Utilities and meter makers are quick to point out how smart meters can reduce consumers’ energy bills, but the motivation behind rolling out smart meters isn’t necessarily first and foremost to help the consumer: It’s to help the utility, and as a result can be a good way to manage energy and fight climate change. But as far as being a benefit to the consumer, the jury is still out. We received a lot of strong reactions to Subodh Nayar’s piece, “Smart Meters Are Not the Answer to the U.S. Power Problem,” and the Wall Street Journal tackles a similar topic this morning, too, in “Smart Meter, Dumb Idea?”
Will digital smart meters help consumers save money on their energy bills? The Wall Street Journal has doubts. The article points out that Houston-based utility CenterPoint Energy has started charging customers an extra $3.24 a month for smart meters and those charges will last a good decade. Some CenterPoint customers aren’t exactly happy — a 71-year-old retired furniture salesman tells the Journal that it’s easy to reduce energy consumption: “You turn down the air conditioner and shut off some lights. I don’t need an expensive meter to do that.” For many, that’s all too true. The article also points out that PG&E (s PCG) has already rolled out 557,000 smart meters that enable consumers to use the web to monitor energy data, but only 12,000 consumers have shown interest in using the program.
But the article misses the fact that the biggest benefits of smart meters aren’t necessarily on the consumer end. Whether or not consumers save money is an afterthought. The old school analog meters that require a guy in a truck to drive out and read them manually are just not an efficient way to do business. And the real benefit of meters will be, as Nayar wrote: “Allowing utilities to create a cost-effective way to implement real-time pricing, demand side management and distribution system monitoring.” The utilities might not want to paint it this way, but smart meters will help them control energy usage a lot more closely, regardless of how much money consumers will save. The power grid needs to go digital and it will cost consumers money initially. Ultimately what we get is a modern power grid, and a way to reduce energy consumption and fight climate change. Utilities’ emphasis on how consumers can reduce their energy bill with smart meters is a way to convince you to go along with it.