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back to article Pitchfork-wielding mobs encircle smart meters

A push by California's electricity provider to modernize its power grid is turning into a public relations disaster, as allegations mount that it's responsible for stratospheric overcharges. At issue are the 10 million smart meters Pacific Gas & Electric, or PG&E, is rolling out to customers throughout the state. The digital …

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200 on average?

In bakersfield? Sure, maybe in winter.

My PGE bills in San Jose were average $250/month for a 4 bed house during october-april and about $650/month during may-september (gas for heating costs a lot less than the electricity for a/c from PGE). I would imagine PGE costs for any substantial house in the (much hotter) bakersfield area would easily be $600. If hes getting a $500 bill for summer months, then hes getting a bargain in todays cali energy prices.

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WTF?

Double check?

When they install the smart meter, just keep your old analog meter as well.

If there is a problem then you can say, 'My smart reader read X while the analog one read Y' and if they are accurate then there shouldnt be much difference.

The only real question is how long until someone works out the protocols used and fiddles with their power usage. :)

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Unhappy

maybe.... just maybe...

and i dont want to piss anyone off, but there is a slight possibility the old meter wasat fault and have been getting undercharged,,,,,

but besides that, the electricity company deciding when i can do my washing? i think not.. if they cant supply enough power, you shouldent supply them money !!!

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Black Helicopters

Solution:

Do not allow smart meters to be installed as the sole means of measuring usage.

Make all power companies fit a standard quarterly meter in addition (preferably a good old fashioned mechanical meter*) to allow a simple correlation to be made by the customer.

Last but not least, the customer should then only ever be charged the lowest reading.

*i'm not sure whether the newer electronic meters can deteriorate over time, or what the level of accuracy is to begin with - with things like resistors you have different tolerances that would affect accuracy, and with capacitors, there's the ongoing saga over bad electrolyte.

It's like the argument over speed cameras - the fundamental issue of accuracy is one that was going to court recently - someone was ticketed, but when tested, the flashes between images was incorrectly timed - so anyone who went past was alleged to have been going faster due to the incorrect (slow) operation of the flash.

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FAIL

People don't realise how different software is

> "If the accuracy was in question, all the meters would be

> showing errors because it would be a structural issue," he

> said. To date, the complaints amount to a tiny fraction of

> the people using them.

Typical example of people assuming that computerised stuff has the same failure modes as non-computerised stuff. He's wrong.

Non-computerised stuff tends to be roughly consistent - either consistently right or consistently wrong. But badly-programmed software can be totally unpredictable. Computerised stuff may work perfectly 99.99% of the time, then occasionally triple someone's bill for no reason.

One example of a "it can't possibly happen" software bug: OpenOffice can't print on Tuesdays. Source:

https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/cupsys/+bug/255161

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Maybe....

I know its probably a bit unlikely, but could it be that the old meters were just underreporting? - The fault not with the new, but with the old?

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FAIL

digital vs. rusty analog

I was talking to a PG&E engineer who told me some of the old analog (mechanical) meters are over 40 years old, and tend to run slow, or sometimes not at all. The consultant should also test the meters that are being pulled out of service! She related a few of the stories - one customer had a 12,000 square foot house (~1100 m^2?), and because of some troubles the customer wasn't billed for two months, then had a three-month bill that ran into five figures.

I'm more worried about the viruses that are possible with the smart meters!

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Boffin

Hacking?

Connect an AC outlet to a PC scope to log with no domestic load, the scope logs will then point the way on how to hack these meters to the customers advantage!

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Corporate spin at its worst

"If the accuracy was in question, all the meters would be showing errors because it would be a structural issue"

Thats not even an intelligent lie.

My guess is that these ***remotely programmable*** devices are being 'hacked' by the power company itself to make more bucks. It's not the first time big companies play this trick, and it won't be the last. A warmer summer causing a 200% increase in the power bill? what else?

Whoever designs these 'meters could take some hints from the voting machines fiascoes, i.e. 'open source', 'independent audits' and 'paper trail', among others.

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Here's an idea

Maybe the old analog meters that were replaced were under reading?

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FAIL

Concumer surplus

Its the reason that corporations are embracing green behaviours by consumers: you reduce what they consume but still charge them the same total price. Result? More profit. Smart meters are a more insidious version of this in that the company can track their profit and adjust prices accordingly on a continuous basis. The idea they would encourage you to use less of their product is nonsensical unless they are charging more per unit.

