We all have power meters attached to the buildings in which we live, and the little needle keeps spinning around and around, ad nauseum, at least until solar panels become affordable. I recently read a story of a family who managed to install solar panels, and while that would normally have cost over $20,000, with various national and state rebate programs, they only spent $8,000.
Wow. Imagine having $8,000 to spend.
We’re customers of Green Mountain Energy here in Dallas, so our bill payments go toward producing more renewable energy (see the big bathtub analogy for more on how this works). But the hardware is operated by a company called Oncor, which has decided it’s time to upgrade our power meters to be smarter. Oncor worked through some calculations (Surcharge Analysis PDF) and figured that the best way to install them would be to charge the average customer $2.12. Every month. For eleven years.
That’s $291.72 for a new power meter.
Within the last month, a hundred grants were given out to companies making improvements to power meters. The company in our area was not one of them. So residents of DFW are likely stuck with the fee.
On their FAQ about the Advanced Meters, Oncor made this suggestion for dealing with the extra $2.12 per month:
How can you offset this fee? Just replace a 100W light bulb with an Energy Star CFL light bulb and you could save more than $2.30 a month.
That’s cute, and likely true, but I don’t believe we’re still using any of the old style bulbs at our house.
This entire scenario of being charged over an eleven-year period for something that won’t be available to everyone until 2012 would be supremely depressing, were it not for the fact that I’m a big data nerd. I love efficiency, and you can’t improve efficiency unless you know exactly what is being wasted. A smart meter will do that for me.
But what’s depressing again is that I could have this right now, for only $200. The Energy Detective (TED) Series 5000 is a device that attaches to the power control panel on the inside of your house, rather than the outside. Other than that, it does all the same stuff: analyze your power usage in real-time, and over regular intervals, then adjust your behavior accordingly.
I’d be excited to get a TED set up in my house, then walk around unplugging one thing at a time, finding the major offenders, maybe put some devices on a schedule; or find out exactly how much we’d save by keeping the house, say, 2 degrees warmer. Those are just a couple of examples. For all I know, more energy is being wasted when two particular devices are running together for one hour than by running both separately for one hour each. Like I said, I’m a big data nerd.
I’d be very interested to hear your story of using a smart meter. Has anybody had the pleasure, yet?
Updated December 22, 2011 and originally published November 3, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.