Electricity meters

Smart meters are replacing old gas and electricity meters

Welcome to the second in a series of blog posts in which I am trying to provide an insight into the latest craze which is taking the world of utilities by storm . . . smart meters! (You can read ‘Smart meters explained – chapter 1’ here)

In this entry, I would like to cover off a little bit about the technology and explain what’s wrong with the meters we have now and what it is that makes these new ones ‘smart’.

Your current meters at home are often referred to as dummy or analogue meters.   Your electricity meter works by continuously measuring the instantaneous voltage and current and using these to calculate the instantaneous electrical power or watts. This is then taken against a time period to calculate the energy you’ve used. To cut a long story short, we end up with kilowatt hours (kWh) and the more you use, the more money it will cost you. Simple.

Meanwhile, your gas meter measures the volume of gas used. It typically uses a positive displacement model, which basically means that the gas flows through a couple of valves which alternately fill and push out the gas. As the valves move, they crank round levers which in turn trigger a counter. It is the reading on this counter which is used to measure your usage and then produce your bill.

Your existing meters don’t do anything too fancy. As you use more energy, they keep pushing the numbers on the counter higher and higher (although having said that, in 1888, when the electricity meter was first invented, I’m sure they found it very exciting).

Finally, every now and then, someone will come round to your home, read the dials on your meters and make sure that you get a bill. There are a number of tariffs currently available which give you the option of entering your own meter readings – one such example of this is the British Gas range of ‘energy smart’ tariffs.

So that is the old meter, but what about the smart ones?

At a very basic level the new smart meters will do the same thing. The new ones will provide a real-time, accurate record of the gas and electricity you are using, day and night, and how much it costs.

Tied into your new smart meter, there may be a digital display device which will tell you how much energy you are using, and how much it is costing you. Lots of people will tell you that the display will put you in total control of your energy use (which is vital when more and more of us are becoming more energy efficient) but I think we will need to wait and see a little on that one. Some historic usage may be available, so you can see how much energy you used the day before, the week before and even the year before, and how what you have used is changing in real-time.

Smart meters will also mean that there’s no need for your energy company to estimate your consumption, as the smart meter can tell the supplier how much energy is being used and when.

The meters will be set up so that your consumption information is transmitted between you and your energy company. However, it is possible that after you have had a shiny new smart meter fitted it will still be used as a dummy meter and meter readers will still come round before you get a bill.

Smart meters will also make it easier for people who generate their own energy to measure how much they are exporting back to the National Grid. But that is a subject we will tackle a little further down the line.

As well as helping all of us save money, smart meters will also pave the way for a number of innovations aimed at helping us save energy. For example, using the information from your meter, new tariffs could be offered encouraging off-peak energy use. Again, that’s another topic for another day.

I hope this has given you more insight in to smart meters, although arguably this has probably given you more information on how your old meter works. But please stick with me, and by the end of the series you will be a smart metering genius.