Utilities - General info

Smart Meters?

Metered utilities are water, gas and electricity.
  • Water and gas meters are analogue (mechanical) devices which show a physical digital display.
  • Electricity meters were also part analogue [but powered by electricity]: they are increasingly not analogue but wholly electrical.

Smartest First ELECTRIC:-
Electricity is different to the other utilities in that small changes to equipment or patterns of use can yield great savings!
  • If you have an old analogue  meter, it should have a numeric display and a rotating disc. The numbers show your reading in kWh and the speed of the disc indicates your current power consumption.
  • The smart equivalent will have no moving parts, only a chip, display and buttons. This chip records your usage in great detail frequently. The display can show various information, such as date/time, power use, any peaks, current(in amps)/voltage etc.
  • All this is currently of very little advantage to a domestic customer, although the ability to display power use could [possibly] be. However the on-going information can be very useful to larger consumers.

Less smart GAS:-
  • New meters are identical to old meters, except for the addition of a tiny pulsing device, a chip and usually an optical interface. Again usage is recorded frequently but not in great detail (because there is only one way to consume gas).
  • All this is of practically no use to the domestic customer. Large users can however benefit from lower tariffs. This is because the lower tariffs involve frequently changing rates; only a smart meter can be reprogrammed with new/changing rates, OR can accurately record consumption in time blocks.

Not smart WATER:-
  • Smart water meters are available, with communication devices. However as far as domestic customers are concerned water and electricity do not mix and as far as I am aware; they are not mixed on domestic meters.

So what's the point?

  • The point is to fit a mobile communication device (comms) onto the device. This is able to send all the collected data to a central computer somewhere: removing the need to have meter readers and benefiting the supplier.
  • A lot more information can be stored accurately about your usage. This benefits suppliers and large consumers in two ways: more complicated lower rated tariffs are available and erratic or wrong usage can be eliminated (by studying the data), thus saving money.
  • The ability of the chip to record everything, will make unusual patterns of use, due to e.g. theft, rather obvious. This is a great safety advantage for gas meters, where a disconnection can result in an immediate shut-off of supply.
  • It is true that some smart meters have a (remote) disconnect relay fitted. This enables a switch from credit to prepay use, if necessary. If you have a smart meter, ask the fitter/supplier.
  • There is talk of future smart devices, e.g. a fridge, which will be able to switch off during expensive energy periods. This has nothing to do with the meter as yet.

Other points

  • Electric meters - at the very least - are certified to record usage accurately for 10 years. When was the last time your meter was replaced [and does it matter]?
  • I imagine that non-analogue [that is smart] electric meters require less electricity to run than their ancestors.
  • Some smart meters do not have comms fitted because mobile coverage is so poor. The chip is happy to store around 6 months of data, which will eventually be read.
  • Domestic water meters are also not fitted with smart meters/comms because of the difficulty of mobile penetration "underground" and because bi-annual inspection is a good thing.
  • Meter readers will still be required to a lesser degree, to look at certain meter sites.
  • Other forms of comms are used abroad but the UK favours mobile.

Smart meters have 2 way comms so that they can be re-programmed by the central computer, should the need arise.
A password is used for remote access, partly explaining why they may only work in a smart fashion with the supplier/owner. Otherwise they will operate in a dumb fashion.

In Home Display (IHD) and Monitors
  • There are monitors available, which can display immediate power use and rough cost. The IHD comes with a newly fitted meter, whereas the generic Monitor usually requires that you clip a "sender" around the main electric cable. Both require batteries.
  • These are smart in the sense that they have a chip and display relevant information. However they are NOT the smart meters that we are all talking about. The IHD may not be transferable to your next metered home.
  • When it comes to displaying current power use, this information is actually available from any meter. Not so readily, admittedly. Just as with calculating immediate cost, this can be done by counting the unit advance on the meter itself [and multiplying up].
  • Of course various Tier1/Tier2/Off Peak and Standing charge influences will not figure in the calculation!