Last Updated on October 24, 2021 by Mary Pressler
The First Smart Meters
Prior to smart meters, electricity consumption was measured with analog meters, which normally had a spinning disc and dials with numbers. The disc would spin faster when energy usage was high, and slowly when consumption was low. Local utility companies would send a human “meter reader” to record data for every home, and customers were billed accordingly.
The first smart meters were patented in 1974 and launched in 1977. Unlike their analog counterparts, smart meters use electronic measurement and a digital display. Smart meters have faced skepticism, since they give the impression that data can be altered more easily. However, electricity providers and utility companies are subject to stringent laws in the modern power industry, and smart meters offer many benefits when deployed correctly.
Today, most homes in the United States are equipped with a smart meter. However, most consumers don’t know how to access their home’s smart meter data. In this article, we’ll provide you with the tools you need to access your personal energy usage and use it to lower your electricity bill.
Using Your Smart Meter Data to Save Electricity
With a smart meter, you can keep track of electricity consumption just like when you check the balance in a savings account or credit card. By simply monitoring your electricity usage, you can identify your high-consumption hours, and determine which home appliances are causing them. “You can’t control what you can’t measure” is a common phrase among engineers, and this is a good example!
Depending on your electricity plan and how your smart meter is configured, you can also view surplus generation from onsite solar panels, wind turbines, or any renewable energy system you own. Your electricity provider can purchase these kilowatt-hours, and subtract them from your next power bill.
As an example of how smart meter data can help you select a better electricity plan, consider the following scenario:
- Three homes are currently on a “Free Nights” plan, where they are not charged for electricity between 9PM and 9AM, but pay 20 cents/kWh from 9AM to 9PM.
- All three homes consume 1,200 kWh per month, but home #1 uses 800 kWh during paid hours, home #2 uses 600 kWh, and home #3 only uses 400 kWh.
The corresponding electricity bill for each home would be the following:
|Customer||Consumption||Paid Consumption (20¢ / kWh)||Amount Billed|
|Home #1||1,200 kWh||800 kWh||$160|
|Home #2||1,200 kWh||600 kWh||$120|
|Home #3||1,200 kWh||400 kWh||$80|
Since a smart meter registers data at 15-minute intervals, consumers can see how their electricity usage is distributed during the day. When we receive a power bill, we often focus on the totals – kWh consumption and amount billed.
However, the three homeowners in this example could check their smart meter data, and see how consumption is split between the two schedules (9PM-9AM and 9AM-9PM). This is possible, since the measured data includes consumption at 15-minute intervals.
- If another electricity plan offers a fixed rate of 10 cents/kWh, regardless of the hour, all three homeowners would be billed $120.
- Home #1 would save $40 per month by switching, home #2 would get the same bill, and home #3 would actually pay $40 more per month.
Reducing your power bills by switching your electricity plan is possible, but you need data to make a good decision. The measurements collected by smart meters are useful when trying to decide which plan works best for you.
Learning how to read an Electricity Facts Label (EFL) is also important, so you can know exactly how your electricity will be billed. Some plans offer you low rates, but only if you meet certain conditions that are not evident upfront. For example, there may be a discount for exceeding a certain kWh consumption, but you pay much more if you don’t reach that value.
How to Access Smart Meter Data in Texas
Smart Meter Texas is a collaborative effort by five transmission and distribution utilities (TDU) in the state: AEP Central, AEP North, CenterPoint, Oncor and TNMP. The program is endorsed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT), and it stores energy data from smart meters at 15-minute, daily and monthly intervals.
- Data from smart meters is stored securely, and consumers can create an account to view their electricity usage.
- Consumption from a specific smart meter can be seen by the corresponding user, their Retail Electricity Provider (REP), the local utility (TDU), the PUCT, and ERCOT
- However, clients can share their data with an energy broker like Quick Electricity, to receive electricity plan recommendations according to their usage history.
It is often possible to reduce power bills by simply switching your electricity plan, even if your monthly kilowatt-hour consumption stays the same. Of course, even higher savings are possible with energy efficiency measures or a solar power system.
The Best Energy Monitors for Your Home in 2021
Even if your electric company installs smart meters for all its customers, having your own energy monitor behind-the-meter offers several advantages. Modern units use AI and data science to break down consumption by appliance, and they can even provide energy efficiency recommendations. In this section, we will review three of the most popular home energy monitors.
Sense is a plug-and-play energy monitor that is installed directly on your electrical panel. Sense uses advanced electronics to collect one million measurements per second, which results in a very high data resolution.
- Sense can understand your home energy usage by using machine learning, and it breaks down consumption by device.
- Measured data is processed into user-friendly charts and statistics, instead of presenting you with raw numbers.
- The system can connect with platforms like Philips Hue and Alexa, and with smart plugs.
