3 Feb
2012

PG&E Wireless Smart Meter Controversy

Posted by Norman F

PGE smart meter wireless power meter

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.

Health Effects

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 used Smart Meter data to help you save energy.

smart meter energy use report

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.

Posted on February 3rd, 2012
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5 Responses to “PG&E Wireless Smart Meter Controversy”

  1. Microsoft Hohm Energy Saving Website - Smart Grid | Easy Eco Blog Says:

    […] Washington, and the Midwest can connect their utility providers data directly to Microsoft Hohm.  Smart Meters enable this type of […]

  2. Ways to Save Energy, Money on your Utility Bill | Easy Eco Blog Says:

    […] with connectivity to Google’s new PowerMeter tools and even an iPhone app. Power company Wireless Smart Meters extended this capability to more folks.  Microsoft’s Hohm ties into this capability to help […]

  3. Andrew Korsak Says:

    There are serious technical concerns regarding the accuracy of the (a) “smart meters” and (b) traditional meters.

    a. “Smart Meters” sample simultaneous voltage and current values during selected very short segments of 60 Hz AC cycles. Then they “do the math” correctly to compute the instantaneous value for the actual power consumed which they then accumulate appropriately as time goes on to report kWh values of energy consumed at certain points in time. The trouble is that to do a really accurate measurement may cost too much, so it has been reported that these meters may be making approximations that “cheat” customers under certain conditions of load type, like an inductive load by an electrical motor in a fridge or a capacitive or nonlinear load presented by computers and TV’s. On the other hand, it has also been speculated that power companies may actually be losing money because their “smart meters” are not sampling well enough to measure properly the real energy consumed by such devices.

    b. The old “spinning disk” meters are suspected of improperly measuring power consumed by devices like compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) whose current waveforms are highly non-sinusoidal and the disk spin may not respond properly to some higher order harmonics of 60 Hz. Also common AC current meters which actually measure average current and then display a “root-mean-square” (RMS) value (by appropriate compensation in their calibration) will display a valid current value only when the voltage and current waveforms are sinusoidal. Therefore, it could be that power companies or energy consumers are “cheated” depending on what the waveforms look like.

    I an some amateur radio friends who are technically knowledgeable in this area are currently setting up experiments and doing measurements with CFL’s and other loads like PC’s and TV’s.

  4. Google PowerMeter Electricity Usage Monitoring Tool | Easy Eco Blog Says:

    […] local utility companies have Smart meters that show instantaneous and cumulative power usage without the need to buy anything extra. […]

  5. How to Make your Business Energy-Efficient | Easy Eco Blog Says:

    […] with connectivity to Google’s new PowerMeter tools and even an iPhone app. Power company Wireless Smart Meters extended this capability to more folks. Microsoft’s Hohm ties into this capability to help […]

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