Will That New Electricity Meter Make you Poor and Fat?

In some locations electricity meters are being replaced with new models that record and transmit data about how much electricity you use at intervals over the day.

The meters communication use RF in small groups to a lead meter that is connected to a phone line in the lead meter’s residence.  I wonder if that user gets anything for that?

I was given such a meter recently.  The time-of-use (TOU) data should be available to consumers at some point in the future.

Also at some unpublished time in the future, the electricity company will switch to TOU billing like this (note the proposed pricing):

Current price is (5c per kWh up to first 2000kWh, and 5.9c thereafter)

Off-peak (3c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 22:00 to 07:00 summer/winter
  • All Weekends/Holidays

Mid-Peak (7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 and 20:00 to 22:00 in the winter

On-Peak (8.7c per kWh)

  • Mon-Fri 11:00 to 17:00 in the summer
  • Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:00 and 17:00 to 22:00 in the winter

The accompanying leaflet says I should be “shifting activities that are energy-intensive to the less expensive mid-peak and off-peak hours”.

Given the current rate (5 or 5.9c) the only “less expensive” period will be Off-peak and look when that is!  The “energy-intensive” activities they include are “air conditioning, clothes dryers, clothes washers, electric ovens, electric heating and electric water heaters.”  Only the first 4 apply to me.

So – to summarise so far.  My bill will go up because I cannot effectively use air conditioning after 10pm!!!#$!#$!#$ and I will have to do my laundry after 10pm or on weekends otherwise my bill will go up (and the insurance companies can plan on more claims for flooding as washers overflow while people are sleeping).  It is unlikely that the saving of doing laundry for a couple of hours on the weekend will offset the huge increase of needing air-conditioning during the day (even if it’s set to a higher temperature).  We are about to get ripped off on 3 activities at least and/or be sleep deprived!

So about that electric stove activity (or microwave to some extent).  I will now pay more money to cook lunch and dinner.  In fact I will now have to start cooking dinner after 5pm in the summer or after 10pm in the winter (noting that before 5pm is not feasible for many dual-working-adult families), in order to keep my costs down – or just eat uncooked food.  This leads to 2 realistic choices (excluding extremes like starving during the week):

  • Pay more money.
  • Put on weight due to either buying more take-out (and also spending more money) or cooking/eating later, both because you are trying to save money.

So when the booklet says “What are the best strategies for smart metering?”, that section should be re-titled as “What are the best strategies for choosing how much extra weight you will put on vs. how much your bill will go up”

Solar panels are sounding like such a great investment these days!


I said most of this to the electricity company and they sent me a link to an official report.  The report was conducted by the energy board and local electricity company.

A sample of 124 people were tested on a TOU plan (of mostly new single-family homes with well educated and above poverty-line income) against 125 control group – that’s a horrible sample demographic and size for an official test!!.  Note that 125 & 124 others tried two other plans that are not in my meter literature.

In the best case under TOU someone saved $9 a month; in the worst someone paid $6 more.  The average was a saving of $0.78 per month (wooo), i.e. over the 124 people trying TOU pricing, there was little change and some people did pay more. 

However, since there was a 6.0% reduction of overall use and people were shifting their use (a figure the report hides as not significant for this price plan), on average I still believe people would be spending more.

Also, the TOU pricing structure was officially designed so that someone on TOU would pay the same if they did nothing.  Remember that these people are trying hard to save money and change their habits.  People are lazy – after a few months (and not getting another $75 for participating in the survey!), most people will tend to revert back to old habits plus >64% can’t recall aspects of the pricing structure, so the average bill would go up! 

I don’t see any old houses, old people, socially/economically-challenged groups or stay-at-home workers in the samples. 

Many people who (worked their butts off and managed to save their $0.78) were expecting large savings, so many of those people will not bother now and just end up paying more.

While conversation efforts are observed with TOU pricing, “a main purpose of time-of-use and critical peak pricing is to reduce peak demand” – nice to know the energy company’s view of energy conservation and everyone’s efforts.  Admittedly, the point is to increase system reliability/availability, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to put this responsibility on the customer who will end up either doing it or paying more (and will that more pay for better service?)

And as for getting fat?

According to surveys with focus groups: “In response to a critical peak notification, customers might reset their thermostats by a few degrees [get hot]… plan on dining out [get fat or pay more money] or cook on an outdoor grill [abandon their electricity supply]…”

I support conservation but as clearly stated, smart meters are not about conservation.  Oh, and someone has to pay for the system…

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