After analyzing your home consumption, Sense can even tell you which appliances have been left on, and the unit can also determine if a specific appliance is consuming more power than normal. On average, Sense users save 6-9% on their power bills.
Sense uses voltage wires and current clamps to measure consumption, which means it can be installed without changing the connections in your electrical panel. In addition to monitoring your overall consumption, Sense can also monitor up to two individual circuits with dedicated voltage wires and current clamps. The Sense home monitor comes with its own mobile app, and you can check your consumption remotely.
There is also a version called Sense Solar, in case you own solar panels:
- Sense Solar can monitor their electricity generation, and what percentage of your home consumption is being supplied by them.
- The device can also measure surplus generation that is exported to the local power grid.
- Sense can also tell you when solar panel productivity is high, so you can take advantage of that energy instead of having it exported to the grid.
With Sense you can establish an energy saving goal, and the device will help you achieve it. You can even set a savings target for a specific appliance or a day of the week. If your electricity plan includes time-of-use rates, Sense can send you automatic notifications when peak demand hours start, so you can minimize consumption. Future versions of Sense will include functions like motor stall detection, power quality analysis, and home-to-home comparison.
Sense is a safe device: it has been successfully tested according to UL and IEC standards, and it has the ETL certification (Intertek).
2) Smappee Infinity
Smappee Infinity is a complete energy management system, which uses several modules to monitor electricity, gas, water and solar generation. The Introduction Kit contains:
- A Smappee Power Box, which measures voltage and current at the electrical panel. Voltages are measured directly, and currents are measured with CT clamps. The unit can measure up to 28 different loads.
- A Smappee Genius, which is the gateway that connects the monitoring system and the cloud service. The unit can be used as a Home Energy Management System (HEMS) or Building Energy Management System (BEMS).
Smappee can disaggregate energy consumption: the unit measures total electricity consumption at the electrical panel, and breaks it down by appliance with signal analysis and AI. This concept is called non-intrusive load monitoring (NILM).
However, Smappee goes beyond electricity monitoring. The system can be expanded with a Smappee Gas & Water module, and up to 20 Smappee Switches to control appliances remotely. The switches can act as power sub-meters for the appliances connected. Also, if you have an electric vehicle, you can connect a Smappee EV Wall to optimize charging.
Smappee Infinity can display live and historical data, adapting to the needs of different users. For example, the data from a home system can be displayed in a user-friendly app, and the data from a larger commercial system can be viewed in a professional dashboard.
- Measured data can be displayed per day, week, month or year.
- Smappee can be used to benchmark energy and water consumption, by comparing the consumption of a building with that of similar sites.
- The system can also integrate with many IoT products and services from third parties.
Thanks to its modular design, Smappee Infinity can be scaled for the needs of any building. In addition, all components come with an installation wizard that opens in the app. Smappee is compliant with both UL and CE, and it can help prevent overloads and other electrical faults by controlling current. Compared with a typical smart meter, Smappee offers the following advantages:
- Viewing energy use in real-time, and observing how it responds to your actions.
- Energy consumption breakdown by circuit and by appliance – how much energy is used, and when.
- Monitoring gas and water consumption, which is not possible with a smart meter.
- Monitoring solar generation, how much is consumed, and how much is sent to the grid.
Smappee Infinity is not only a monitoring device, but also a complete energy management platform. The system can control appliances, battery charging, and also EV charging. The value proposition of Smappee is converting buildings into decentralized energy hubs, making them less dependent on the power grid.
3) Engage by Efergy
Engage is based on the principle of making energy more visible. The manufacturer Efergy believes that energy resources can be managed better by optimizing usage. Engage has three main product lines, which focus on:
- Home monitoring
- Solar monitoring
- Appliance monitoring
The Engage hub is connected to the Internet router using Ethernet cable, and current from the electrical panel is measured with a CT clamp and a wireless transmitter. After setting up the system, you can check energy anytime and from anywhere – Engage is accessible from a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer.
The measured data can be broken down by day, week, month or average values. You can also establish a budget for the billing period, and measure the accumulated consumption against the budget.
- Engage can also predict how much electricity you will use in the month, estimating if you will meet or exceed the budget.
- You can also view how much has been spent so far today, since the start of the week, or since a specified date.
Engage can also monitor up to five dedicated circuits, and it can integrate with a solar power system using the STXtra sensors and transmitters.
Engage Solar can monitor solar generation along with home energy consumption, and analyze how much consumption is covered with solar energy. Just like with the basic version of engage, energy consumption and solar generation can be checked from any device with an Internet connection (computer/tablet/smartphone).
An Engage Socket lets you monitor the energy usage of an appliance directly, and you can connect up to 5 sockets per hub.
The main value proposition of Engage is being able to set an electricity budget for the billing period. The system will predict your actual bill based on consumption, and you can change your habits and appliance usage schedules to meet the budget.