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Why Are Smart Meters So Dumb?

August 31, 2016 / by George Belich

Today we're bringing you a post from a guest contributor. George Belich is  President of Energy ISA LLC and has 35 years of experience in the energy industry. 

When your utility invests in a smart meter, you probably think you’re getting a reasonable solution to the problem of not really knowing when or how your facility is consuming energy.While they have their benefits, there are more than a few ways that smart meters come up short.

  1. Smart meters don't know when to call the doctor. Like so many other types of technology, the right maintenance and checks need to be performed to determine whether the meter is working correctly or not and that becomes the job of human energy experts. Smart meters do not make the human element obsolete. On the contrary, humans are critical to making important decisions based on experience and are the only way to uncover important context, as part of your building energy management solutions, and to understand problems the smart meter might uncover and identify solutions.
  2. Smart meters don't wire themselves to the circuits. Sub meters may require more the 8 connections to properly meter the load(s) desired. If you are looking to get a deep insight into your building or facility's energy use, a smart meter will not get you all the way there. They usually offer a whole building approach, as most buildings only have one or two meters, two data points alone are not enough to understand complex operations or intricate buildings. Strategic energy management programs can provide the valuable supporting qualitative insights that will compliment your data and help support intelligent energy decisions.
  3. Smart meters don't actually know the size of the load they are measuring. Sizing the current transformers correctly is essential to getting accurate measurements from energy monitoring devices, so this is a problem. Despite their name, smart meters are not designed to think for themselves. Rather, they work to transmit existing data onto a network to be deployed universally. Smart meters are a ‘one size fits all’ approach which is great when that size fits, but oftentimes they are not smart or custom enough to get to the level of detail you are looking for.
  4. Smart meters don't always tell you everything -- you need to ask. Technology has given smart meters the ability to provide a huge amount of data, but meter displays do not show all of it and humans rarely have the patience to read the display. This means a system or device separate from the meter must talk to the meter to collect all the data and make it actionable. 
  5. When you take the meter out of the box you need to tell it who it is and what it is working with. Smart meters do not have eyes or ears -- yet. Even though we think these energy monitoring devices are 'smart' meters, the pace of new technology is such that people think a smart meter is as powerful as something like a smartphone, whereas the reality is that there is still a long way to go.
  6. The supposed smart meter does more than just meter a circuit. Smart meters can count inputs from a 'dumber' meter. They can issue alarms through communications or controlled outputs. But they depend on humans to set them up correctly, which of course opens up the real possibility of human error. Trained humans are excellent, but not perfect. 

Smart meters are more popular than ever for local utilities , with cities like Baltimore and New York implementing them across both residential and non-residential properties. On the surface a smart meter program, offering more granular data that was ever possible before, seems like an easy choice to make. However, it important that we keep sight of the limitations that these meters have and do not mistake a smart meter as a replacement for experienced energy professionals.

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George Belich

Written by George Belich

George Belich is the President of Energy ISA LLC and has 35 years of experience in the energy industry in various capacities such as a software engineer, systems integrator, hardware developer, product manager and a business owner.  Mr. Belich has a strong technical background in smart grid, energy management, utility metering, data communications, systems integration, database management and metering problem solving.  Mr. Belich has worked with wide variety energy users from multi-site retail, healthcare, universities, manufacturing and industrials; including Wal-Mart and the Los Angeles Unified School District providing software and metering system solutions.


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