Ah the humble smart meter. Look how sweet that thing looks, I mean that is seriously cool technology. It means no harm either, really; all it wants to do is sit happily in your home, be it in the cupboard, by the electricity meter or proudly on your table, its sole job to read your energy use in real-time and display it in such a way that even the most technophobic amongst us can understand. So why all the bloody fuss and anger?
For those who aren’t too familiar with the ‘smart meter’, here’s a brief summary of them. Smart meters are clever electronic displays which hook up to your house’s energy systems, such as the electricity and gas meters, allowing it to analyse your daily usage and study how you go about your daily energy guzzling life. These can be plugged into almost any system you could throw at it and come in a HUGE variety of types, ranging from portable displays like the GE-invested Onzo one in the picture above, wall-mounted boxes, integrated meter systems, mobile and desktop applications and more, all with the key goal to make reading your energy usage as easy and simple as possible.
Most governments and energy suppliers in Europe and the US are beginning to roll out these smart meters in the millions to each household, generally for free (not something often advertised by energy companies), with installation taking mere minutes and the effects instant. The UK alone is attempting the world’s biggest smart-meter giveaway, planning to install 27 million starting now, a huge proportion of the country’s households. Considering how small and unobtrusive they are physically, they can be implemented in practically any household environment and barely impinge on your routine way of life.
Now here’s the crucial part - these meters, by reading your energy usage in real-time, can allow you to directly see how much electricity is being used, by what appliance if also hooked into the program, and how much this will cost you. All of these values can be quickly compared to past usage, say yesterday or at the same point last week, so that a proper context is given, rather than the potentially confusing and sterile lists given in your usual energy bills.
From these hubs, which could be your smartphone, TV, computer or wall-display, you can then choose to limit the usage on certain items, set alarms or reminders of when not to use so much energy, such as around peak-load times when everyone is putting the kettle on between Eastenders, and generally control your consumption much more efficiently than previously capable. This is also useful from the suppliers and grid controllers point of views, as they will now be dealing with energy consumption on a much more predictable level, meaning that overloads or blackouts will become less frequent and power stations can be ramped up and down more accurately and avoid the loss of energy and release of heat when it is not necessary.
For instance, you may receive a bill one month stating ‘x’ amount of electricity and gas used. The following month, you utilise the smart meter for the first time and see that the washing machine, cooker and TV are all using a majority share of the energy, or that lights being left on is dribbling money out of your bank account. You turn these appliances off, or begin using them only during times of low-demand on the grid, when prices are slightly lower per kW (known as tariffs, which vary depending on time of day), meaning you consume less AND spend less. The next months bill comes in, and bang, you’ve knocked £40 off of it, all because you began smartly managing your consumption. What could be bad about that?