Taking the high ground on meters

SGCC offers resources to inform consumers

Phil Carson | Aug 14, 2012


Opponents of smart meters have had a field day for years now, demonizing the technology and misrepresenting the technology's purpose. And, by extension, discrediting the electric utilities that seek to use the technology for improving system efficiencies and to develop new rate structures and associated programs for customers. 

A handful of us have wondered aloud (and at length) why the power industry has not consistently and even-handedly promoted factual information to set the record straight. 

If readers would like to review some of the misinformation being spread, you can refresh your memory by checking these columns: 

"Meters = Surveillance?

"Smart Meters = Tip of the Iceberg?"

And let's be sure to separate the meter-related craziness around purported health effects and spying from legitimate concerns over data privacy and security, which I've outlined in the following columns: 

"Privacy, Wireless Telecom and the Power Industry

"Independence Day: It's Complicated"

"Data Privacy Issues

One might reasonably speculate that utilities haven't been forthcoming about meter-related misinformation because they don't have satisfying answers on legitimate questions around privacy, security and why the technology needs to provide appliance-level granularity within a customer's home. But today let's set that aside for a moment to applaud the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC) for its work on behalf of the industry.  

After years of distractions around meters, the SGCC—which is supported by utilities, vendors and consultancies with an interest in understanding the residential energy market and meeting its needs—has done us all a favor. More on the details in a moment. 

First, I'll acknowledge that holding "the industry" responsible for a collective lapse in setting the record straight can be a mere rhetorical exercise because, obviously, "the industry" is a diverse set of individuals, companies and organizations. But that's kind of bending over backwards to excuse inaction, don't you think?  

As for the thinking behind that lack of response to the outrageous or silly misinformation being fomented by various individuals and groups around the technology and role of interval meters, I've heard a few rationalizations. One is that by engaging people who willfully disregard the facts, you're only drawing attention to their fallacious claims. Another is that there's no reasoning with people who are convinced that Big Brother doesn't stand behind every utility. Etc. 

True, individual utilities have provided basic facts about interval meters and their deployment of advanced metering infrastructure, either out of genuine concern for their customers' need for information or because that outreach is mandated by regulators. But I've personally not seen good examples of utilities reaching out to local media to inform, answer questions and promote good information over the meter-related lunacy that long ago went viral. 

One laudable effort in this picture appeared yesterday, when the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative issued a fact sheet and video expressly aimed at countering the myriad efforts to discredit the technology, its purpose and, by extension, the power industry. 

Link to the video, Separating the Facts from the Fiction about Smart Meters: 

Link to the Myths vs. Facts fact sheet: 

Readers probably know that I like straight talk—the shortest distance between two points, when possible. So I took pleasure in reading the first sentence of the SGCC's press release: 

"Let's face it: advanced electric meters, or "smart meters," have a reputation problem. Consumer concerns about health and privacy have given these devices a bad rap." 

But let's add a bit of real-speak to that generous sentence. Legitimate consumer concerns are one thing, and disingenuous tommyrot is another. The meter-related madness has been aided and abetted by individuals simply riding the wave of gullibility that attends the inane bashing of government prevalent in the past three years but which was conspicuously absent in the preceding years when government spending and ineptitude reached its apex. 

The SGCC release offered to "separate the facts from the fiction about smart meters and provide consumers with reliable information about the technology that refutes the most commonly circulated myths: 

  • Radio frequency exposure: It would take 375 years of direct contact with a smart meter to equal the same amount of radio frequency exposure from a daily, 15-minute cell phone call.
  • Privacy infringement: Smart meters only know how much power is being used—not specifically how it's being used—and utilities will continue to keep that data private as they've done for decades. 
  • Economic benefits: Smart meters could reduce the cost of power interruptions by more than 75 percent, saving the American economy more than $150 billion a year.



The SGCC, with modest staff and funding, has produced a worthy effort and I'm told this work will be touted directly to consumers via social media, as well as traditional channels, with utilities free to pick up the ball and run with it. 

