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Weekly Q & A: Are Smart Meters as Controversial as Some May Think?

smart-metersEvery week, I meet with Jim Korczykowski, President and CEO of Energy Curtailment Specialists, to discuss current topics and trends in the energy industry. With over fifteen years experience in all facets of the energy industry, Jim provides valuable insight on a variety of issues.

Last week, Jim gave us a brief overview on the subject of demand response and how businesses are able to benefit from participating in this type of program. This week, I am seeking his perspective on a topic that has been sparking much debate lately: smart meters.

You will find the transcript of the Q & A session below.

Sarah Battaglia (SB): Smart meters seem to be in the news quite a bit lately. Can you describe their role and explain their benefits for managing energy usage?

Jim Korczykowski (JK): Smart meters offer energy consumers a number of benefits. On a fundamental level, they provide two-way communication between your home or business and your utility. With a smart meter and a proper interface, you are able to continuously store data regarding your energy consumption, thus, allowing you to consistently and accurately monitor your electric usage over any period of time: hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. This constant monitoring is beneficial in several ways: users can compare electric draw to past readings; manufacturers can better gauge their peak equipment usage and shift operations if need be; and utilities are able to pinpoint power outages. Of course, users can also use this information at any point in time to see how much this energy consumption is costing them. This is useful because the cost of electricity will fluctuate during the day and consumers will be able to see this fluctuation and if they choose, adjust their power usage to minimize costs.

SB: How exactly can a smart meter save customers money on their monthly electricity bills?

JK: As I mentioned, the cost of electricity changes throughout the day based on demand. High demand periods will cause prices to spike. A smart meter coupled with real-time pricing, shows the customer when using energy is the most economical. This will allow the customer to shift usage to off-peak hours, if they choose, saving them a considerable amount of money at the end of the month.

SB: We know that smart meters offer feedback to the user, but how detailed is this information? And how exactly do they obtain it?

JK: A smart meter will begin recording energy usage as soon as it is installed. It records power consumption in varying increments depending on the meter and your utility but generally, most meters store data in 15 minute intervals. Users will be able to view this information either on the meter itself or by logging into their account on an on-line web portal. The portal will show the customer’s current energy cost and will offer helpful ways to change behavior to save money. Some web portals will even show how the customer is doing in comparison with similar buildings. It’s really quite powerful.

SB: There has been some controversy about smart meters violating personal privacy. Is this true?

JK: Absolutely not. Smart meters record the same information that utilities have been recording for years. Utilities generally have privacy policies that specify that data is only used for professional purposes like billing and forecasting, and prohibit disclosure of information to third parties. Information breaches are extremely rare and customers should not worry, since the transmitted data is encrypted for substantial protection.

SB: There is also another point causing debate. Some people believe that these devices produce radio frequencies that are hazardous to our health. Is this something users need to be aware of?

JK: This has been a popular topic of discussion lately, but no, those with a smart meter do not need to worry about health hazards. These devices communicate with a very low amount of radio frequencies. As a comparison, I like to use cell phones to help explain this. We keep cell phones in our pockets all day and it has been established that they do not create any adverse health effects, yet they do give off radio frequencies. Given that consumers rarely come in direct contact with smart meters, exposure to these low radio frequencies is a fraction of the amount we get from our cell phones. Usually, smart meters only release radio frequencies for about one minute every day, so after 20 years, the total exposure would approximately be equal to a 30 minute call on a cell phone. It’s really nothing to worry about.

SB: Finally, some believe that smart meters will not gain widespread usage and deployment. Can you give us your thoughts and predictions on where the world of smart meters is headed?

JK: Smart meters are in their infancy in terms of development of technology and deployment. More utilities are installing them for customers in order to give them more control over their energy usage and costs. As meter technology continues to advance, they are only going to become more efficient and more useful to customers. I definitely see these devices playing a vital role in our future.

Smart meters continue to be a popular topic of discussion in the energy industry. We would like to thank Jim for his knowledge and opinions. If you have any questions you would like ask Jim, leave them in the comments section below.

Sarah Battaglia
ECSGrid

Sarah can be found on LinkedIn and Google+.

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