My PG&E Smart Meter was installed in December 2009 so I thought it time to review my first year experience and what I have learned. The PG&E contractor installed the smart meter in just a few minutes and it worked fine. No problems with meter operation.
Customer Contact from PG&E
About a month after my smart meter was installed I received a pamphlet from PG&E in the mail explaining my meter and directing me to the PG&E website to get more information about my actual usage. Other than that have been no contacts from PG&E other than two attempts to get me to sign up for their remote control program to shut off my A/C on peak days for short periods if PG&E needs to conserve energy. The $25 “reward” for giving up control over my A/C did not seem like a fair trade so I said “no thanks”.
What Did I Learn About My Usage?
The smart meter sends its readings every 15 minutes and PG&E summarizes it the next day online so you can check it if you have nothing better to do. Frankly, the frequent meter readings may be useful to PG&E but for most customers it just isn’t useful. I do like the PG&E website and the useful calculators to both explain my usage changes from period to period and the reasons for the cost components going up and down.
The PG&E website is convenient and easy to use but, frankly the monthly summary information is much more useful for the typical residential customer. I pulled the following information from my online usage history to make the table below:
One Year of Smart Meter Data Summarized
|Month||Avg kWh used||Avg ¢/kWh||Low Use kWh||High Use kWh|
1. Summary Usage Data Works Fine. My smart meter sends PG&E readings every 15 minutes but that data frequency and the massive amount of data is not useful or necessary for individual residential consumers. The summary data available by day, week or month available on PG&E’s website works great.
2. When Do I use the Most Energy? I find I look periodically at the daily data to see when I use the most energy and to try to judge how I can manage my peaks. In my case my usage increases at twice each day coinciding with when my swimming pool equipment cycles on to do its work and then again during the 4pm to 7pm period when everyone is home and powering up TVs and PCs, cooking dinner and turning things on.
3. Energy Dieting is Hard Work! My household uses twice the electricity as the average home in my area says PG&E. I will NEVER be the Biggest Loser! Reducing my power gluttony has been a constant challenge made difficult by more electronic technology, my home office work habits, swimming pool equipment and PG&E tiered rate torture plan. But it’s the average things in every household that add up to push you into high rate tiers. For example a refrigerator uses an average of 2.2 kWh per day, a load of laundry costs 5.1 kWh to wash and dry; run your dishwasher and it costs you 2.8 kWh per load.
4. Tiered Rates are Torment. Under PG&E’s tiered rates baseline use costs $0.1087 per kWh (oh how I dream of baseline use!); Tier 2 use costs $0.1250 per kWh; but wastefully venture into Tier 3 and it will cost you $0.25 per kWh; and if you don’t get the point then Tier 4 will torment you at $0.28 per kWh for your sinful, wasteful, earth-killing ways!
5. Phantom Power is Everywhere! The PG&E tells me that every PC costs me an average of 6 kWh of use daily at .2823 cents per kWh or $1.69 per day or $50.81 per 30-day billing period. Every flat panel LCD-TV is an energy hog costing about $18 per month at high tiered rates. Adding up all that power consumption will cause any ratepayer to lust for CHEAP coal fired generation.
6. Weather Matters a Lot. See the chart above? My average use can swing 34% over the year mostly because of weather, but my average cost per kWh swings 52% when the weather is warmer and the A/C comes on. The swing in my actual usage from low to high tells me how vulnerable I am to those A/C spikes especially when I have built in factors like swimming pool equipment and the normal afternoon peak use on top of A/C. Level billing is my friend because it averages out the peaks and valleys of my bills giving me a high but steady monthly energy bill with no ugly spike surprises. But trust me—when your average per kWh cost is a staggering $0.28 cents it gets ugly fast.
7. My Smart Meter is Irrelevant! The surprising lesson in all of this is that my smart meter has almost nothing to do with any of these lessons. The data I rely upon was available before my smart meter was installed and the monthly summaries are still the most useful data available for my purposes. So where is the consumer benefit from smart meters? As far as I can tell all the benefits are flowing to PG&E, but my rates are still going up.
My smart meter is not to blame for my rising utility bills
My utility bills are going up because its California and it gets hot in the summer, my wife insists upon having the A/C on, and my politicians and utility regulators demand that I buy the most expensive power supply they can force PG&E to buy to meet their renewable energy and emissions reduction goals.
My family and I compound the situation by living our normal lives using computers, video games and other sources of constant phantom power consumption. As for me, I am NOT willing to give up my flat screen TV nor my ‘beer refrigerator’ in the garage so Pete Darbee keeps sending me a big bill every month and I keep paying it.
The Bakersfield Effect is the sum of all our fears that the costs of living our lives will keep going up, up, up until we can’t afford to live here anymore and have to move back to the Midwest or maybe Texas where power prices are lower and so are taxes—-and most of the politicians have ‘day jobs’.