and smart meter infrastructure). The return on investment from implementing this technology (as seen in the financial benefits listed above) are also substantial, and often present a short-term cost horizon which is favorable to the utilities, making the initial investment in smart meter development, with a break even point of only a few years. [14] The growth of smart meter deployment in the United States is summed up in the following case studies-

States in the US currently have been successfully deploying and implementing smart meters for energy; including in Pennsylvania (as demonstrated in the case study above), New York, and Illinois. Similar to First Energy in Pennsylvania, ConEd in New York plans the deployment of smart meters to all of their customers in the state (although ConEd took the initiative to plan on the statewide deployment of smart meters independently, without first being compelled by legislation). [15] ConEd in Chicago and Northern Illinois aims to have installed approximately 4 million smart meters in all homes and businesses across northern Illinois by the end of 2018. [16]

Although the following worldwide locations may not be all entirely analogous to U.S. states (different economies, different demographics as compared to the United States), it is interesting to note the success of smart meter programs throughout the world. The growing deployment of smart meters throughout the world is summed up in the following examples:

  • Europe- The UK plans to have smart meters deployed to all residential properties (30M+ homes) by 2020, as well as most small businesses (2M+ businesses).
  • Canada- In the province of Ontario alone, there are 800,000+ residential and commercial properties with updated smart meters.
  • Japan- Businesses utilize smart meters throughout commercial buildings in the country, and Japan’s Energy Conservation Centre plans more research & development, and deployment and implementation, of smart meters.
  • Australia- In the province of Victoria, there are plans to deploy smart meters to 2.6M properties. As the deployment of smart meters is taking place, energy customers are offered in-home displays tied to the smart meters, eliminating the need to go outside to look at the display. [17]

“As climate change and its effects become more apparent, the energy industry is working to change the current system as quickly as possible to improve energy efficiency and reduce human activity’s impact on the environment. Although some companies and countries are slower to adopt smart meters and similar concepts than others, no one can argue the fact that a massive overhaul of the current systems is imperative.”- USDOE [18]

The most effective strategy to increase the impact of smart meter deployment and increase implementation of smart meters in the United States is to encourage and promote smart meter deployment and implementation in all 50 states of the United States. After that, it's an excellent idea for the entire world to adopt smart meters; once the political will to do so is found.


[1] Website URL+ path: (accessed11/15/2018)

[2] URL + path: (accessed 11/15/2018)

[3] URL + path: (accessed 11/12/2018)

[4] URL + path: (accessed 11/15/2018)

[5] URL + path: (accessed 11/12/2018)

[6] URL+ path:, (accessed 11/15/2018)

[7] URL + path: (accessed 11/15/2018)

[8] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[9] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[10] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[11] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[12] URL + path: (accessed 11/15/2018)

[13] URL + path: (accessed 11/15/2018)

[14] URL +path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[15] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[16] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[17] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

[18] URL + path: (accessed 11/16/2018)

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