Big Question smart meter data

The Washington Post recently reported that, while there are more than 50 million smart meters deployed across the United States, the technology itself is failing to live up to the high hopes that initially accompanied metering rollouts.

The Big Question is:  Why are the benefits of better power usage, lower bills and increased energy efficiency not being realised?

And how is the challenge of effecting permanent behaviour change in consumers better managed?

Responses will be published in issue 1 of Metering and Smart Energy International in February 2015.

Montaser: There is no evidence that customers are willing to pay for the limited incremental functionality gained through implementation of [smart meters]. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. For example, industry studies show that only 46 percent of customers are aware of the concept of ‘smart metering,’ and of that percentage, 33 percent associate smart metering with complaints of meter inaccuracy, higher customer bills, invasion of privacy and health concerns.

“Texas has nearly seven million smart meters deployed, but according to the most recently available published data:

  • Only 30,000 customers log in each month to Smart Meter Texas to obtain consumption information. That’s less than ½ of one percent.
  • Only 60,000 customers have ever logged in to Smart Meter Texas, or less than 1% (Smart Meter Texas, 2013).

Megat: The direct benefits to customers are far less compared to the operational benefits gained by the utility/service providers.

Hugues: Direct implementation by itself of smart meters are providing limited benefits to the end customers. Quite real time data on consumption without any associated new services (consumption compare, connected home services, new contract offers) will not change the end customer behavior. On the other hand there are immediate benefits for distributors and providers (more accurate billing, more accurate energy balancing) …

Chuck: The normal consumer doesn't have a clue about the benefits of smart metering. Benefits include much lower costs for outage processes; implementation of net metering; new pricing models such as free weekends or free evenings (I am not sure these are good programs but they should be); rapid service changes when one moves in or out; better engineering to improve network analysis and reduce infrastructure costs; ... Many of these benefits reduce distribution and generation costs and should reduce energy bills. If they don't then get new regulators who consider customer service and customer rates.

Alexander: "Smart meters may be part of a smart grid, but alone do not constitute a smart grid."

Steve: As Megat mentioned and I have read over the last several years, the operational benefits accrued to the utility seem to outweigh the end user benefits. Avoiding rolling a truck for turn-ups and cutoffs as well as being able to pinpoint outages are important benefits. They also benefit end users in speed and customer service and potentially emergency response.

It appears that all the more direct benefits are knowledge and the potential to modify behavior. It is not an established HABIT for people to periodically review their real time energy usage as they are only used to getting a bill and (hopefully) paying it.

Are there end user benefits outside of knowledge and the chance for behavior modification?

I think mechanical changes such as lighting, HVAC, and building envelope modifications are more concrete and permanent and there are bigger opportunities to save without relying on behavior modification and commitment from end users which may or may not happen enmasse.

Ongoing debates:

Debate: is smart meter data worth more to utilities than electricity?
What does 2015 hold for the utility sector?
Debate: Is the GSM network the solution to interoperability? Yes or no
Utilities are not doing enough to secure connected devices. Right or wrong?
Smart meter fires: as Sensus pays off SaskPower what can the industry learn?


  1. California deployed smart meters in 2007 with the promise of sending data from each meter every 15 minutes to a mesh network that would aggregate and analyze it. The result was to inform the smart grid operators about how much electric generation to dispatch. The data was supposed to be adequate to allow renewables to be used by individual ratepayers and the grid operators were supposed to reduce electric generation when ratepayers own generation was producing. This never happened instead the utilities generate the electricity needed and ignore the renewable generation and the energy efficiency and load balancing efforts of their customers. No one has implemented a computer data operation capable of analyzing the streaming big data flowing from the California smart meters.

  2. Utilities do not need smart meters to manage how much electricity to generate. For many decades the utility industry has managed to balance generation with demand.

    If smart meters are to provide significant benefits, it is to encourage consumers to adjust their consumption to reflect the actual real time costs of producing the energy. For the most part, the price of electricity to the consumer has been set based on long term averages, so short term increases in the cost of production could not be reflected in the charges faced by consumers.
    From what I can see, utilities are not using their smart meter roll out to provide “real time of use” charges for the energy.
    To provide the expected benefits, smart meters must;
    i) be used to charge consumers for energy based on almost “real time costs”of production,
    ii) provide the consumer with information on the “real time” charges in a way that allows them to respond by adjusting their consumption; there is no point if this information is on a meter display that the consumer has to be looking at to see the info.
    iii) communicate automatically with consumers’ devices in a way which the device (for example water heaters, airconditioners, refridgerators, washing machines, dishwashers, dryers) can switch on or off in response to changes in the price of energy.
    It is the development (the internet of things? ) of this link between the energy consuming device and the smart meter that is not (for the most part) yet in place which will prevent the benefits of smart meters being realised. Smart thermostats are the first step perhaps, as they are easy. However because the other energy consuming devices are more expensive and long lasting, alternative methods such as “smart plug tops” must be devised and made available cheaply if the benefits of Smart Meters are to be maximised to be benefit of consumer and utility alike.

  3. Unless and otherwise we show the meaningful data to the end user, there is little benefit of this as far as end user is concerened. The smart metering is becoming more or more the utility driven program with the end user is loosing out to truly benefit from this programme. Analysing the mammoth data, deriving something meaningful for the end user and awaring and guiding him of the benefit to take some defenite steps to reduce the consumption/ cost and economically using his energy is the key.
    Another important point is interfacing the Utility home area network and the consumer home area network. Smart metering interfacing with smart home automation, like smart control of central heating/ cooling and hot water should drive this segmnet sooner or later if we really want to pass on the real benefit to the end user.

  4. 10 years ago in England we did a small scale trial of a rudimentary smart metering system. We gave customers the chance to view their use of water and electricity on a TV channel through a broadband connection. The idea was that during a commercial break in the evening soap they could have a look at the household utility expenditure on the previous day, week, month. Interestingly, many customers commented that the daily expenditure was at such a low figure that they were more inclined to use more rather than less. And not many customers looked very often at their figures.