PG&E Wireless Smart Meter Controversy
Posted by Norman Fong
PG&E has started installing Smart meters in many locations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. These industry standard gas and electric meters measure a customer’s energy use. Electric meters read power consumption hourly, while gas meters record information daily. Both types periodically transmit your energy use information over a secure wireless network back to PG&E or your local utility company. They are said to use 1/1000 of a cell phone’s RF power and transmit data for less than a minute each day.
A wireless smart meter controversy has arisen stating that the meters are not accurate and customers are being overcharged. Hackers may be able to hack into your meter and there are concerns about wireless RF radiation. PG&E counters by saying that a rate increase occurred during the smart meter rollout. Third-party labs need to test the meter to verify accuracy. At the end of May, 2010 PGE finally responded with a report. In early May 2011, PG&E finally admitted that some meters got to hot when internal temperatures past 100°, and misread electrical usage. Customers were overcharged due to this bug.
Smart Meters for Solar and Renewable Energy Customers
In September 2012, we received notification that PG&E was upgrading our power meter to a new one with Smart Meter technology. This allows easy access to monitoring our energy usage and solar power creation. The new meter has a digital display that shows when power is being received or delivered from our power utility. We can also view a break down of net energy usage showing detail down to 15 minute increments. Armed with this data we can find and test different way of saving energy without installing a special energy monitoring system.
Our electric service is probably going to be interrupted for roughly 5 minutes, requiring us to redo some clocks. Additionally we need to check our solar power inverter for correct operation.
After they did the upgrade, we have to wait approximately one week for the new meter to be accessible to their website.
A small minority of people complain about headaches, insomnia, ringing in their ears, and other symptoms once SmartMeters were installed. This is a deeply disputed area though. PG&E has offered non-transmitting meters to these folks, but they content that the power switching device within these digital meters also causes symptoms. There will be a $75 one-time fee to switch to a non-SmartMeter plus a $10 monthly fee. The monthly fee would help pay for utility workers that manually read the meter’s numbers every month.
About 15 million customers Nationwide have these Smart meters, with more added daily.
The pluses of a Smart Meter
Utility companies could allow customers to see how much power, gas they are using. San Diego Gas & Electric even supports Google’s now discontinued PowerMeter. Microsoft Hohm uses Smart Meter data to help you save energy.
PG&E lets SmartMeter customers check their usage power, gas online. You can see how it varies from day to day and compare your usage with others. Seeing your energy use and cost in real time allows you to adjust your lifestyle to reduce your power bill. Some PG&E smartmeters are made by Landis+Gyr. These show how much power you are using right now. SmartMeter technology can also give customers access to new electric pricing plans like the PG&E SmartRate summer pricing plan. If you use less electricity from 2-7 pm, on no more than 15 of the hottest summer days, you will be charged less.
A SmartMeter can alert PG&E or other utility companies if there is a power outage, so the power can be restored faster than before. In the future, a Home Area Network (HAN) will allow you to automate your energy use and take advantage of special variable time pricing plans to help you save money.
Power is measured in kilowatt hours (kwH). If you leave a 100 watt light bulb on for 1 hour a day, for 30 days, you will have used 100 watts x 30 hours = 3000 watt hours = 3 kwH.
In the San Francisco Bay Area most PG&E customers have tiered energy pricing (E1 Residential Pricing plan) that starts at 12 cents, but jumps to 14, 29 cents, 40 cents and 40 cents as you use more power. With a smart meter you know how much you are using. You can sign up for alerts via phone or email that tell you when your are entering a more expensive energy tier.
Future of Smart meters
Smart meters could automatically adjust appliance power consumption during peak times, causing a reducing in power costs. Reliant Energy in Houston has 2 price levels for power in the winter, 3 in Summer. The highest prices are from 4-6pm in the Summer. Cook dinner after 6pm, or turn off the air conditioning for 2 hours, and you will save money.
In California, days that require the most power cause the least efficient and most polluting plants to have to be put online. PG&E has Critical Peak Pricing (CPP) where you pay less in exchange for higher prices 15 days a year.
One thing is for sure, the meters add another RF radiation source to our lives.
If you want to opt out of the SmartMeter program call 877-743-4112.
Wireless Water Meters
San Francisco has been quietly rolling out wireless water meters since 2010. Only 95 people out of 81,000 has objected. This project was important because older water meters were starting to slow down and become inaccurate. The new meters use an analogue signal rather than digital. They communicate four times a day with data collection units scattered throughout San Francisco. Because the meters are out in the sidewalk instead of the side of your house, people maybe more comfortable with them.
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