When I first started researching this topic, I didn't care much about how a smart meter functions.
I simply assumed that because of the name, it must be good technology that can help me save money on my utility bill. I recently discovered that the data of how much electricity, water, and gas a home is actually utilizing each day is not that readily available, but it easily could be.
According to Cameron Brooks of Tolerable Planet in Boulder, Colo., “The market structure is not set up right. We granted the utility companies a monopoly over sale and regulation of energy.” Mr. Brooks also explains that soon more than 50% of US households will have a smart meter installed.
Even with the popularity of the smart meter, it is still extremely cumbersome to look up detailed real time information about your home's actual usage. However, there are technologically advanced products out there like the nest thermostat that are able to adjust to consumer habits without the consumer having to dig through several screen shots of data.
Part of the issue regarding why consumers do not have easy access to their information is that 100 years ago, it made sense to not have small utility companies competing with each other. It may have been good for business to have one utility company build a big central power plant.
However, now there is a different way that the peak times of energy usage could be managed. Instead of building a power plant that operates at full capacity only a few times a year, consumers could be made aware of the peak load times and then adjust their usage accordingly.
The challenge with this method is that it requires taking a close look at the incentive structures. Perhaps the utility companies would not see as much profit if its customers used less of the their product! The issue of utility reform is a complicated one with no quick or easy answers. Yet, there are real efforts being made so that utility companies can more easily share information with consumers.
Tamarah Long is a Registered Architect (WA state) who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Design of the Environment. She received her Master’s of Architecture from the University of Florida and was a building design professional for more than ten years. Tamarah was also an Assistant Director at NCARB before joining the Architecture and Planning faculty at the University of Colorado from 2006-2012. Ms. Long currently is researching sustainable design strategies.