The so-called “Internet of Things” is a hot topic these days, and is not without controversy. On the one hand, being able to see inside your house from your phone or tune into the Weather Channel on your refrigerator door has definite advantages—plus it’s pretty cool. At the same time, tales abound of home networks being hacked by everyone from cyber crooks to Peeping Toms.
Among the many things you can add to your collection of “smart” devices is an electric meter. If you’re considering switching to a smart meter—or if your utility company is pressuring you to do so—here’s a look at some of the pros and cons. First…
What is a Smart Meter?
Smart meters constantly monitor the electrical usage at your home or business. They use algorithms to establish profiles of up to twenty different devices on your system and collect real-time data on use and performance. This information can be used by the customer in a variety of ways, from planning to identifying problems. Other devices, such as Xcel Energy’s Saver’s Switch, aren’t meters, per se, but switches that cycle off and on during times of peak energy use on the company’s power network.
What Are the Benefits of a Smart Meter?
Since the meter visualizes the power consumption of each monitored device, users can see when certain things are on, how long they’re on, and how often they’re used. They can use this information to make informed choices about how and when energy is used in their home or business. Since these devices are constantly monitored, a smart meter can also let users know when problems occur, such as a bad seal on a refrigerator or a failing motor causing that item to consume more energy than usual. Customers with solar or other alternate energy sources will find that readings are more accurate when they’re actually adding power to the grid instead of consuming it.
Smart meters benefit the power companies, too. Since they transmit data back to the utility, that data can be used to distribute power more efficiently and help users consume it less expensively. And since the meter is talking to the power company, they save money by not having to read the meter manually.
Is There a Downside to Smart Meters?
The biggest concerns some people have about smart meters fall into two categories—privacy and “hackability.” Smart meters feed data back to your power company and show use patterns in greater detail than standard meters do. The data is customer-specific rather than anonymous, so if you have concerns about sharing that information, a smart meter isn’t your cup of tea.
The bigger concern, though, is the accessibility of the meter and its data to unauthorized sources through breaches in its security. Unfortunately, access to home networks through so-called smart devices can be relatively easy for hackers in the know. Appliances and some electronics are particularly vulnerable since manufacturers, especially of cheaper devices, may not build in strong enough security. This is less true of smart electric meters, but theoretically, anything is hackable with the right tools in the wrong hands.
Taking over a smart meter could result in inaccurate or fraudulent billing or even deliberate overloading of your wiring causing outages, damage or even fires. Likely? No. Possible? Maybe.
What’s the Answer?
Smart electric meters are the wave of the future. Power companies and environmentalists are big proponents, and there may eventually be penalties for choosing to not have one—if you even have a choice. The best advice for safety and security is to know what you have on your network and how to secure it properly.
The pros at Allstar Electrical Services have installed hundreds of electric meters in both homes and commercial properties, and can do the job efficiently, quickly and take care of all the connections with the local utility company. We can check your electrical system for proper load protection and look at your network to make sure it’s operating properly and securely. Call us at 303-399-7420 to find out more.