The Smart Grid and Smart Meter
Changes are being made to our nation’s electric power infrastructure. The electric “grid” is becoming what many people call a “smart grid.” The smart grid provides two-way communication between the customer and the utility through digital technology.
One of the most notable technology changes visible to Ohioans is the introduction of the smart meter. Traditionally, residential homes had analog meters—meters with physical dials showing how much electricity the customer has used. A smart meter is a more advanced digital meter. It allows the utility and its customers to monitor electricity usage and can transmit this information back to the utility. When a customer has a smart meter, the utility no longer needs to send someone to the customer’s house to read the meter every month.
One potential benefit of smart meters is that customers can monitor their electric usage, sometimes via the Web. By monitoring power usage, customers may be able to reduce their energy bills by changing the way they use electricity at that moment. A customer might decide to adjust their thermostat to see how it impacts their electric usage. In addition, electric customers can explore optional time-of-day rates through their electric company or provider. Time-of-day rates bill at a higher rate during specific hours when electric is in high demand, but bill at a lower rate during specific hours when electric is in low demand. Through a time-of-day rate plan, a customer could save money by using the dishwasher in the evening hours when the electric rate is lower. For more information about time-of-day rate plans, please contact your electric company.
The smart grid, if properly designed, can also help identify potential service problems and the locations of outages, and can help expedite a utility’s restoration efforts after an outage occurs.
But “smart” technology has raised some consumer concerns. For example, some customers may be concerned with unauthorized disclosure of information regarding their usage.
A bigger concern for consumers is that with a smart meter, utilities can turn a customer’s electricity on and off remotely. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has rules requiring a utility to provide a personal notice to a customer on the day the service is scheduled to be disconnected. With an analog meter, the utility sends a person to the customer’s home to provide the notice and to turn off the electricity for non-payment. But with smart meters, utilities want to make it easier for them to turn off the customer’s power. AEP Ohio and Duke Energy Ohio were each granted a waiver through the PUCO that would allow the utility companies to disconnect customers without a personal notice on the day the service is scheduled to be disconnected. As part of the waiver, AEP Ohio and Duke Energy Ohio must provide additional notifications to the customer leading up to the disconnection of service. But the utility companies no longer need to send someone to the customer’s home, and the companies can turn off the customer’s power, from miles away, with the flick of a switch. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel opposed these waiver requests.
Another issue that has been gaining attention involves a customer’s right to opt out of having a smart meter. AEP Ohio and Duke Energy Ohio customers have the option to refuse or have a smart meter removed from their residence. However, there is a cost to refuse a smart meter. Customers who refuse a smart meter could be assessed a one-time charge, and they will typically be charged a fee every month to account for the cost the utility incurs to send a meter reader to the home. More information about each electric utility’s smart meter program, along with information on how to opt out of a smart meter, can be found on each electric utility’s website:
Duke Energy Ohio - https://www.duke-energy.com/our-company/about-us/smart-grid/smart-meter