Reader discusses potential of SmartMeters

To the Editor:

The Guest View in Wednesday’s Daily Freeman-Journal on “How we pay for electricity” was more interesting for what it didn’t say than for what it did.

1. It didn’t say that SmartMeters capable of measuring electricity use and time of use (demand) have used in Europe for almost a decade now.

2. It didn’t say that SmartMeters have been (and are being) installed by a number of REC’s across the state including Prairie Energy which serves the area surrounding Webster City. Both buy their electricity from the same source Corn Belt Power Cooperative.

3. The U.S. Government is actively pushing the installation of SmartMeters as part of the national SmartGrid program. Indeed, the acquisition and installation of many is being subsidized by the Stimulus Bill.

4. SmartMeters can be very consumer friendly or have a devastating impact depending upon how they are specified. If each meter provides real time feedback (say 1 second readings with 1 watt accuracy) to customers via a display controller installed in the house, the customer wins. Each customer can actively monitor and control electricity use and demand charges. “Stuff” already exists to let consumers control the time an appliance (water heater, clothes dryer, air conditioner, lights, etc.) will start/stop and how it will operate. Simple things like drying clothes in the middle of the night or telling the water heater to bring the water back up to temperatuer after you have gone to bed can have significant impacts on electric bills.

5. SmartMeters can also be used to hose a customer. If real-time electricity use data is not provided to the customer, the consumer’s opportunity to actively control use and denabd charges is eliminated. Summary data on your use obtained from a distant web site hours or days after the fact effectively inhibits individual management. Consumer oversight is important.

6. Fortunately, consumers have the freedom to purchase monitoring systems from independent third parties such as “The Energy Detective” ( This insures that useful data is available even though your utility doesn’t want you to have it and even though it increases the complexity and costs for individual consumers.

7. Unfortunately, good SmartMeters allow for the “deconvolution” of a data stream. Uncontrolled access to this data can be very intrusive into personal lives. For example, it can determine how many times the refrigerator door was opened, what time(s) it was opened, for how long it was kept open each time and the cost of the electricity used to bring the temperature back down. This is good if that is private data used by the customer to evaluate the need for a better refrigerator. This is not so good if that data is sold to an appliance store or a pharmaceutical company (think insomnia, etc.).

SmartMeters are coming to Webster City because they save a utility money. With central management, there is no need for meter reading, electricity turn on (AND turn off) requires a couple of key clicks, electricity use by an individual user can be throttled, and more. The only question is when.

So the residents of Webster City might as well push their public officials to make the right decision (with intensive public oversight) install SmartMeters and deal with all of the issues that entails. Then every resident will have direct control over both the use and demand charges on their bill.

Lon Crosby

Webster City