In addition you can drive people into using your product when it suits you rather than when it suits them.

You only have to look at the mothballing of power plant in the 1990s purely to restrict supply and push up prices...they have no other motive than profit, and green does not come into it.

The idea that consumers will benefit from smart metering is laughable.

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Welcome

I really don't see the problem here.

Power companies must make profits. Who can they make them from but the customer?

These meters represent a twofold solution. They get rid of those feckless, pesky, unreliable meter readers and complaints from customers that the meter reader recorded the wrong value or they dispute the meter reading. They also allow direct management of demand so that the Power company only has to invest in enough capacity to keep supplies going.

OK, there may be a few teething problems and there might be a few disputable cases of "overcharging" but generally it's a goooood thing - so, "move along there, nothing to see..."

(The subtext in all this is "you're getting smart meters whether you like it or not, because its good for our profits/bonuses/shareholders/business and if it causes a few problems along the way then that is the price you will have to pay for cheap and nasty, inadequately developed and tested technology rolled out by incompetents and managed by high paid morons!")

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How secure?

Just how secure are these? How long before someone hacks them and then uses for mischief or to cause trouble by buggering the grid?

Is the security under my control? Does it sit behind my firewall? Does it pose any threat to my own network?

I have seen adverts for the meters here, and it will be a cold day in hell before I fit one without finding out A LOT more about how they work and ensuring they are secure.

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Boffin

Crystal thermal tolerance?

It would be important to know the tolerance of the crystal that is used as the clock in these meters. Perhaps someone can 'play' with some liquid nitrogen and various loads to discover the truth?

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OMFG!

Security? From what?

This thing has no more internal intelligence than a modem does itself. There's no "operating system" to hack, just a base firmware, factory burned into a non reqriteable ROM. ALL of the intelligence is upstream in the collectors, meaning that if THAT connection was hacked, the data in your meter would be a valid backup.

Also, these things run on cycles. Even my local city water conpany throws flags when my readings are more than normal out of whack vs the previous year's reading, and once they called me to tell me there was an issue, and they KNEW i had not used 6X the water of the previous month and came and replaced the meter and waived the balance of the bill that was different from last year's read.

Also, in typical communities, power use from home to home is regularly predictable. The power company knows the SQ feet of your house, and can compare it to other homes on your block with similar size and age when there's an issue.

Hacking the meter? for what purpose??? It;s not connected to your network. The "smartmeter" devices like your dryer or air conditioner communicate to it through your power lines, not over your home IP network, so it;s a segregated (essentially firewalled) communication system. Its also compatible with traditional homeplug adapters on the same line without interfering (uses a different frequency range and protocol as not to interfere wit home IP services, even over power lines).

Even if the meter was vulnerable, there are no protocols for your home devices to communicate outside of your meter, nor are there any systems outside your meter that communicate with your devices. Your home devices communicate with the meter itself, and it and only it communicates with the power company. No personal information (other than a device ID) is ever communicated to the power company. The power company's networok is also NOT the internet, so it's also immune from direct attack.

This is SECURE.

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Boffin

Secure? GREAT!

So, you are telling me that there is a network being installed, that everyone is being issued a connect device for, that operates through the distribution power lines?

SWEET! I was wondering how everyone was going to torrent when the IP pipes were restricted/shaped/cut off.

Since they have to leave the channels open (at least to the collector), then this provides, at a minimum, localized sub nets for communities to share files amongst themselves. And, as long as it doesn't interfere with the meters, they wouldn't know.

Now, that's not quite correct. Any copper wire is limited on the number of electrons that will/can flow through it, based on the gauge of the wire. That means that cross interference from even distinct frequencies on the same wire can/will cause distortion of the individual signals (crosstalk). There was talk about "turtle" modems for power line/meter communication running at about 10-30 bps, mostly because the overwhelming ELF from AC transmission (25,000+ V) blasted anything higher. Internal home networks running 120/240 V @ 15-20A are much more well behaved.

Thanks to digital processing, this means that such distortion is dropped, but that will limit the bandwidth/throughput. But any "excess" interference (which, by FCC regs, at least, MUST be accepted that could cause "unwanted" operation) cannot be shielded or blocked. So, all this happy, expensive kit being installed is rendered low by having a cheap, slightly off phase device plugged into the home power circuit, preferably between the meter and the box, as you would have for a home energy solution, so the box does not limit the "buy back" leccy to the power company. And, since anything after the meter is the responsibility and property of the consumer, the power company can't even investigate without the consumer's permission.

