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What is a Smart Meter? Who Is It Really Smart For?

If you’ve heard a lot about “smart meters” lately, here’s the deal… A smart meter is a digital device that replaces your analog (dial) electric meter. A technician doesn’t need to come to your house to read your meter: the information about how much electric you’ve used is reported directly back to the electric company for billing. A smart meter also permits the electric company to activate or deactivate service without dispatching a technician, which saves time and money (for the electric company, of course).

A smart meter also tells the electric company when you’re using power, for how long, and exactly how you’re using it. Every appliance or electrical device, from your refrigerator to your cell phone charger to your laptop, gives off a different power signature that permits the electric company to identify it.

This can be handy when it comes to detecting crimes — everything from running a meth lab out of your basement to running a business web server without proper permits. It could also, theoretically, be used for marketing purposes. Imagine a world where your electric company, just like your bank and Facebook, gathers information about your daily habits to sell to its marketing partners who can then bombard you with sales messages.

We’re not there yet, but Scott Gordon, Vice President of Residential Sales of leading California-based solar installer, HelioPower, mentions three ways smart meters affect us: our privacy, our freedom, and our finances.

Based on the examples above, it’s easy to see how smart meters can infringe on our privacy. Let’s look at the last two, which are very closely linked.

Time-of-Use Billing and Your Freedom to Use Electricity

With information about when people use electricity, utilities can move to a form of billing called “time-of-use.” In this scenario, you would pay more (between two to four times more) for electricity purchased during daytime hours, and less at night and on weekends. Even higher peak rates could apply during the summer, which utility companies say will help prevent brown-outs by limiting use.

This could mean a shift in lifestyle, as people opt to do laundry and run dishwashers and pool filters at night instead of during the day. But for appliances like your air conditioner, picture this: on a hot summer day, the only choice you’ll have is to live in uncomfortable, possibly dangerous, conditions, or pay more for your electric. Gordon provides a graphic example: “Imagine somebody living in Palm Springs, and they’re 79 years old, and it’s 123 degrees outside. Now they’re deciding whether they’re going to turn their AC on or they’re going to eat.”

Should You Say No to Smart Meters?
“When I give presentations and ask people who smart meters are smart for,” Gordon continues, “they get it right away. The utility companies.”

Provided you are given a choice, refusing a smart meter is the “smart” decision to protect your privacy, your freedom and your wallet. Find out 10 Things About Smart Meters and Solar for more tips from HelioPower on how to legally beat the system.
perfectly legal way to beat the system.

Post Written by
A full-time freelance writer, Dawn frequently covers energy efficiency, green living, and topics like LED lighting and whole home control systems for a number of blogs and technology trade magazines. Dawn is proud to live in New York as the state vies to beat out New Jersey as the East coast top dog of solar energy and is waiting for the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate legislation to pass before installing solar panels on her Long Island home.

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