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Smart Meters Frequently Asked Consumer Questions

Q.  Why is it necessary to upgrade the electric distribution system?

A.  On average we are all using more energy in our homes and businesses, powering more consumer electronics, appliances and recharging batteries for everything from a mobile phone to an electric vehicle. Energy consumption is expected to continue doubling every twenty years, increasing the need for even more use of the electricity we generate. With our nation’s electrical power infrastructure rapidly running up against its limitations the electric industry has found it necessary to upgrade the antiquated system (parts of it are older than its expected lifespan) with more modern technology. A smarter power grid will give utilities tools to meet current energy challenges and help power affordable for consumers.

Q.  What is the smart grid?

A.  The smart grid may be thought of as the internet brought to our electric system. It modernizes communication and the flow of information in ways that allow utilities to improve energy efficiency and improve reliability. The smart grid is not a single thing, but rather an entire delivery system that runs from major power plants all the way to our homes and provides detailed information and remote control of devices used to deliver energy to consumers. Many parts of the smart grid are already in place and will make our electric system more efficient, reliable, resilient and responsive.

Q.  What is Advance Metering Infrastructure and why is it important?

A.  Advanced Metering Infrastructure comprises three key elements: advanced or smart meters, meter communication and data management. The combination of all three is vital to the development of a smart grid.

Q.  Why do we need new meters?

A.  During the 20th century, meter technology did not change much. Older metering units on many homes and businesses today are similar to the meter that was installed 50 years ago. In fact, many consumers have meters that are 35-40 years old.  Advanced meters are modern, digital meters that provide information utilities use to manage the system more efficiently and improve reliability.

Q.  What is an advanced meter?

A.  An advanced meter is an electrical measurement device that determines how much energy is used and when it is used, the number and duration of power interruptions, voltage levels and other information that is useful for delivering energy reliably and efficiently. Advanced Meters are part of a communication network between customer and utility, enabling functions such as automated meter reading, outage detection, real-time pricing and power quality monitoring.

Q.  How do advanced meters communicate?

A.  Meters communicate using a variety of methods; two common modes are Radio Frequency (RF) and Power Line Carrier (PLC) networks.

Q.  How do Radio Frequency meters communicate and transmit data?

A.  Some meters use a radio signal in a selected frequency range to transmit and receive information. The meters are part of a mesh network, meaning that each meter can act as a router to transmit signals from other meters to and from our office. The meters are able to transmit messages in a matter of milliseconds at power levels less than half of a mobile phone. This technology has been used effectively in the utility industry for over 20 years.

Q.  How do Power Line Carrier meters communicate and transmit data?

A.  Power Line Carrier (PLC) communicate by sending data over power lines back to the substation, then to a central computer in the utility's main office. The low-power communication module uses electricity in a unique pattern that represents the value of metering data. The transmitting signal operates within a narrow bandwidth and stays confined to the power line. This tested technology has a long and successful history of use for automating tasks and communication in the utility industry. Because it uses the power lines for its communication network, it is a very cost effective way of managing information from electric meters.

Q.  How will advanced meters benefit customers?

A.  Advanced meters will help [Utility Name] continue to provide affordable energy and reliable service, while providing these additional improvements:

  • automatic meter readings
  • more accurate and timely billing  
  • better power quality and reliability
  • automatic outage notification
  • lower power costs

Q.  How do I know advanced meters measure energy use accurately?

A.  Advanced meter technology has been thoroughly tested by manufacturers and utilities using a wide range of tests and equipment to ensure that the meters adhere to the established meter accuracy guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). [Utility Name] meters are tested by the manufacturer and we also test a random sample of meters before installing them at customer locations. Tests have shown that advanced meters are very accurate and reliable.

Q.  Do I own my electric meter?

A.  Electric meters are owned, installed, and maintained by [Utility Name] as a condition of providing electric service to the customer. The meter base and service entrance cables are the customer’s responsibility. A qualified electrician should make repairs to the meter base and service entrance cables to ensure the system provides safe, reliable service.

Q. How do we know that the billing usage data being sent wirelessly is actually my data and does not belong to my neighbor?

A.  When data is collected from a meter and transmitted wirelessly to [Utility Name], the data contains specific unique identifiers associated with the customer’s meter number and service address. These fields are validated numerous times to ensure accuracy before the data is used for billing. This process is similar to mobile phone technology; each phone has a unique number that goes with every communication which is used to identify a cell tower and connect your call to the correct location. [Utility Name] abides by stringent policies to protect the privacy and security of our customers’ personal information. We do not sell customer data to any third party and the data from advanced meters is strictly confidential and only used for electrical distribution, monitoring and billing purposes.

Q.  Is the advanced meter network secure?

A.  Yes, utilities are subject to standards developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) designed to ensure security of utility networks. The utility industry has extensive experience in maintaining cyber security on the information systems needed to operate the grid, including advanced meters. Protection begins at the meter itself, where meter technology defends against hacking and information is encoded whenever your data is transmitted. [Utility Name] takes all reasonable and necessary steps to ensure the services we provide use validated and proven security measures.

Q:  Are advance meters a cause for health concerns?

A:  Advanced meters and communication networks are certified to federal standards for safe and secure operation. Advanced meters are electrical devises with communication capabilities, and as such they emit energy. These emissions are well below the limits set for safe operations and in fact are well below the emissions for many common household devices such as microwave ovens, cordless phones and internet routers. 

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