Huh, seems ripe for fraud to me, from both sides.

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FAIL

so Naive!

ALL software has bugs, all systems have an exploitable weakness, next you'll be telling me I haven't been able to hack my prepaid meter to my favour. Drop the hype and get a grip.

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Washing machines?

"During periods of peak usage, for instance, the meters can automatically tell washing machines to stop running until power is more plentiful."

How does the smart meter instruct the washing machine to stop running, and not other devices? Or is there about to be a whole new range of devices that can be individually instructed in this manner? If so, through a signal through the mains cable itself, or WiFi perhaps? Or to instruct an indivudual power socket in the home?

All seems somewhat fanciful for now, albeit not impossible, but seems a lot more needs to be done.

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Re: Washing machines?

Yes, the idea is to use a low-bandwidth networking protocol transmitted directly through the mains. Smart grids, smart meters, and smart appliances would be able to access this network and communicate about power loads and so on.

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Actually, this is false.

The meter does not tell your appliances ANYTHING. They POLL the meter for current grid status before performing a power intensive operation (spinning up). Once running, they are NEVER told to power down. Even if tols to not spin up, the delay for spinup of a device is capped at 15 minutes.

It's possible that durring a machine wash cycle, you can say finish the wash cycle and the machine drains, but the machine might "pause" waiting for available power to perform a spin up for the spin cycle.

Typical "pauses" are 1-3 minutes, and 70-80% of the time there won't be one at all.

This technology is not about how much power the power plant can produce, it's about LOCAL brownout control. You can't have 400 homes all spin up air conditioners out of 600 in the same 1 minute block of time without making upstream adjustments in power generation and delivery (or experiencijng brownouts). However, by delaying some of them 1 minute, some 2, some 3, etc, the PEAK, short duration draw is normalized, and the grid does not need to react to changes in power except gradually throughout hot, cold, day, and night periods of the day. This is slow-spin power generation, and eliminates heavy reliance on quick spin dirty power generation systems that handle brownout mitigation.

In essence, instead of controlling power from the plant to regions of the city, now the local regions control their own power and make upstream requests as needed for constant power draw, and no longer to handle 3-15 second spikes in power delivery needs.

This system is cheaper for the power company to operate, provides cleaner energy from constant on power generators, and eliminates localized brownouts.

Suchg a system is also critical in power outage scenarios, where hundreds of homes all come on line concurrently after a main line outage. now, lights come on quick, maybe stoves too. Small appliances are also available instantly. AC's can typically wait, as a 5 minute delay in AC spin up typically means less than 0.5 degrees in variance max. Your refrigerator is likely one of the least imprtant appliances in the house, as is the water heater (in terms of thermal loss for extended periods). As power is returned to the community gradually, over 5-10 minutes everything comes back oin, as opposed to all at once, which is a huge burden for switching stations and transformers.

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Stop

Human error

My guess is that prior meter readings could have been incorrect (Due to meter readers making mistakes) and/or the analog meters were incorrect to begin with. Of course some people probably fiddled with them using the old magnets trick which they now cannot do on these new wizzbang meters.

I had a similar experience when going from a prepaid meter to a standard meter. My bills increased rather a lot and I wish I had stayed with a prepaid meter now.

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Flame

A trip down the memory lane

PG&E ... that reminds me of the period in time when I had the distinct pleasure of consuming their fine offerings. Back then I rented an apartment in Mt. View, CA and sort of wondered why it was relatively cheap. I soon found out that the people responsible for that operation spared no reasonable effort to milk money from the tenants, though. An example of this was the gas bill.

Upon moving in I discovered that the heating apparatus located in the balcony closet worked on gas. As - in addition to the gasoline (petrol) price - the "winter" in the area is a joke to a Finn who used depend on a motorcycle for transportation in all seasons, and since the gas furnace had apparently been acquired from the scrapyard by larceny and consequently looked like it was immediately going to explode or cause some other nasty accident, if actually allowed to operate, I closed the valve to the gas line with haste and made a habit of checking that it had stayed that way to guard against a potential attempt by the janitor to assist an apparent foreign barbarian ignorant to the ways of the civilized world.

In a month or two, however, I got a gas bill for a couple of tens of dollars from "Scam & Fraud Apartments" (or whatever the name was). It turned out they too had some sort of arrangement whereby the meters are read remotely (yeah, sure ...) and there had been some lamentable mistake with that (yeah, sure ...). I'm still surprised they didn't try this more than two or three times ...

(*) Driving to school @ -43 C is my personal record. That day, I must admit, I didn't enjoy the ride to the usual extent.

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Turn me on, turn me off?

How in hells bells is this meter going to turn any appliance on or off. Such a device has no idea what I have plugged in and even if it did, surely it's my decision as to whether it runs or not. I pay the piper, I call the tune. They are about two things, getting rid of meter readers and control. once they are installed we will see many different tariffs occurring, super expensive at certain times of the day, a bit cheaper either side and of course reduced tariffs at night. The net result of course will be more expensive power no matter how they dress up the 'new' 'better for the consumer' pricing. We saw it with banks when they introduced ATM's, free 24 hour a day access to your money. After a year or two and the machines were well established and accepted, suddenly the banks were losing money on them and sadly had to start charging. Those charges have continuously risen ever since. Expect the same with new more efficient electricity meters.

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Unhappy

The key phrase is...

This quote: "The system itself is working exactly as intended," said Eric Dresselhuys, an executive vice president for Silver Spring. "The accuracy of the meters and the accuracy of the system in total is excellent."

And he's right! The intention is to increase charges in order to "Help the environment" which is, of course in these PC times, a Good Thing. The fact that the companies balance sheet (plus healthy bonuses) will be improved, is completely coincidental!

Just remember, the worst punishment that you can suffer is one that is self-inflicted! If we 'allow' the energy companies/government to install them over here; then when we're bleating about how high are bills are becoming, we'll only have ourselves to blame.

We have been warned!

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Maybe the old meters were inaccurate?

Just a thought.

After all it's not like the americans to make unwarranted claims or anything.

ttfn

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Be careful what you wish for...

There are two possibilities here. The meters are wrong - in which case the customers have a case. The utility has tested the meters and says they're working correctly. The second possibility is that the old meters were incorrect. In this case, I would say that the utility company has a right to collect for prior monies due.

The people bringing this law suite may be shooting themselves in the foot - with a cannon.

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Paris Hilton

OR ......

A handfull of the old analog meters were faulty !

Because she's got loads of energy.

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So likely to be the hardware the UK will get

Note that UK standards only require meters to read within +/- 2% for analogue meters and (in the case of electronic gas meters -2/+3% accurate. A spot check found that 36% of the c1000 gas meters tested could not reach *even* this standard.

The basic meter design dates from c1850s. I'd bet utility companies would find a more accurate design if they were fined enough to do something about this.

I've just had a 2nd letter telling me that I have to replace my gas meter *now*."to ensure your efficiency and safety are maintained." Odds on bet this is for one of these units.

In the UK "Smart" metereing was only included on the governments energy legislation because a peer took a bung to get it there. The nice energy meter displays included in the trials aren't even mandatory.

Anyone hacked the protocol yet?

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Black Helicopters

Where can I buy a pitchfork ...

... in anticipation of the rollout of these "spies under the stairs" in the UK?

I for one do not welcome the capability for utility companies to monitor my usage on a minute by minute basis, no doubt cutting power whenever they deem it isn't expensive enough.

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FAIL

You think this is bad?

You think this is bad? Wait until the corresponding appliances arrive, which shut themselves off at the whim of the electricity companies. Wait until the law states that only such machines may be purchased, and that it is illegal to disable the feature. They'd better get a good war going because I can't see people accepting rationing otherwise.

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Boffin

Cheater Meter.

Take a 120 volt 50 watt incandesant bulb, and a 12 volt 50 watt incandescant bulb.

Power the first directly from the mains, power the second through a dimmer.

Use identical old fashioned electric meters; the kind with a little disk spinning.

Adjust the dimmer so both bulbs have equal output. You will observe that the meter on the 12 V bulb spins at a slower speed.

Free Power? Hardly. Replace the old timey meters with modern meters, and they show equal consumption.

So what's happening here? The answer is that older meters simply cannot accurately measure pulse (dimmer) and other low power factor waveforms. In the case of many homeowners and businesses, this will result in a higher bill.

So switching to modern meters will increase the measured consumption of many devices. A very helpful article by Don Lancaster, writer of the TTL Cookbook, and Inventor of the charactor generator is here: http://www.tinaja.com/glib/muse123.pdf

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Anonymous Coward

Perhaps we should ....

be grateful we dont have them in the UK, although I doubt that will stop them overcharging us.

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We know what you want

I'm sorry, but I have ZERO interest in technology that tells my appliances to stop working. I usually have a reason to run what I run at the time I run it. I do not need a company to tell me how to organize my schedule. So thanks but no thanks.

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ok...

But do you have interest in having your major appliances (fridge, washing machine, storage heaters, air con) stopping working for say, five minutes at a time during peak load, in exchange for a lower charge per unit of energy? The meters will allow you to override them, so if you need something on, it will always be on. The target for this sort of equipment is the advert break in a big soap opera where everyone gets up and sticks on the kettle. This saves having large gas fired generation capacity being fired up on standby.

A bit of money off, for no real hassle, I know that I'd be up for that sort of arrangement.

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Anonymous Coward

Hehe

Will chuckle if all the further checking / investigation reveals that there's nowt wrong.

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Never heard of programming errors?

Maybe they should hire a firm with experience in coding and debugging "complex" software. It isn't beyond the realm of possibility that there is a bug which only occurs with small numbers of systems due to specific conditions which have not been foreseen. Sort of like every other software ever created.

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Boffin

and add production variance

take a batch of 1000 units of any device and measure them, no two units ever perform the same, and the more parts the greater the difference in their performance PLUS thermal tolerances. The law of probability is that these meters are designed with an error margin in favour of the power company.

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I hate mandatory titles

Ok, so if they're so confident these meters are accurate, why not fit them in tandem with the traditional analogue meters, allowing consumers to compare the rates of change between the two. A fairly simple low cost solution (adding the new smart meter instead of replacing the old one).

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in the event of an inarurty

as pepol have pointed out if they show diffrent readings witch one do you beleve analog meters can be wrong as well

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Bronze badge

History repeats...

Years ago when working at BT, Bearley Labs, near Stratford-upon-Avon I designed a receiver to decode the fast-code (no longer existing - slow code only nowadays) time signal from MSF, Rugby. I was about 21 at the time - first shot was using TTL, second was using a National INS8060 (SC/MP - or 'scamp') microprocessor. Both worked.

My manager was furious at the time for my use of an AGC (automatic gain control) circuit using a jFET (3N918?) to shunt the signal, complaining the charge-pump I used would be too leaky, and not work. To his chagrin, it worked reliably. (For years. I took the TTL version home with me when I left - used it as a kitchen clock for - oh, maybe 5 years. It was about the size and power consumption of a large toaster. We used the same AGC circuit in other projects - he got to calling it the "à la Crofts AGC")

Happily due to the size of the 40-pin device, it wouldn't fit into the electricicty meters - needed somewhere to store the 'shilling for the meter', etc. Dead.

Still have the original 30-year old pencilled hand-written assembly code someplace. Guess I can stick a scan of it on Google's "cloud" and post a link if enough people give a shit. One page of A4.

(Uni lecturer here in Oulu uses it as an example of tight coding. 210 bytes or so. Now, what was that about Vista?)

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Terminator

Moles, I want to meet her!

"During periods of peak usage, for instance, the meters can automatically tell washing machines to stop running until power is more plentiful".

Have you fact checked that particular little journalistic nugget?

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WTF?

Smart Meters are a coming.....

Not long now until these emerge in the UK....... BG and E.ON are already running field trials and starting to expand the service.

Smart meters will eventually give the option to allow you to save money by running certain appliances outside peak hours. The aim is that the meter signals via Power Line Carrier that an 'economy' tariff is now available and that devices wishing to take advantage of this can now operate.

It would work as follows:

1) Load Dishwasher/Washing Machine etc.

2) Program dishwasher with a must finish by time and select 'Economy Tariff' option.

3) Go to bed/work whatever.

4) Smart Meter signals economy Tariff availability.

5) Appliance starts.

or

4a) No tariff available and Appliance starts to end cycle by 'must finish by' time.

This is just a modern variant of the old 'Economy 7' Peak/Off peak metering system, but with modern logic and more control for the consumer.

This is not about the power company telling you when you can do things, it's about letting you control how much you spend on your energy and allowing the grid baseline generation to be used more efficiently.

Agree with other comments too. If any meters were faulty, it was the old ones.

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Remote Control

I don't know the details, but a teacher of mine discussed how they elected to have their home devices wired for remote shutdown during high utilization times. I think this was limited to hot water tanks, fridges, etc which are on intermittently anyways. I believe the device just synchronized the power cycles around peak periods. In return, the customer got a discount off the bill.

Just wanted to mention it because some posters don't get how it works (I presume this is the same type of system).

