Smart meters are tools used to manage and record electricity and performance of electronic devices in the home. What makes the meters "smart" is their ability to provide detailed and accurate analytics on electrical usage in real-time or at predetermined intervals, all without a technician.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that nearly 94.8 million American homes are already using a smart meter, and electric utility companies have enthusiastically replaced analog meters (which are read manually each month) whenever possible.
The strategic potential of collecting a broad spectrum of information about electricity consumption includes the value of quick, accurate measurements and the elimination of monthly estimates and meter-reading home visits.
Despite being the most energy-efficient and profitable means to manage an electrical grid, there are concerns over the personal data that smart meters are collecting in real-time, including what may be unnecessary information about hourly electricity use. This collection of data could, potentially, be a violation of users' privacy.
Here's a look at the benefits and challenges that smart meters present to electric utilities, customers, and the environment:
Advantages of Smart Meters for Consumers
- Far greater and more detailed feedback regarding energy use
- Ability to adjust habits in order to lower electricity bills
- Reduces the number of blackouts and system-wide electricity failures
Disadvantages of Smart Meters for Consumers
- Additional fees for the installation of the new meter
- Privacy concerns for the personal data collected and how it will be used
- More responsibility placed upon the consumer for maintenance
Advantages of Smart Meters for Electric Companies
- Eliminates manual monthly meter readings
- Monitors the electric system in real time
- Encourages more efficient use of power resources
- Provides responsive data for balancing electric loads while reducing blackouts
- Enables dynamic pricing
- Avoids the capital expense of building new power plants
- Helps to optimize the profit with existing resources
Disadvantages of Smart Meters for Electric Companies
- The additional cost to train personal, develop equipment, and implement new processes for data storage
- Managing public reaction and feedback concerning new meters
- Making a long-term financial commitment to new hardware/software
- Ensuring the security and privacy of metering data
The Disadvantages Are Short Term
With new, resource-saving technology comes new challenges that will arise regarding expensive, energy-intensive data storage and the privacy issues that loom large over these domestic and commercial technologies. If consumers are not familiar with managing new energy systems on their own, they are less likely to pay close attention to the energy-saving potential of such smart meters (or how their personal data is being used).
The majority of the smart meter's disadvantages may seem short term, but such challenges will slow down the rate of adoption for these technologies in some cases, especially in rural and presently off-grid areas.
Promises to protect and value the personal data of users are crucial but unfeasible if electric companies don't place cybersecurity and technical leadership squarely in the charter of their organizations. Consumer protections are as essential to the product as the responsive features that make them useful to utility companies.