Snohomish County PUD demonstrated an installation of its new power meter at a Mill Creek home on Thursday and answered questions about accuracy, security and longevity.
The PUD is switching from the analog power meters it’s used for decades to a high-tech digital model that the utility provider says will allow for detailed energy use, same-day remote meter service, and flexible billing that is not based on an estimate.
The billing will offer new rate designs that incentivize shifting energy consumption to off-peak hours. Also, electric car owners can get cheaper rates with time-of-day rate designs.
Further, customers will no longer need to call to report an outage when the network is established. The digital meters will alert PUD as soon as it’s detected.
“The meters will be able to tell us about a power outage faster than through customer calls,” said PUD media liaison Aaron Swaney.
A key element of new meters that also allows for remote tamper detection is the RF (radio frequency) communication system the meters use to communicate with the home office.
Swaney said the radio signal uses encryption at both ends and has no customer identifying information. He said the meters communicate through an encrypted RF signal that does not identify the customer and does not contain personal information.
Despite the new meters’ advantages and security assurances, eight customers have opted out of receiving the new meters. Customers who do not upgrade will be charged a $25 service fee to cover labor and travel expenses.
For those worried about electromagnetism affecting health, PUD offers an information sheet on RF exposure.
Swaney noted that the meters only transmit for less than 10 seconds a day, and the strength is closer to a home Wi-Fi router than a microwave or cell phone. He also mentioned that studies from the World Health Organization and Electric Power Research Institute have concluded that there are no adverse health effects from exposure to low-level RF energy.
“Standing in front of an advanced meter would result in the highest exposure, and even then, the exposure would be 70 times less than the FCC limits,” Swaney said.
Another feature of the new meters is reducing carbon with fewer PUD vehicles on the road. The system controls the power remotely — no working on a time frame with the meter technician.
Though there will still be staff to read the meters for the few households to opt-out, the lack of need has basically eliminated the position. Tim Epp, Connect Up program manager, said that all meter readers were offered up-training and were guaranteed not to lose their jobs.
“Some meter readers have taken up apprenticeships or have gone into IT,” Epps said.
Evan Aratani, a meter journeyman for PUD, performed the equipment swap in about five minutes and explained some of the details of the old meters.
The meter Aranti removed from the house was made in December 1961, the same month and year the U.S. entered the Vietnam War. He said the old meters were hearty and had a low failure rate, and many still have an accuracy of 99%.
He explained that the moving parts in the old meters will slow down over time, giving an inaccurate reading and eventually wearing out altogether. The digital meters have no moving parts and a 20-year life span.
Scott Harder, the home’s owner, looks forward to the features of the new meter. He said his family is environmentally conscious and are new electric vehicle owners.
“I want data and stats to see the big picture better,” Harder said.
Harder explained that seeing his power consumption in real-time will help him plan his bills.
Learn more about Connect Up and the new digital meters by clicking here.
— Story and photos by Rick Sinnett