Once again, responsibility now lies with the power industry's myriad players to do something with the information and tools provided, in this case, by the SGCC. Let's see this effort put to good use.  

Phil Carson
Intelligent Utility Daily

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Not really informing

The links do an OK (not great, not good) job of dispelling myths, but don't really do much informing.  How is the electric utility industry securing the data it is collecting from the smart meters?  How is it keeping someone else from collecting the transmitted data?  How are the smart meters being secured from being hacked?  Are the smart meters at least as resistant to the elements and electrical spikes as the old meters?  How exactly are they going to reduce the cost of power interruptions by 75% and save the American economy $150 Billion a year.  How much are they realistically projected to save the average consumer a month?

I also have doubts about how much load shifting will actually occur.  Your typical family has 4 people and a pet (or two).  If the children are at school and the parents work, the load during the day is the minimal amount the pets need.  If any humans are at home, then the AC is going to be run reguardless of the time of day cost (I used to work in an office at an electrical utility and would see the load skyrocket on the third day of a heat wave when people could no longer tolerate the heat and cranked the AC, never mind the cost).  Sure, laundry can be shifted, but what else is a person realistically going to move to the evening?

Oh, and I have to agree with the earlier poster about your political comments.  "...inane bashing of government prevalent in the past three years but which was conspicuously absent in the preceding years when government spending and ineptitude reached its apex."  Really?  This in a piece titled "Taking the high ground on meters", leads one to believe you are a member in good standing of the liberal media-government complex that believes they know best.

First Hand Knowledge

The 75% number to me is more of a conservative estimate.  This comes from first hand knowledge of direct management of meter reading, electric line maintenance , and distribution engineering departments.   

My experiences are not hear say nor is it derived from statistical data.  My knowledge of the saving that can be gained comes from actual operational budget experience.  

The numbers given are very much obtainable.   

Richard Pate
Principal, Pate & Associates


Remote Telemetry

The big strength of smart meters is not some pie in the sky future possible use.  It is remote telemetry they eliminate a person going from house to house reading meters and the associated risks.  You know, dog bites, locked gates, dealing with crazy homeowners and such.  Smart Meters turn a profit.  They save time, fuel, and vehicles.  


My son was a meter reader; my favorite event of his meter reading career was while reading a meter the lady of the house approached him.  Her enraged husband called the utility and tried to get my son fired because of his wife’s attire during the under 10 second encounter. It can be a mixed up world. He did get the mandatory a customer complained lecture even though his actions contained no breech of conduct.  He had a bunch of dog stories all about the same dog attacked popped open his umbrella and ran while the dog was dealing with the umbrella.  Smart meters save umbrellas and in my mind, the safety aspect justifies the remote telemetry without lies exaggerations or new rate structures.


Under “Economic benefits” the saving on meter reading was not mentioned.  What was mentioned sounds like tripe.  How are smart meters going to reduce cost of power interruptions by 75%?  To claim $500 per capita saving is ridiculous, appears to be a fantasy number, and hurts yours and the SGCC’s credibility.  Do the quick math, a family four would save $2000 on the annual bill of approximately $1500 put in a smart meter and they will get refund rather than pay for electrical energy.  Put a smart meters in my house I am ready for my supplier to start paying me to use energy.  


 Most utilities claim 99% or better reliability a Berkley Labs report in 2004 claims an $80 billion outage cost, but half of the cost was from short interruptions to commercial customers usually incurred by process interruptions.  Residential losses were valued at $1.5 billion annually.


Smart meters will not repair damaged lines or make the trucks move faster or the lineman more skilled.  They can automatically report small residential outages which saves the home owner a phone call, but even cutting that $1.5 billion 75% isn’t going to change the world  and my guess is smart meters will make little if any difference on that cost, but it always sounds good to spout off massive numbers they are much more persuasive than facts.


I do not think 2 of 3 statements based on facts give one claim to the high ground. I Really think it needs to be 3 for 3 for that claim, but your standards may be lower.

Please explain the reduction in outage costs

Please explain how having smart meters on individual residences reduces the costs of power outages by 75%.  Most power outages involve a number of houses.  One smart meter or even a simple voltage transducer on each of the individual segments of a distribution system would be a lot less expensive in signaling an outage in a specific location.  If all the segments of a transmission and distribution system had smart meters the T&D operator would know where power was out and how many segments were affected without having to put smart meters at each and every residence or business with a hell of a lot less money spent.  They could also inform the utility when a segment was getting overloaded.  That is their concern.

Sorry, the outage cost saving explanation does not wash.  The goal of smart metering is time-of-use pricing and, by extension, behavior modification by cost shifting.

Thanks For The Information

Thanks Phil for bringing this information forward.  In today’s world of growing misinformation madness, it is easy to see why so many people are confused.  I hope those who really want to know and understand the technology advancements find this information. 


The technology will move forward regardless of the debates in the US because it is a radical change for the energy industry and offers new insights into how energy is consumed.  The US and Canada have led the charge in using this new technology and it has attracted the attention of the rest of the world.  The continuing struggles to maintain economic viability is heavily dependent on the reliability and efficient usage of energy. 


The recent outages and power needs of the developing world has come to light as they struggle to build and maintain their power systems.  We have had the advantage of time to build and perfect our system but other countries will not be far behind.  The recent news events helped to awaken their governments to the realities that they need to pay the bill and move forward.  They have the advantage of having the technology readily available for purchase and deployment.  They are also getting help from many of the experts and former utility employees leaving the US industry and offering their skills.  They will come up to speed quickly because of their need to level the economic playing field. 


We are still in the infancy of the smart grid renaissance and many new and important things are around the corner.




Richard G. Pate

Pate & Associates, Principle




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Meter Truth

So the SGCC refutes some of the more outlandish claims of Smart Meter opponents. Whatever.

There has yet to be a single coherent case made for the installation residential Smart Meters. At first, they were "sold" on the basis of "helping" the consumer save. That half (or less) truth was generally abandoned as consumers revealed their disinterest in droves. Without the excuse of "savings", it seems the industry has been a bit more forthcoming with respect to the dynamic pricing play but again, consumers sense they aren't getting the whole story....and they aren't. Meanwhile, untold millions-of-dollars have been and will be spent on meter installations without clear justification.

The problem with the utility industry is that their real and only "customer", by definition, is the state PUC/PSC in which they operate. Consumers, on the other hand, are an inconvenience: the source of funds granted by the PUC/PSC. A necessary evil.

Without the coercive force of PUC/PSC's, inflicted on utilities in trade for rate concessions & hikes on consumers, wind & solar generation would have never seen the light of day and "grid modernization" would carry a meaningful definition apart from "all things green at any price".

Until the consumer becomes the literal customer upon which the utility is beholden, this ghastly raid of taxpayer and ratepayer funds will continue unabated.

Take the High Ground - Indeed

I agree with the last comment. Stay away from political commentary and cheap shots and stick with what you do so well -- inform and educate us on important issues affecting the electric utility business. Phil, you can do better. 

Give me a break...

"...inane bashing of government prevalent in the past three years but which was conspicuously absent in the preceding years when government spending and ineptitude reached its apex. "

REALLY?!  Conspicuously absent?  What country do you live in, because you certainly weren't paying attention to the media during the previous administration when half of every newscast was bashing everything the President or his administration said or did.  Nor were you listening to the deafening silence during the 2008 elections when then-Senator Obama was such a media darling that nobody thought to ask why we were about to elect a man with zero experience being in charge of anything, let alone the most powerful nation on earth.  There isn't enough room in this comment section to cover the new heights of spending and government ineptitude we've reached in the last 3 years.

Stick to reporting power concerns and leave your blatant political ramblings out of it.