New technology means better outage reporting and use of renewables
The analog electric meter with a spinning metal wheel is destined for the dustbin of technology. Digital smart meters make up more than half the electric meters in the country, and electric cooperatives are leading the way. About 58% of all U.S. utility customers use smart meters. For electric co-op members, that figure is 73% and climbing.
WHY BE SMART?
Smart meters create new ways to improve your electric service.
• Outages can be detected and repaired faster. Smart meters can let the co-op know of an interruption, pinpointing the location, without waiting for someone to report it.
• Electricity can be used more efficiently. Smart meters can report unusual energy use, showing appliances that might be faulty or which could be replaced with a more efficient version.
• Alternative energy can be better integrated into the electric grid. Data from smart meters can be instantly analyzed by computers and coordinated with power plants, rooftop solar panels and wind turbines.
• Co-op members can be involved in a more decentralized electricity system. Rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles make complicated additions to a utility network. But those can be turned into benefits by analyzing the data provided by smart meters. For example, as electric vehicles become more popular, electric co-ops are exploring special rates to encourage charging at times when energy use is lower.
SMART METER SAFETY
Tolu Omotoso, director of energy solutions for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, notes studies show the strength of smart meter transmissions is far below those from a cellphone. They’re less than your TV’s remote control, as well.
Smart meter signals also weaken with distances of even 1 foot, as well as when passing through the walls that separate most of us from our electric meter. Omotoso says smart meters aren’t even on all the time.
“They transmit data back to the co-op only a couple times in a day, and each transmission takes milliseconds.”
Other concerns include privacy. However, electric co-ops have a long tradition of protecting the data of their members, says Omotoso.
“There are privacy policies which a lot of utilities and co-ops adhere to, to make sure that the data collected from these devices is used for its intended purpose.”
Omotoso says electric co-ops adopted digital meters to avoid traveling long distances through rural areas just to read an electric meter.
“In the utility industry of the future, you’re looking at decentralized energy use and generation, digitization and decarbonization of the grid,” says Omotoso. “Smart meters will help utilities and energy consumers transition into this new future.”
Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.