Many buildings in America today still rely on inefficient energy infrastructure, such as older models of energy meters, instead of modern, cost-effective, energy efficiency technology such as smart meters. Smart meters are energy meters with digital, high-speed real-time two-way communication, and data storage functions. Since 2013, the number of smart meters have passed the number of older models of meters deployed on energy grids throughout the United States.
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.
Defining: what is a smart meter
A smart meter records the electrical energy used by a building and sends that information digitally to the utility (and often can send the data to customers, too); in real-time, for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the customer’s energy meter, and the utility (as well as for the energy customer, in many circumstances). They allow for utilities to read meters remotely; and for the utility to take operational control of the meter remotely when necessary. 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, such as power quality and power outages. They can store and/or transmit data on demand; and smart meters are programmable with respect to the data the smart meter is collecting, storing, and transmitting. Smart meters transmit data wirelessly (dependent on the wi-fi capabilities of the area in question) to utilities (and to energy customers in many smart meter systems). They use cable and/ or broadband carriers if the wireless or cellular signal in the area is not sufficiently operative.
Real-time Smart Data
Smart meters provide real-time, high-speed data and analytics to utilities; making the utility more efficient, responsive, resilient, and reliable. In addition, this data and analytics can, in many cases, be passed on to energy consumers. This enables energy customers to be more informed, and more efficient, with their energy usage; along with utilities.
Smart meters increase the energy efficiency of the energy used by utilities and energy customers (how smart meters increase energy efficiency for utilities and consumers is further detailed in the “Benefits of Smart Meters” section below). Smart meters can reduce customer’s energy bills by helping to reduce their energy consumption, and reduce electrical energy demand from utilities and on the grid (as seen in the examples in the “Case Studies” section below).
By reducing energy production and consumption from the utility/ energy grid and energy customers, and by making energy use more efficient, smart meters effectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with power generation. Therefore, they also reduce the impact of GHGs associated with energy generation on climate change (see section on “Benefits of Smart Meters – for environment” below).
How are Smart Meters Deployed?
Smart meters can be deployed by utilities on a city-wide, a statewide, or a regional, basis. Local governments, city municipalities, or state governments, along with private energy utilities/ energy infrastructure companies, can help promote the use of smart meters. The local/ state utility usually manages and maintains smart meters and related infrastructure, and the utility usually maintains customer relations/ accounts.
However, third-party private energy companies (both associated with, and/ or independent from, the utility) can take over some services, and continue to do so more and more in the 21st century. 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.
Smart public-private partnerships
The utility will generally maintain and manage the energy infrastructure, the actual energy distribution, however the utility may want to stop directly servicing the customer account/ customer relations. A private energy company (a private company other than the utility) can sometimes take over managing the energy customer’s account. The U.S. should create and leverage private-public (utilities, other private energy companies, government) partnerships in the energy sector to replace old meters with smart meters in all states in the United States.
Utilities usually supply most of the up-front capital (energy meters, other energy infrastructure including energy distribution systems), the initial deployment, the maintenance of energy meters; however, utilities also often depend on public and private efforts made by local municipalities, or State governments, and/ or other private energy companies. In order to use smart meters, the old meters for energy customers need to be swapped out with new smart meters.
More often than not, smart meter deployment and use is driven by, and promoted by, private-public partnerships, involving utilities and government. These sectors will 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.
Examples of smart meter deployment, use, and smart meter implementation plans in the immediate future, include Pennsylvania, as well as more examples of success with recent smart meter deployment and implementation in other US states (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, found below in the “Case Studies” section.
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.”
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, for example, customers of West Penn Power, Penelec, and Met-Ed 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 the electric system much more quickly AND *aa.
- Enables dynamic pricing, which adjusts the production of energy for required for buildings, and the cost of electricity based on demand, 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, and decreasing 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 systems)
- *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
- 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 
Smart meters are currently being given a hard look by most utilities in the US to replace (or utilities already have plans to, or have already replaced) old, “non-smart”, meters throughout the country; as the United States continues to upgrade its energy grid in every state to a modern, 21st century, smart grid nationally. 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’.
Also gaining in popularity are tools such as residential/ business building Energy Management energy 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.
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).
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. 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.
Furthermore, “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- forbes.com/honeywell/
“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/
Lastly, buildings represent the #1 source of GHGs in America, when the totals of the emissions from energy to create electricity for buildings and energy production for HVAC are combined. Smart meters change (decrease) the share of emissions created by buildings by allowing utilities and customers to generate and use energy more efficiently.
The growth of smart meter deployment in the United States is summed up in the following case studies-
Although 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.
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 (as seen in the case study examples below).
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). 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.
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.
“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.”
The most effective strategy to increase the impact of smart meter deployment and implementation in the United States is to encourage and promote smart meter deployment and implementation in all 50 states of the United States.
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- What is a smart meter?
A smart meter records the electrical energy used by a building and sends that information digitally to the utility; in real-time, for monitoring and billing. Smart meters allow for two-way communication between the customer’s energy meter, and the utility, allowing for utilities to read meters remotely, and for the utility to take operational control of the meter remotely when necessary. Smart meters can also track energy consumption and provide data on the energy supply/ demand at the time of use.
- What are some of the benefits of smart meters?
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 by smart meters. Not only is energy produced and consumed on a more efficient basis with use of smart meters, energy use is effectively decreased with the implementation of smart meter technology. By reducing energy production and consumption from the utility/ energy grid and energy customers, and by increasing energy efficiency, smart meters reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with power generation; and reduce the impact of GHGs associated with energy generation on climate change.
- How are smart meters deployed?
Smart meters can be deployed by utilities on a city-wide, a statewide, or a regional basis. Local governments, city municipalities, or state governments, along with private energy utilities/ energy infrastructure companies, can help promote the use of smart meters. 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 take over some of the management of energy distribution and customer relation management services.
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