The Smart Meter Challenge: To Help Conserve Energy
California practically has the Oregon Trail running in reverse. The state is bogged down in a growing fight over the installing of smart meters. In the State's hot central valley, residents complained that the smart meters spiked their utility bills. In San Francisco, a small but vocal group have been arguing that the antennas are a potential health threat. People in Bolinas and Berkeley have been seen holding up signs declaring "ban the smart meters". Meanwhile, the town of Fairfax and Santa Cruz County are considering to ban the smart meters all together.
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Angry homeowners have accused the meters of gross inaccuracy, blaming them for monthly bills that almost doubled. At least 450 PG&E customers have filed formal complaints with the State Public Utility commission. California regulators have launch an independent investigation that will subject the devices to a battery of lab and field tests.
And it's not just California. In Texas, "hundreds" of customers in Oncor's service district are complaining that the smart meters are not accurate and are causing high energy bills. In Maryland, the Public Services Commission has denied a proposal by Baltimore Gas & Electric to install 1.36 million smart meters. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners supported the finding that the smart meter program may not be in the best interest of the customer.
Contributing to inaccurate power bills is one thing, but there is some evidence of other technical problems. The AMI-SEC Task Force has been working on developing security guidelines and best practices for the smart meter infrastructure. The Task Force is considering the potential problem of cross-site request forgery. Cross site request forgery allows a hacker to hijack cookies stored in a user's browser and obtain access to the users system. In other words, is a smart meters radio signal secure?
Seemingly lost in all the complaints and angry customers, is what the smart meter was designed to do. Very simply, it was designed to bring the delivery system into the 21st century. There are all kinds of tools, gadgets and services being developed that will manage a home's carbon footprint, control energy use and pinpoint energy hogs. The technology will be in place that will let your cell phone monitor your home's energy usage while you are on vacation in Brazil.
Pacific Gas & Electric has installed 6.7 million smart meters since 2007. That means millions of smart meters are doing just fine.
One PG&E customer reports that a smart meter was installed at his house several months ago and just last week began to let him monitor his electric usage on a PG&E website. Being a bit of a tech geek, he reports that he gets a little granular by charting his power usage hour-by-hour, pinpointing power spikes and seeing how lifestyle affects energy consumption. He learned that 21 days into his billing cycle he had used $11 worth of electricity and that his projected total bill will be between $15 and $20. He knows that his power usage peaks around 6 AM and again at 8 PM and that he is using slightly fewer kilowatts this year than the same time last year. He has been able to set up an email alert that notifies him if his electrical consumption kicks him into a higher rate tier.