Just Smart Enough
Over a decade ago, electric cooperatives began using equipment to automatically read the members' meters and send the readings to the cooperative. The motivation for switching from using self-read meters or hiring meter readers was efficiency—saving money and member convenience. Members would no longer have to put on the galoshes and coat to go outside in winter to read the electric meter, fill out the post card, and mail the meter reading to the co-op.
The early meters sent information only one-way—to the cooperative meter reading system. The new meters are capable of two-way data communication. The kilowatt-hour data reading still goes to the co-op, but the readings get transmitted on a more frequent basis. Now the co-op can also remotely identify where an outage occurs by communicating with the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) from the office to check on whether a line is energized. Once a trouble spot is identified, crews can quickly be dispatched to restore power.
Managing Energy Use
The co-op can also use the kWh data to help a member with a high-bill concern discover just when the usage was higher. For example, the data can help pinpoint an approximate time period a water pump malfunctioned or a hot tub was left on overnight. Some co-ops have set up a web portal where a member can log on a secure website to view their own energy use by the hour, day, or month.
With all the talk about the “smart grid” revolution, some members have been lead to believe the new electric meters can communicate with more devices in their homes. That may be possible in the future; however, first your home appliances would need to be capable of two-way communication. Currently, the automatic meters used by electric co-ops are only capable of communicating electric-usage data. Additional infrastructure would be needed to increase the meters’ capability. Until members want remote access to home appliances and are willing to pay for it, the utility does not have a reason to invest in the additional equipment that would be required.
The electric meters communicate with the utility using a radio frequency (RF) approved by the Federal Communications Commission. The metering equipment underwent testing by an accredited lab using the same criteria the FCC requires for flat-screen televisions. Given that your electric meter is located outdoors and has a measurable RF at least 20 times lower than the natural RF from the human body and 12,667 times lower than that of a cell phone, and given that data retrieval is limited to no more than 5 minutes per day, you can rest assured that our advanced metering equipment is safe for you and your family.
The automatic meters allow utilities to operate more efficiently to help minimize cost increases. The data we collect can help consumers address high bills and manage energy use. With more detailed data about demand and usage, utilities can distribute power more efficiently. The new metering technology is just smart enough to be a win-win for electric consumers and utilities alike.