Smart Meters Bring Benefits and Detractors

Utility providers across the U.S are tossing old analog electric meters and replacing them with new smart meters. Smart meters use wireless radio transmitters to send household power usage data directly to power companies, eliminating the need for meter readers, that allow homeowners to track their energy use online.

Florida resident Tom Eastwood was originally unaware that Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) had replaced his electric meter. “It was swapped and I didn’t even know it,” Eastwood told NBC. “They told me it’s the new program, it’s called a smart meter and they gave me a bunch of information about it.”

Eastwood began using the smart meter’s online tracking program to monitor his energy use and in turn, significantly increased his efficiency. Last month, he used just 16 kilowatts a day to run his three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a swimming pool—less than half of the energy used by a typical home in Florida. “Now my bill runs about $50 a month, so I went from $400 to $50,” said Eastwood.

He also praises the tracking program’s ability to inform consumers which household energy efficiency upgrades are the most effective. “If you make a bunch of changes and you can’t tell what you’re using before and what you’re using now, you really can’t tell if it helped,” said Eastwood.

Not all homeowners are as pleased with their smart meter replacements. In fact, public outrage against smart meters has sparked a backlash across the nation. Those opposed to the meters dislike that they are forced upon people without permission and cut needed jobs for meter readers. They also believe the meters pose dangerous health risks and violate a household’s privacy.

“[Smart meters] can make inferences about whether anyone is home, how many people there are, when you are away at work or on vacation, etc.,” said Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “The smart meter is essentially like a telescope into your home… Law enforcement agencies in particular are very keen to be able to see this information.”

FPL dismisses any privacy concerns associated with smart meters, insisting they are not “surveillance devices”.

Still, not all customers are sold. Last week, Maine residents filed arguments with the state Supreme Court, stating they are against the fees imposed and want to keep their existing analog meters and requesting further investigation into the adverse effects smart meters may have on health (some have raised concerns about the meters’ radio frequencies) and privacy issues.

“There are considerable constitutional concerns in regards to these devices,” said Kathleen McGee, a co-plantiff on the case. “Privacy issues in regard to smart meters are very real and affect everyone who has one.”