'Smart' Electricity Meter Basics?

17 Sep 2014
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United Kingdom
My electricity supplier has recently been bombarding me with letters and leaflets about getting a 'smart' meter fitted - which is for my benefit apparently.....!

I like to think I'm reasonably intelligent, but there are a couple of obvious things I can't work out from reading all the guff they've sent..

1) How in hell does a smart meter help me manage my electricity consumption? Presumably the meter is still located on the main incoming supply and individual circuits are not separately monitored, so even if it gives me a more handy display on which I can see a running total bill and/or useage over the day, fundementally it's telling me nothing common sense doesn't already - if I turn on the washing machine, my electiricty consumption goes up! If I turn off all the lights, it goes down. Have I missed the point here?

2) The other 'benefit' (to them, clearly) is that fact that they don't have to come and read it. So how does the smart meter communicate back to the supplier? Are they expecting me to make my home phone/broadband available for it to phone home or does this clever box have some other way of communicating with the SSE Death Star?

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In answer

1/ yep but a lot can't or see it as special that they can

2/ 3G etc (though they have forgotten there isn't 100% coverage

It does give them power to disconnect for non payment remotely!!
1) For some unaccountable reason there are people in this world who do genuinely believe that if they don't have a display of instantaneous consumption they won't be able to turn off lights which they aren't using, won't be able to remember to unplug irons when they have finished ironing, won't think not to put the tumble drier on when its empty, and won't be able to make their fridge and freezer use less electricity. Your supplier is well aware of the existence of these differently able persons, and is seeking to exploit their vulnerability.

2) Wi-Fi/3G/4G/TETRA/etc - they'll find ways. I've seen one idea that groups of meters in an area will form their own mesh network to allow them to share one link to the metering company.

3) They are so not for your benefit, and the lies being told about them are outrageous.
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To be fair it's not always immediately obvious if your freezer door hasn't closed properly or the switch for your immersion heater (on a system where the immersion is a rarely used backup) has been knocked while putting clothes in the airing cupboard or a thermostat has failed, nor is it always obvious what different appliances consumer. Being able to see when your electricity consumption has jumped up does sound useful.

Of course if it was only advantages for you the consumer they wouldn't be pushing smart meters in the way they are. So why are they pushing them?

I think the main reason is to allow the introduction of tarriffs where the price varies to reflect the wholesale price of electricity rather than being fixed for a given time of day. When combined with smart appliances that can react to electricity price changes this would allow for demand-side management of the electricity supply/demand balance.
The latter.

Plus rolling blackouts at a much more granular level than can currently be managed.

The inescapable fact is that because of a combination of political venality and ineptitude, public ignorance, and the loss of centralised command due to privatisation, we are facing a shortfall in our generating capacity. We cannot wish that away - we must either increase the amount we make or reduce^H^H^H^H^H^H sorry - "manage" - the amount we use at peak times.

Smart meters, in theory, make management feasible - as plug says, the idea is that appliances will react to real-time prices and decide whether or not to run. You'll load up your dishwasher, WM etc and tell it how much you are prepared to pay for it to work, whether there's a hard-stop on waiting for the right price by a particular time, and (hopefully) it will do its thing by the time you need it done and at the price you are happy to pay. There will be pre-emption, for example a tumble drier might be interrupted to allow a freezer compressor to run, or if demand has to be lowered it will switch off some things to avoid a total cut so you come home to dirty dishes and soggy clothes rather than dirty dishes, soggy clothes, and a warm fridge and no recording of Game of Thrones. There will be the ability to flag houses as higher priority than others, so you might lose power but your neighbour with a ventilator doesn't lose his life, that sort of thing.

The problem with the reality of smart appliance management is that it will take a long time for all appliances to be able to play (oh - and guess what wonderful networking technology they will be pushing for use in homes to allow electrical appliances to communicate with the electricity meter), so I fear that we will see it used much more for managing demand by just cutting the power to some houses.
I was once doing some work in a property that had a smart meter in the kitchen in which we where working.

It kept jumping from 300w up to 2kw and back again every few minutes!!! We had no idea why, the house was empty expect for us and we wasn't using anything high draw..

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