How Smart are Smart Meters?

The existing electric grid, like many other industries, is made more reliable and efficient with advances in technology. Smart meters are one of the most common investments made by electric utilities to improve and strengthen the grid.

In June 2021, the PUCO approved AES Ohio’s smart grid plan which invests $77.6 million into the installation of smart meters, along with other updated technologies. That plan adds to the approximately 3 million that Ohio’s electric utilities are already authorized to deploy.

What is a smart meter? 

A smart meter is a digital, two-way communicating, upgrade of the traditional residential electric meter. A traditional meter may have physical dials to indicate how much electricity was being used or a digital version that does not have active two-way communication capabilities. Smart meters are able to eliminate in-person meter readings, transmit information about outages to your utility company and provide real-time energy consumption information to consumers.

Who pays for smart meters? 

The cost of smart meter programs is included in your utility bill, which show up on a customer’s monthly electric bill.

Why should I use a smart meter? 

Many smart meters allow customers to monitor their electric usage in real-time, either through a mobile app or website. Customers who monitor their usage may be able to save money by reducing their energy consumption or by managing their consumption with time-of-use rates plans. Time-of-use rates bill higher when there’s more demand for energy, like during the late afternoon/early evening. Customers who time their energy usage to off-peak times are billed less per hour and can save money. Most customers need to enroll to participate in time-of-use rates.

Smart meters can also be used to restore power outages faster and more efficiently. Because of the two-way communication ability, your utility company can tell exactly when and where the power goes out. For example, a power outage may occur while a customer is at work during the day; normally a utility would have to wait until the customer is home after several hours to report the outage. With a smart meter, the utility is made aware of the disruption and can take action to restore service.  However, it is still a good idea to call your utility company if the outage occurred outside of a bad weather occurrence.

What about my privacy and disconnection rights? 

Some customers who receive a smart meter may be concerned about the possibility of unapproved disclosure of their usage information.  Under Ohio Administrative Code (OAC) 4901:1-10-24, electric utilities legally can’t disclose usage information without authorization by the customer.

Additionally, smart meters are only able to tell how much energy is used based on the time of day; no information is collected about what specific equipment is using electricity.

Customers may also be concerned about the remote disconnection for non-payment ability associated with smart meters. Smart meters disconnections are still subject to the same noticing provisions of the OAC disconnection rules as traditional meters, including advanced notices and medical exemptions. However, some utilities have received approval to provide alternative notification.*

In addition to remote disconnection capabilities, smart meters can also remotely reconnect service. With this ability, a customer service can be restored within a matter of minutes instead of hours after a disconnection.

*Some utilities have received waivers to adjust the specific rules. (See Case Nos. 17-1381-EL-WVR and 16-1096-EL-WVR). 

What if I choose not to receive a smart meter? 

All customers in Ohio have the right to opt out of receiving a smart meter for any reason. However, there can be monthly and one-time fees for opting out. Those fees can cover replacement of an existing smart meter or the cost of sending utility workers out for an in-person meter reading.

Information courtesy of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio