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Smart meters

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Smart meters are electrical use meters, installed at homes and business by power companies, that measure the amount of electricity used, and report that information electronically to the power company for billing purposes. Some smart meters transmit data wirelessly to locally installed receivers, some to roving receivers in vehicles, and some via wired communication lines.

Smart meters can help power companies locate and route around failures in the electrical grid, providing faster, sometimes almost immediate restoration of power to consumers.[1]

Power companies can also use smart meters to turn power service on and off, and charge customers different electrical rates for different times of day or for different uses.

Some companies allow customers to track their own electricity use through web or mobile phone interfaces.

Most importantly, smart meters allow utilities to use variable (time of day) rate schedules, which promotes conservation and allows more efficient utilization of generating capacity, particularly renewable generating capacity.


Old-fashioned "dumb" meters are analog devices that keep track of electricity use mechanically (using spinning wheels) and must be read on-site by a power company meter reader employee. Newer dumb meters measure use electronically but do not have the extra reporting and control features of smart meters.

Fire hazard[edit]

Some early smart meters were associated with fires due to improper installation or to old, faulty connection parts on the customer side.[2] The risk of installing a new smart meter is approximately the same as that of installing a new non-smart meter.

Electromagnetic radiation fears[edit]

There have been many hysterical warnings about the dangers of radiation emanating from smart meter communication transmitters, which transmit for about 45 seconds each day. (Of course, some who claim to have electromagnetic hypersensitivity swear up-and-down that they can tell it's actually on all the time.) Since the electrical equipment in a typical home emits far more radiation that the smart meters do, the only way to be safe is to turn it all off and hide yourself in a Faraday cage.

Invasion of privacy[edit]

Quite frankly you really don't need to know if I ran my margarita blender 40 times in one night.
—Smart meter opponent quoted by Mother Jones[3]

Some people worry that the power company will use power use data to invade a customer's privacy. Another privacy concern is that the data transmitted by smart meters could be hacked, allowing potential burglars to know when no one's home, although no known instance of house burglars hacking power grid data banks is known. Burglars can still just look at the meter on the side of your house. Additionally, the meter will not differentiate between "Someone is home" power draws (lights, computers, TV) and appliances that draw power even when the house is vacant, such as refrigerators, water heaters, and basement dehumidifiers.

Serious privacy organizations (e.g. the Open Rights Group in the UK, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation) advocate risk assessments and privacy protection rules for smart meter technology.[4][5] Many governments have passed legislation regulating the use of smart meter data.[6]

Organised opposition[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Numerous groups have formed around the world to oppose smart meters for reasons ranging from fear of radiation to fear of Big Brother, falling along the political spectrum from left to right.[7] For example, according to Stop Smartmeters! UK, "The 'Smart' Meter is #1 in terms of devastation to our nervous system... [the radiation] permanently destroys and alters the manufacture of brain proteins ... meaning that it completely changes the human organism - permanently."[8] Alliance for Natural Health Europe compares smart meters to genetically modified foods, claiming both are untested and potentially deadly.[9] Fringe groups have made smart meters part of myriad conspiracy theories[10]


BC Hydro, British Columbia's power company, announced in 2011 that they would be introducing smart metering to their clients.[11] The outrage was as to be expected,[12] but resistance proved inevitably futile for most.[13]

Tiered pricing[edit]

Some power companies use smart meters to offer tiered electricity pricing to customers - charging more for power at hours of peak demand (say, during the middle of the day), and less at other times. Power companies save money this way because last-resort peak power sources are very expensive. Customers who avail themselves of this option can save money by choosing to run appliances like dishwashers at cheaper hours, but some 12-year-olds civil libertarians object on principle to being "told" when to wash the dishes.

Another option offered by some power companies is to allow the power company to turn off your air conditioner during emergencies to prevent brownouts, in exchange for a monthly credit.

See also[edit]