Smart Meters Texas
Smart meters in Texas have grown in popularity over the last decade and have subsequently been pushed to replace our beloved traditional electricity meter. So what's the impact on Texans? Here, we dive into the "All About..." on how they could potentially change your electricity consumption habits, lower your electric bill (and prevent frustrating inaccuracies), and what has been seen so far for residents who've alread had them installed.
What Is A Smart Electric Meter?
Simply put, a smart meter is an electricity meter that is able to determine not just how much electricity you used, but when you consumed it. A traditional automatic meter reading (AMR) tracks your electricity usage, against which your utility company applies an average price for the previous month in order to determine your bill. However, electricity prices vary throughout the day, spiking in periods of high demand, and falling dramatically during periods of low demand--like during the night.
As electricity markets have become deregulated, companies have searched for better ways of pricing the electricity they provide, in order to charge consumers for the electricity that they use, when they use it. Additionally, because smart meters can be read remotely (on-demand), electricity and gas companies see them as a means of enormous efficiency. While smart meters do not in themselves constitute a "smart grid," they form an integral part of one.
Smart Meter Benefits
Apart from correlating with our appreciation with other "Smart" devices currently on the market, how do we know if a Smart Meter really lives up to our highly regarded (Smart) expectation? What's so good about it anyway?
Upon ERCOT's Smart Meters roll-out, the Public Utilities Commission of Texas noted the pros:
- The most well-known: On-Demand reads of each meter
- Faster completion of service orders relating to Moving-In / Moving-Out, Meter Re-Reads, Making the switch between REPs, facilitation of Disconnection / Reconnections, and quicker response times to outages
- Reduced usage during peak periods and conditions involving scarcity
- Cost savings for utility operations, thanks to enabled wireless communication - like less expenditure on meter readings and increased detection of outages
- The ability to manage response to demand during peak seasons
Additionally, being able to access data gathered by a Smart Meter on SmartMeterTexas.com makes it a bit more convenient than having to step outside and re-discover the actual meter for a reading. And it's not only the ease, but the information derived from the data itself that has shown to be particularly useful in managing the day-to-day and month-to-month usage.
Pitfalls with Smart Meters
Regarded as a substantial advance in overall control of electricity (production demand, supply needs, efficiency in service, and household use management) ... it can't be all roses, right? Sounds too good to be true?
Some community organizations have charged that smart meters, which communicate on a wireless system, emit high levels of electromagnetic frequencies that could cause negative health consequences. The Texas Public Utility Commission maintains that EM frequencies are far below the FCC's standard, and that smart meters are safe.
Additionally, opponents have raised privacy concerns regarding the data that is collected by utilities about consumers and their electricity usage habits.
Smart Meter Complaints and Danger
Sifting through smart meter complaints, it's fair to say (and rightly so) that one of the biggest concerns is privacy.
When it comes to the quantity of data that is being collected on our electricity use, how that data is used and any potential abuse can throw up some serious red flags (not to mention the possibility of it being hacked or stolen). Which is why it is all the more important for grids to have strong privacy protections in place.
What data is gathered?
Concerning the type of data, we can all rest assured knowing that no customer-identifying information (like names and addresses) is collected. In fact, smart meter data contains the same exact type of data that was reported from the older analog meter - just much more of it! The typical read time for Smart Meters is about every 15 minutes, meaning a reading frequency of x2,880 more than the monthly-read analog meter.
Is my data protected?
The protection level of this usage data is top-notch. Digital Smart Meter data (safeguarded using the same advanced methods seen in online banking and ATMs) is encrypted or coded, then sent through a system-spanning, multi-layer secured network to the utility.
The utility company's security standards are kept up to date as they work alongside the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology - all in the name of consumer protection.
For more info on smart energy and grid modernization, check out Smart Energy Consumer Collaborative.
Other Smart Meter Concerns
Apart from Smart Meter data, other common concerns include:
- Inaccuracy of electricity usage as alleged by users seeing spikes in billing (although, investigative reporting by the Texas Tribune in 2010 showned the Smart Meters having an accurracy of 99.96%)
- Lack of transparency by utility companies that may try to leverage the richly dense data to discretely switch up energy rates at specific times during the day (as brought to light in a class-action lawsuit against Oncor which was eventually dismissed)
- Reported health issues although it is worth noting a state's Supreme Court has ruled that smart meters pose no credible health or safety threat and based its opinion on over 100 peer-reviewed scientific studies about the tech's safety impacts
Smart Meters had their fair share of dings to their smartness, hits to their acceptance by customers and annual ban after annual ban by select counties across the US during the first half of the 2010's. Nowadays it seems many customers have gotten used to the idea and Smart Meters have found their way to more normalcy as the "new standard" with the traditional analog meters becoming more of a thing of the past.
What's the Smart Meter Alternative Option?
Well, if you're still feeling skeptical, a choice remains- but at a cost. Users who wish to opt-out of, or replace a smart meter with a traditional one have the right to do so, but could face one-time or recurring charges for either keeping an analog meter in place, or having a smart meter removed and replaced with an analog meter:
- American Electric Power (Central Texas) - $200 to keep an analog meter, or $300 + $18/month to replace a smart meter with an analog one.
- American Electric Power (North Texas) - $200 to keep an analog meter, or $356 + $35/month to replace a smart meter with an analog one.
- Oncor - $400 to keep an analog meter, or $842 + $25/month to replace a smart meter with an analog one.
How Can A Smart Meter Affect Your Electricity Bill?
Having a smart meter potentially helps you to save you money! A smart meter is often combined with a smart monitor, a device that notifies you of your real time electricity consumption.
By adapting or aligning your electricity-related routines to the least expensive parts of the day (like running the dishwasher at night), and by giving you information that can help you moderate your electricity use, a smart meter could potentially save you money on your monthly electric bill.
One study found that on average, smart meters help reduce electricity consumption by 3 to 5%!
Of course, a smart meter could also result in higher electricity prices if much of your consumption occurs during peak periods, where the market price of energy is above what the average, end-of-month price would be.
Smart Meters In Texas
Smart Meter Texas™ (SMT) -endorsed by The Public Utility Commission of Texas- provides secure customer access to their stored Smart Meter data and is a Big Five Utility Company collaborative effort involving the following:
- AEP Texas Central Company
- AEP Texas North Company
- CenterPoint Energy Houston Electric, LLC
- Oncor Electric Delivery Company LLC
- Texas-New Mexico Power Company
Austin Energy has been one of the Texas utilities to roll out smart meters on a large scale. Having begun in 2008, Austin Energy has so far deployed nearly 400,000 residential and commercial smart meters.
In Houston, Centerpoint Energy is currently upgrading its network to provide smart meters to its 2 million customers, and even got a $200 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to do so.
Dallas based Oncor Electric completed delivery of smart meters to its 3 million electricity customers in 2013. Its smart meters can determine electricity prices at 15-minute intervals.
CPS Energy in San Antonio equipped all of its customers (both electricity and gas) with smart meters at the end of 2016, and has made real-time data available to customers on its website.