It's a great question to ask, and an important one for the future of our electricity needs. If you're not familiar with these little systems, they were built to help us save money on our utility bills. Now, you probably want to know more about it, but the thing is this is what the electric companies tell us. It's our job to figure out whether or not it's true, and who will actually benefit from it.
Soon you will be able to find these electricity meters in your neighborhood - in fact many are being used today. It's said that we will be able to save all kinds of energy when we do. Right now they are only found in a small fraction of the 3,000 utility companies across the country.
Smart meters take the place of regular power meters. They send data about power consumption by radio signal. This data is received directly by the power company, which can send signals back to tell the meter what to do. This means no more meter readers and no more delay in bills. That means that companies will be able to keep track of consumption as it rises and lowers throughout the course of the day. That permits them to start implementing based on supply and demand, giving users at off-peak times bargain pricing. This kind of pricing is already pretty common among industrial users. It's just recently that it's reached commercial and residential electricity markets. As of 2005, the federal government is recommending that state utility commissions consider demand-response pricing. Utilities have planned to deploy over forty million smart meters by 2010.
How does that break down into cheaper power for you? Well, you'll be able to choose when you're using power and look at pricing in real time. You can see how much your usage is costing you and make choices based on that. If rates are high, it might be time to put off some energy intensive chores or turn up the thermostat a little to save power. If rates are low, it might be time to do a lot of laundry or just enjoy the savings.
So to answer your question, we believe it's going to help all of us save money down the road. However, until we actually see how it working, we can only hope at this point. There will be nothing like seeing that your bill is low and thinking; "Okay, today would be a great day to do some more laundry or cook a great meal in the oven." There are many scenarios we could share, but being able to see live results will be very beneficial to both the power companies and customers just like you.