I guess it may be more controversial when it's imposed on people non-voluntarily, but the principal is just about getting more efficiency out of the existing infrastructure without physically adding capacity.

If the power companies wanted less controversy (with regards to controlling devices remotely), they could use the smart meters to charge different rates at different times, and then customers would voluntarily opt to run their devices at the low cost times.

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Go

Peak surcharges are coming, get over it

In these days of rabid environmentalism (which makes building more power plants a politically risky business, if not impossible), we ARE going to see governments and power companies attempting to restrict peak power usage. It's going to happen, there's nothing any of us can do about it, so get used to it.

Personally I have no problem with this - as long as I know what's happening. I want a VERY CLEAR communication from the power company that power usage from (to take numbers out of the air) 7am to 9am will be charged at a 50% surcharge and from midnight to 4am at a 50% discount. That way I can decide not to switch on the air con until after 9am.

The logical next step from there is this Smart Meter - instead of making me consciously reset the air con every 7am I can get the meter to do it for me.

What's the problem?

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@Il Midga de Maceroni

I don't think we should just accept rabid environmentalism and everything that comes with it, especially as the Human Global Warming theory crumbles day-by-day, so no, I wont 'get used to it'.

If the energy companies reputation is anything to go by they will continue to try to bleed their customers dry (as they have done these last couple of years by swiftly putting prices up, but being very reluctant to bring them down when wholesale prices slumped)

The last thinkg I want is these bandits having any control over my appliances.

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@Marty

Power companies undercharging?

Best joke I've heard all year.

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IT Angle

Smart Meters - faulty data stream

I am surprised that no one has considered the data stream condition being returned from the meter!

It is possible that the equipment is dead accurate but due to signal noise etc that data is being corrupted - yep I know that they will use parity checking etc bet its the cheapest possible and that an even error will not be detected.

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Coat

Turn off the washer?

In my area the hydro company has been offering customers $25 to be allowed to turn their air conditioner off. They do this by installing a box in the power circuit to the A/C and sending a signal over the mains. BTW, electric water heaters have had this "feature" built in for decades. So the next logical step is to do the same for electric clothes dryers. Washers probably aren't worth the trouble. The heavy (household) users are A/C in the summer and heating in the winter.

They installed smart meters here earlier this year. I haven't noticed much change in the bill. But they are going to three-tier billing soon, which means that you will pay much more during peak hours and less for off-peak (good for insomniacs), and there is a mid-peak rate too. My feeling in spite of all the ranting here is that reducing the demand during peak hours is a good thing in that it will lessen the need for more electricity plants and the consequent pollution. The hydro companies here are overseen by the government who must approve the rates. We are already gouged with a "debt repayment charge" on our bills and I don't see smart meters as a particular source of gouging.

A nice warm coat for us northerners.

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dont forget the alternative...

..to the tumble dryer is the spin dryer, which usual have a 200 watt motor, and every minute in the spin dryer has the same drying equivalent of 10 minutes in a tumble dryer. While some clothes, such as denim jeans will still need a turn in a tumble dryer giving the clothes a 5 minute spin cuts the time needed in the tumble dryer by half, other clothes such as t-shirts, and cotton based things can usualy be worn straight away after a 10 minute spin.

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step forwards

If you ever look into just how complicated electricity pricing is in the UK, these have the potential to really help. Electricity production is cheapest when it is constant - nuclear power stations make leccy constantly, whereas hydroelectric facilities make bursts of power on demand when the grid needs them - but costs a lot more. Industrial electricity is charged not quarterly or monthly, but in 30-minute chunks (17,000-odd of them each year), and there are all sorts of discounts/extra charges for different patterns of consumption. If you *absolutely must* use power at peak times, you pay for the privilege, if you are happy to let the washing machine work overnight, great, save money.

If the smart meters control 2 circuits (like Economy 7 has), one for uninterrupted supply (fridges, etc) and one for interruptible (storage heaters, washing machine, etc), the suppliers can 'load shed' - they can reduce demand for non-time-critical power at peak times. This allows them to level out their requirements from the generators, which means cheaper leccy for them, which in an age of competition, means cheaper leccy for us too.

As it stands, domestic supplies, metering and charging have to work on the assumption that you *may* turn the kettle on at the end of Corrie - but with flat rates, you're charged accordingly. If, instead, you have the choice to put the kettle on whilst it's still on, you can pay less for a cuppa. It's a good thing.

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