Smart meters are being installed in homes and businesses across the United States as part of a new smart grid that improves energy efficiency. This new technology offers environmental and financial benefits for companies and individuals, but some people are concerned about perceived privacy risks. With the smart grid rapidly approaching, now is the time to look at smart meters and what they offer.
Technology Behind Smart Meters
Smart meters transmit data about usage and power disruptions to power companies via third-party wireless cellular signals. Individual meters are connected to access points that encrypt the data and send it to the power company. Thanks to the networks used, no type of terrain presents a barrier to successful transmission of the data. Furthermore, failure of individual transmitters is covered by other ones that find alternate routes. The design of this process makes smart meters efficient as well as reliable.
Smart Meter Operation
Each smart meter takes energy readings on the hour for reporting to the energy company. When a power outage results from a storm or other event, the smart meter relays this information directly to the company so that a response can be deployed right away. As a result, more money is saved by businesses and greater convenience is enjoyed by property owners. Contrary to claims that smart meters inform local energy providers about specific events, such as what appliances consumers use and when they use them, the smart grid actually focuses on regional trends as those are most relevant to improving efficiency.
Smart Meters and Privacy
Some homeowners have raised concerns over the type of information being sent by smart meters to electrical companies. On top of these worries is the question of who might be storing the information and how they will handle it. Even if the power companies do not sell this potentially lucrative data to marketing firms or other organizations, hackers might gain access to the data. However, smart meters are far from the only appliances that present this risk. A variety of newer appliances, including televisions and washing machines, can store data that might be valuable to third parties. Information security is constantly evolving, and industry officials are likely to address these concerns as the technology continues to develop.
Smart Meter Code of Conduct from the Department of Energy
In response to worries over the security of data from smart meters, the United States Department of Energy created a code of conduct that utility companies are encouraged to follow as they use this technology. The guidelines are voluntary and address handling of the data by all those with access to it. Although federal laws regulating the smart grid may be created in the future, this is likely to take some time as the technology is only now starting to be adopted.
Environmental and Economic Benefits
Smart meters are poised to make the economy more efficient and reduce pollution levels. These improvements are likely to involve the actions of both power companies and consumers. If power outages occur, smart meters will ensure that economic interruptions do not last as long as they often do with conventional power meters. Smart meters also simplify the task of repairing electrical problems so that solutions arrive quickly. Finally, consumers with smart meters gain access to online displays of their energy usage, helping them pinpoint opportunities for reducing their energy consumption on a daily basis.
Smart meters join a host of other new technologies that support progressive society. Although some people fear loss of privacy with smart meters, those worries are mostly unfounded and are being addressed with both the code of conduct created by the Department of Energy and upcoming federal regulations. With clear benefits for the environment as well as the economy, smart meters are set to be a welcome addition to modern life.