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From The Power Meter To The Smart Meter

This is a guest post from Alyssa Frewin, it’s interesting because it puts smart meters in a historical context.

When the first electricity meters were introduced in the late 19th century, they were modeled–at least in concept–after gas meters. In those days, property owners had previously paid a set fee based on the number of lamps they employed. It became evident that some properties used significantly more (or less) power than other properties with the same number of lamps in place. The need to measure specific electricity consumption was born.

Measuring Direct Current (DC) Usage

One of the earliest meters was a DC model designed by Thomas Edison. His electricity meter used heavy electrolytic cells that had to be periodically removed and weighed. The plates that were pulled off of this device were heavy, to say the least, and the meter reader had to be strong.

The Reason Manufacturing Company in Brighton came out with a more practical meter a few years later. The ‘Reason Meter’, as it was called, had a vial of mercury locked away inside of it. As electricity was consumed on the local grid, the mercury slowly moved down the tube until it reached the bottom. At this point, the circuit was broken, and power was effectively cut to the house.

Property owners could prepay for a set amount of DC, and then recharge when the time came. Prepaying required you to run out of credit before topping up, but the changeover process was relatively easy. An official from the power supply company would stop by, unlock the meter and invert the vial of mercury. These early meters were functional, though not terribly convenient to use.

Measuring Alternating Current (AC) Usage

The first meter used to measure AC consumption debuted in 1889 at the Frankfurt Fair. This was named the Bláthy meter (named for the patent holder). Shortly after, General Electric released another watt-meter that could operate on both DC and AC.

In 1894, an induction meter was released for AC based on principles used for older DC meters. This meter featured a rotating disk that spins faster or slower dependent upon the amount of power consumed in the circuit. You’ll still see models like this used in the 21st century, though they’re slowly being phased out by totally digital units.

Smart Meters

smart meter radiation [1]
Image Credit: lowjumpingfrog Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

So-called smart technology abounds in the 21st century. In a word, smart devices are able to communicate in real time with a central server or database for reporting and maintenance purposes. Smart meters allow property owners to measure their consumption in real time and to access data such as how much power they typically use during specific intervals (such as in the morning or during the month of June). They also allow for automatic reporting, thereby eliminating the need for roving meter readers or for an electrician in Perth to make diagnostic house calls.

In some cases, older meters have been retrofitted with new technology to enable two-way communication between the meter and the power supply company. This technically gives the meter ‘smart’ status, even though it’s still an older model.

The UK is in the midst of the largest roll-out of smart meters ever undertaken. If everything goes according to plan, every household and small business in the country will use smart meters to gauge their electricity and gas consumption by 2020.

Governments and power supply companies around the world cite the following benefits for switching over to smart meters:

o   The ability to obtain real-time data related to power usage

o   More precise usage information, essentially eliminating the need to estimate usage

o   The ability of householders to more efficiently manage their power consumption

o   Ease of switching between power suppliers

Public backlash is always a factor when new technologies are released, and smart metering is no exception. Consumers Digest even suggested that smart meters might be a dumb idea [2]–a tantalizing play on words that was, at least, backed by legitimate concerns. Among these is the concern that consumers will be forced to absorb the cost of the rollout without actually seeing any real economic advantages. The article also questioned whether smart meters would really curtail energy use.

The Real Issue

The real issue is that of electromagnetic field exposures, smart meters fill homes with pulsed microwave radiation 24/7 [3]. These meters are often installed without permission and sometimes against the wishes of the homeowners.  There is much anecdotal evidence [4] of adverse health effects arising from the installation of these meters and a strong and growing body of scientific literature [5] to support these claims.

It’s safe to say that smart meters are going to become increasingly common over the next decade. Time will tell whether they will really revolutionize the way power is consumed and how far-ranging their effects will be on public health.

About the Author:

Alyssa Frewin is a writer for a company that was started by Vince Aitken, an electrician in Perth [6] with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. With his background, TPE Services can make decisions based on a building’s electrical history.