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Are Smart Meters Really Smart for Texas Electricity Customers?

December 8, 2010

Every household and business establishment in Texas is required to have an electric meter on their properties. This is only logical since these meters will be the only way for Texas electric companies and the consumer to know the electric consumption of a particular consumer. However, the technologies used for these meters are already over 50 years old and in a world where consumers have the power to choose their electric options, new and better technologies should be developed and used.

Now comes the smart meter that are being distributed and intalled by Transmission and Distribution Service Providers (TDSPs) to more and more areas within the state, such as CenterPoint Energy that distributed Houston Electricity for the city and Oncor for Dallas. These companies are different from the Retail Electric Providers where people pay their electric bills every month.

Smart meters were designed to provide customers more control on how they manage and consume their electricity, giving them the information they need to take control of their electricity bills. Smart meters can help facilitate efficient use of power which consumers need until the time really cheap electricity is available. But issues have arisen questioning the “smartness” of these smart meters. The following will give you a brief overview of smart meters and how they have affected the Texas consumer.

What Are Smart Meters?

Smart meters are also electricity meters but are designed not only to measure electricity usage but can also provide other information that both Texas electric companies and consumers can use and make informed decisions. For consumers, the following are what smart meters can do:

  • Consumers can have a real time look of their electricity consumption instead of getting a one-time reading every end of the month. Readings can be taken and recorded as frequent as every 15 minutes, giving more accurate information of how electricity is consumed by the consumer.
  • Reduces costs for both Texas electric companies and the consumer particularly the costs associated with manpower and resources used for manula meter reading on site.
  • Consumers operating on a budget will have an accurate gauge on their running consumption and costs so they can immediately adjust their electricity usage
  • The data recorded can be analyzed to plot the usage time and history giving consumers an insight of their usage patterns as well as give electric companies information they can use to give incentives for consumer usage during off-peak hours
  • Provides instant power outage alerts to TDSPs for fast action
  • Smart meters can also facilitate pay-per-use schemes

The Texas Public Utility Commission have authorized for TDSPs to distribute and install smart meters in designated areas. The more than 6.3 million consumers using smart meters can access the readings and information through the PUC website www.smartmetertexas.com.

Issues Regarding the Use of Smart Meters

As with any other major changes in society that affect consumers, there are several detractors and issues that go against the deployment and use of smart meters. Some consumers claim that these smart meters are not really “smart” and are defective. The reason for this is that instead of getting reductions in their electricity bills, their bills have actually doubled or even tripled.

The Texas electric companies involved on the other hand claim that these smart meters are not faulty and are functioning properly – and are just reporting the changes in the consumer’s usage pattern and were charged accordingly.

Future Trends of Smart Meters for the Texas Electricity Consumer

Despite these issues and setbacks, the PUC is determined to push through with the rapid deployment of smart meters for major Texas areas such as Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Abilene and soon in other areas as well. The government is awarding additional funding to the utility companies to speed up the work of replacing existing electric meters with smart meter versions. This is part of the government’s overall goal of distributing 40 million smart meters nationwide to reduce US electric consumption by 4% per year.

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