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Smart Meters Now Installed in Millions of Homes, but Consumers Are Slow to Adopt Dynamic Pricing, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

New, smart utility meters have been installed at a rapid rate at consumers’ locations in major U.S. markets.  For example, CenterPoint Energy has installed 2.3 million smart meters in Houston alone.  These digital meters transmit usage data to utilities, display price fluctuations to customers and alert utilities to service interruptions instantaneously.  The meters save utilities the cost of employing meter readers.  At the same time, they promote conservation, since homeowners can plan activities such as washing clothes or charging plug-in devices at night, when usage on the grid is down and prices are lower.  This variable electricity cost is known as dynamic pricing.  (Electric utilities may find it less expensive to encourage conservation than to go through the extremely difficult process of licensing and constructing new generating capacity.)  Homes with solar panels can use the smart meters to measure and sell excess power back to a utility. 

There’s even the ability, for homeowners willing to participate, for utilities to remotely adjust air conditioning and heating systems to cheaper settings when demand is high.  For example, some Exelon customers can elect to enroll in PeakRewards.  The utility installs a special air conditioning thermostat and water heater switch in the home.  These controls are able to turn off the appliances or reduce usage during times of peak electricity demand.  Homeowners may adjust settings remotely as well.  

However, very few consumers are taking advantage of the capabilities of smart meters and dynamic pricing.  While a small percentage receive text messages from their utilities advising them of changes in electricity prices, most continue with their old habits.  Observers expect it to take many years for consumers to be fully engaged with dynamic electricity pricing.


Internet Research Tip: Smart Meters

For an excellent video explanation of smart meters, how they work and how they save energy, see CenterPoint Energy’s Energy InSight web page:


Widespread use of smart meters creates a smarter network, as their powerful technology allows communication to flow from utilities to consumers and back again.  Technology firms are hoping to cash in on the federal funds-supported smart meter initiative.  Companies including ABB, Cisco Systems, Ambient Corp., IBM and Microsoft have promoted products that support smart grid needs.  ABB, for example, specializes in high-voltage direct current links (HVDC) that are ideally suited for transmitting power over long distances.  Likewise, appliance manufacturers such as General Electric, Whirlpool and LG are developing new, smart products that turn themselves off when electricity demand is high (and most expensive) and back on when demand falls.  Over the long term, consumers will adopt electric appliances, such as clothes dryers, that communicate wirelessly with their smart meters, and thereby know when to start up in order to take advantage of lower electric prices.



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