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Is your home one of the millions across America equipped with a smart meter? If so, has it changed your energy consumption habits at all?
Being able to monitor energy usage and therefore be in greater control of your spending was touted as one of the key advantages to smart meter usage when the government announced a $3.4 billion investment in the “Smart Grid” back in 2009, but what has been the reality?
According to the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation there are now around 50 million smart meters in US homes, representing 43% of the country, but the rate at which they have been added has slowed in the last few years, averaging around an additional 4 million smart meters a year. However the shift to smart meters has come under criticism in some areas for seemingly benefiting the utility companies far more than the average consumers. And it does seem to be the case that there are many tangible benefits for the big utilities – operational savings from eliminating the need for monthly meter readings, enabling dynamic supply-based pricing, and providing real-time data to limit the number of power outages among others.
The environmental benefits of moving to a smart grid powered by smart meters have also been highlighted. These include reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, boosting the use of clean, renewable energy by adjusting demand to match intermittent wind and solar supplies, and ultimately (as is the hope of the Environmental Defense Fund) reduce American reliance on foreign oil imports.
Yet it’s been widely reported that consumers are not getting the most out of their smart meters, and therefore missing out on potential cost savings. So why is this?
While some say that the utilities companies could do more to encourage their customers to tap into the advantages smart meters represent, this report from The Washington Post suggests that consumer behavior needs to change and a new energy mindset needs to be taken on. A quick survey around the ARTÉMIA office reveals that while we all have a broad grasp of what our monthly energy bill might be, there is little insight beyond that – and according to the report, we’re not alone. To really get the most out of smart meter usage, consumers need to visit online portals created by utility companies where they can track usage, and, if your provider is offering it, track time-of-use prices to take advantage of lower pricing. Yet the report notes that utilities are having grave problems getting customers to visit these portals in the first place – and much less so with any degree of regularity.
Despite these issues, the future of smart meters looks bright. Clearly the utilities companies have a job on their hands in terms of educating consumers and being much more transparent about the benefits. But as we move towards the “internet of things” and an ever-more connected world, and more and more apps are created to make better, more intuitive use of smart meters (indeed, many companies such as the Ontario Ministry of Energy actively encourages consumers to explore new technology and apps to help better understand and manage energy usage), it’s only a matter of time before we all get smarter with our energy use and spending.
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