Big power bills explained: Digital meter more efficient than old meter

…the customer should be thankful that they have been paying less than they should have for many years prior to the meter replacement.

To the editor:

I worked as a consultant on a smart meter replacement project in another province and helped create the Request For Proposals for the meter technology and installation services. In the course of my engagement, I had access to various utility personnel and had the opportunity to learn how the electric generation, transmission and distribution business operates.

The problem Mr. Olenick identified in his letter published in the Kelowna Capital News January 22, 2016 (‘Efficient’ Upgrades Lead to More Power Consumption) is a common problem that electricity customers experience when a meter exchange occurs. Most customers don’t keep as meticulous records as Mr. Olenick and when an unanticipated increase in consumption occurs, are unable to prove it.

Without information to the contrary, when a meter exchange occurs, such as a new smart meter being installed, it is easy to blame the new meter. I still do not understand why the electric utilities don’t explain the real reason for the increased consumption readings—perhaps they don’t know how to describe things in layman’s terms, or are muzzled by their regulatory and public relations departments.

Any commodity sold to consumers in Canada, that requires measurement, such as fuel, water, natural gas, or weigh scales, must use an instrument approved by Measurement Canada. The devices used must meet Measurement Canada standards and must be certified to measure within prescribed tolerances. Measurement Canada also specifies the number of years that an electric meter can operate before its measurement accuracy must be verified. Since it is impractical to remove every electric meter to perform the verification process, the utility will remove a statistical sample and test them. If the sample group passes the test, the lot the sample was taken from is certified to continue operation; if the sample group fails the test, then the entire lot is replaced with new meters.

The old style analog mechanical meters have a spinning dial. Without going into the technical details of how electricity measurement occurs, what should be easy to understand is that, because they are mechanical, the spinning dial is subject to friction. Over time, as the meter remains in service for several decades, the increase in friction causes the mechanical meters to slow down and under-read consumption. The longer the meter is in service, the more pronounced this condition becomes.

The reason that all the utilities have a process to allow their customer to dispute a meter’s accuracy and pay for having it tested, is that it has happened many times before smart meters came along. If the utility replaces an old mechanical analog meter that was under-reading with a newer mechanical analog meter that is measuring correctly, of course consumption seems to go up. Given that Mr. Olenick has kept meticulous records and he is confident that his consumption has not varied, then either the new smart meter is over-reading or the previous old meter was under-reading. Since the smart meters are digital in nature, their measurement tolerances are significantly tighter than the old mechanical style meter.

Once you understand the nature of mechanical measurement, I would suggest that thinking that the smart meter is at fault is simply the wrong conclusion. Of course, if a consumer doesn’t think my explanation is correct, they can test their theory by paying to have their smart meter tested.

If a customer finds themselves in a position where their consumption and bill has increased after a smart meter replacement, instead of thinking that the utility has some nefarious plan to screw its customers, the customer should be thankful that they have been paying less than they should have for many years prior to the meter replacement.

Gary Bozek, Westbank