Get Smart, Meters

Smart Metre, Utilities Kingston, Canada's most sustainable city, Kingston, OntarioWhen it comes to improving eco-friendly practises, Kingston has made some modest and forward thinking strides over the past year.  We’ve mentioned the introduction of the organic waste recycling program, ongoing rain barrel initiative, as well as the launch of our neighbouring wind farm, all of which have helped cast the Limestone City in a greener light.  Accordingly, Kingston is tackling environmental issues more seriously, and ambitiously striving to become Canada’s most sustainable city.  While we have a ways to go before the local food movement, LEED building standards, pedestrian friendly days, and rooftop solar arrays become the norm, another significant sustainable change is on the horizon.

The Ontario Government has pledged that by the end of 2010, every home and business in the province will be equipped with a revolutionary smart meter, which is expected to improve energy conservation.  Presently, existing meters have to be read manually, and thus your monthly statement reflects either an estimate or a top-up of your overall consumption.  Smart meters will speed up reporting through continuous, wireless communication of your electricity usage to Utilities Kingston.  In the end, the expectation is that consumers will manage consumption so that it does not coincide with peak times, which are subject to higher billing rates.  As detailed by CBC:

People with smart meters shall be charged a sliding scale of rates based on the time of day power is used. The prices range from a high of 9.3 cents per kWh to a low of 2.9 cents per kWh. It would cost much less to use major appliances after 10 p.m. In the summer, it would make sense to use the air conditioner less during the afternoon. Holding off until the weekend to do laundry would also save money.

The economic and environmental savings provided via the smart grid aren’t enough for some critics who believe that smart meters are too expensive to install, ranging from $250 to $500 per unit, which could result in minimal to zero financial savings.  Furthermore, significant concerns have also been raised about privacy, as the smart system essentially gives unknown entities a window into your home.  Although Utilities Kingston has yet address these concerns, I expect that they’ll be rolling out a limited awareness campaign well before they commence city-wide installation of smart meters.  And in the end, whether you like it or not, by 2011 smart meters will become another feather in Kingston’s sustainable cap.

Will the advent smart meters cause you to get off the grid, or do you welcome the potential savings?  Let us know by dropping off a few comments in the box below.  Thanks and credit to Duke Energy for the photo capturing a smart meter in the wild.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

14 thoughts on “Get Smart, Meters

  • Seems to me that the Whig ran a story not long ago about smart meters. Apparantly there have been complaints about them overcharging. My main concern with them is just that. Right now I count on the same average utilities bill every month. I can’t afford to have major flucuations in my utilities bill. A few people I have talked to have the same concern.

  • @michaelwc If you find a link to that article, please send it along as I could not. Otherwise, if you’re concerned about having a consistent bill, you can always elect to pay a flat monthly rate. A friend of mine who moved into a new home did this to avoid monthly fluctuations, and after the first year, he had a $500 dollar credit on his utilities account. The second year, he adjusted the monthly rate so to get it in line with what he expected to use based on the previous year.

  • Here is the article that I was refering to earlier. Generally I do pay a flat rate just slighty above what my monthly average bill is. Basically depending on what time of year I put 50 or 75 each month. This usually works out perfect for me. However I have been burned in the past(I was one of those silly people who switched providers thinking it would be cheaper but instead was just double billed for a year) when it came to utilites and dread any more changes. Hopefully all the possible kinks are worked out of the system before we install this.

  • Here it is, Harvey

    We’ve had the smart meter here (West End) for more than a year, but I don’t know when we’re supposed to kick into the tiered pricing.

    I don’t imagine it will make an awful lot of difference to us: we already schedule things like the dishwasher and laundry for off-peak times.

  • Thanks to the four of you for hooking up that link. Clearly I’m not a regular Whig reader to know that they’d already broached the subject.

  • I would characterize these strides as more than “modest” – the way to progress is through encouragement of the good stuff.

  • @That Guy When it comes to sustainable practices, more often than not Kingston is following what other communities have already done. In other words, Canada’s most sustainable city is anything but a leader in sustainability. Sure the changes we are making should be applauded, but save for the Wolfe Island Wind Farm (which some don’t consider as belonging to Kingston proper), they are anything but revolutionary. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel with everything we do, but it would be nice to see us come up with at least one original idea.

  • Ok, so Kingston isn’t bleeding-edge, but I do see an effort. This is especially significant in my estimation considering we’re in an economic downturn/recession/depression (despite what the talking heads say).

    As for the “most sustainable city” title, I think it isn’t a helpful one, as competition isn’t what this is about, but rather making steady progress.

  • Here is another one for you guys. I think I am on a smart meter kick today.
    I am noticing there is alot of good info about these things out there but that the “downfalls” are conveniently buried. And of course when you do find the bad news…its really bad. IT always seems to be the same thing…More money coming out of our pocket and into the electric company. I know I will be asking my landlord if and when they will be switching to this system and be extra careful/cautious/vigilent.

  • I was visited last week by the folks that are installing these. I stood nearby to see how the install is done, and was permitted to peak over the installer's shoulder to see my device sync via gps. I joked that I didn't want a smart metre installed if it meant seeing my bill rise. The guy laughed and responded that at least one in a million pieces of the hardware are bound to fail. It's kind of like winning the lottery…in opposite ville.

  • Smart meters are in fact a good idea, since it is apparent that North Americans, me included, are generally too apathetic to control our uses for the betterment of the environment. So, it takes measures like this to impart change – i.e. control behaviours through financial incentive or disincentive. While I whole-heartedly wish that was not the way of the world, it is for most people.

    To my knowledge, it is likely some homes and apartments will see their bills go up, simply due to old meters generally having become less accurate with age. Consider yourself lucky if you had one of those for the last couple of decades.

    If you think you are all of a sudden getting ripped off, there are a number of really neat devices (Centameter, The Energy Detective, etc) that can help you monitor your own use real-time. I have a Centameter, and love it. It just lets you keep one eye open to your consumption and almost becomes a bit of a way of life, making sure that consumption is a low and as close to the phantom load as possible. What is a BIG SHAME is that the units that UK is installing do not have a simple, after-market add-on feature that can allow a homeowner to do the same thing as the Centameter and TED, without the $200-$300 expense. In fact, I dare say that it would have been awesome if UK had purchased such devices, AND provided an internal energy display meter to each owner.

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