A smart meter is an electrical device that records consumption of energy in intervals of an hour or less and transmits the data (at least daily) back to the utility. Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system.
Traditionally your electric meter counts the number of kilowatt hours you consume in electricity supplied by Detroit Edison every month. As you know, the meter reader comes out to your house and reads the value on the meter and you are billed accordingly. “Smart meters” are replacements for those meters. What is different about them is that they have a digital display and a 1 watt transmitter that sends your energy consumption record through the airwaves to a collector meter in your neighborhood which in turn transmits the collected information to Detroit Edison. It sounds like an efficient upgrade in their way of doing business. If that is all there is to it, than there is no need to be concerned unless you are a soon to be unemployed meter reader.
Why Have Smart Meters?
According to a Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) report:
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) was charged under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA 2007) with modernizing the nations aging electric grid. This legislation supported electric infrastructure improvements commonly referred to as “smart grid.” In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided $4.5B in Smart Grid Investment Grants (SGIG) for select utilities to develop and demonstrate Smart Grid systems. Numerous utilities nationwide have begun rolling out custom configurations of vendor products to execute their Smart Grid vision.1
Detroit Edison was selected as one of the utility companies to develop and test the “smart grid” improvements. Part of the infrastructure improvement scheme includes updating the meters on every house and business. By the way, did you notice the name of the act that funds this program? Yes, it is stimulus money.
How Do They Work?
“Smart meters” are essentially a mini broadcasting station mounted on the outside of your house. They transmit your electric usage at regular intervals to a collector meter. Instead of a once per month data point which is a summation of your energy consumption, there will now be a record of minute by minute usage. This, in conjunction with computer chips built into modern appliances in the home, has the potential to leave a detailed record of all of your electric usage patterns as well as a record of any abnormal usage of electricity that may occur in your home. It is even conceivable that “smart meters” could recognize which appliances are being used and for how long. This raises the question about two-way communication. Could Detroit Edison control your appliances? Take a look at another interesting report from the MPSC which states:
Certain applications can be identified as deferrable which means to run later in the day, after the peak. These applications may be different among locations, but common loads include residential electric hot-water heaters, central air conditioners, pool pumps, crop-irrigation pumps, etc. With direct load control, these devices are outfitted with communicating controllers that can run a program that limits the duty cycle of the equipment under control. The utility only exercises the option when necessary. During periods of particularly heavy use of electricity, the utility will send a radio signal to the building in its service territory with this controller and turn off the HVAC for a certain period. This type of control has historically involved residential consumers. As utilities implement advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) as part of their Smart Grid programs, the expectation is that utilities will be able to substantially increase the number of residential customers participating in direct load control programs and also expand participation of commercial and industrial customers. Note that direct load control does not include interruptible load, which remains under the control of the customer who can choose to ignore or override the utility’s instructions (usually under financial penalty).2
Is There A Reason To Be Concerned?
The use of “smart meters” raises 4th amendment concerns. The 4th amendment to the Constitution of the United States says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In other words, we as citizens have the right to be secure in our privacy within our own homes. There are many people and organizations which have raised strong objections and concerns that “smart meters” violate the 4th amendment. Is it possible that our private activities can become public knowledge? Can this detailed data be used to incriminate ourselves in a “cap and trade” world if it is deemed that our appliances or habits are outside of their standards?
What Can We As Citizens Do About This?
That is a very good question. Some will say that you can refuse to accept the “smart meter” by putting a sign on you meter refusing the upgrade. Others state that a certified registered letter to Detroit Edison refusing the upgrade can prevent it. Again, there is not a shortage of groups and individuals who are determined to stop “smart meter” installations in their communities and homes. The only advice which can be offered here is to get educated about the issue and talk with you city or township to find out about the plans for deployment in your community. These meters are being installed daily in our area.
1&2 For this and other information, go to the Michigan Attorney General home page and type in “smart meter” in the search area at: http://www.michigan.gov/ag/
Important questions on the topic include:
1) Who pays for the device and installation of a Smart Meter?
2) Who benefits from the installation of a Smart Meter?
Be sure to read the insightful article written by Crain’s Detroit Business, for more current information on the topic.
When the consumer and the service provider agree to implement a strategy to improve services and/or reduce costs, it is a powerful example of free market “capitalism”. However, when our government dictates the services that must be provided by an industry and/or purchased by consumers, that government has clearly taken steps not yet ceded to it by the people who grant it authority. The question is:
How long will the people of this country continue to permit its government to chip away at personal rights?
Note: This editorial post was a collaborative effort by several RATP members. The final edit was completed by Rock Kuchenmeister.