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Debunking the debunking: Smart Meters

Bruce Land, an avid EE&T reader, as well as a senior engineer at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab, came up with a set of counter-myths about smart meters after reading about what a Texas utility company described as smart-meter myths in our July / August issue.

Myth #1 The smart meter is for the benefit of the consumer

Wrong. Smart meter are a way to force time-of-day (TOD) metering on residential consumers. In Maryland, Baltimore Gas & Electric wanted consumers to pay up front for installing smart meters. Maryland public service commission rejected the smart meters as it was shown that most residential customers would never save enough to pay for the upfront cost of the TOD meters, much less save any money.

Myth #2: Smart meters let consumers better manage their electrical loads

Load management is not a concern for individual consumers. Businesses might be able to do some load shifting and thus benefit from dynamic pricing, but most individuals don't have that option. For example, for many years, my wife provided day care in our home. So we could not load shift our electrical heat and air conditioning as the house was occupied 24/7. Daytime setbacks only work for those who are not home during the day. Seniors and retired people are in the home 24/7. Although consumers may be able to shift when they do laundry, they can't turn off the hot water, or shift heat and air conditioning to low-cost hours. To compound the problem, seniors and low-income citizens are the least likely to understand load shifting. Thus, most of them will see large increases in electricity costs with TOD metering. If most people don't understand technology well enough to place a personalized message on their answering machine or cell phone, or to set the clock function on their DVR or TV, then they will not be able to program loads.

Myth #3: Smart meters will save customers money

And wrong again. The Baltimore and Washington newspapers reported that actual national experience shows that average residential customers who switched to TOD would pay more due to dynamic pricing. A hidden issue is the cost to residential customers who cannot load shift or do not know how to load shift.

Myth #4: Smart meters will reduce electric consumption and reduce the need for additional generation capacity

Due to the large percentage of people who occupy their houses 24/7 and the large percentage of people who are technically unable to perform load management, it is unlikely there will be any reduction in electricity consumption. This is one reason the Maryland public utility commission rejected smart meters.

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