Most people understand that utility bills are a necessary evil if they want to live in the modern world – even if utility bills eat up a large portion of monthly income. That said, few are willing to pay more than they should be paying. In 2017, however, a shocking study revealed that many consumers were getting over-billed by significant margins, and it had to do with smart meters. While this study is getting old at this point, it begs the question, is there an issue, and has it been fixed?
Smart Meters Overbilling
A research team from the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences documented billing inaccuracies in a paper that reviewed the efficacy of so-called “smart” electric meters. These inaccuracies ranged from -32 percent to +582 percent of the actual power consumed in a month’s period .
The paper also noted that, ironically, the overbilling is mostly due to older power-saving features because they introduce line noise that interferes with the wireless signal. This noise ‘confuses’ the meters.
“The inaccurate readings are attributed to the energy meter’s design, together with the increasing use of modern (often energy-efficient) switching devices,” the paper explained. “Here, the electricity being consumed no longer has a perfect waveform, instead it acquires an erratic pattern. The designers of modern energy meters have not made sufficient allowance for switching devices of this kind.” 
In all, five of nine smart meters that were tested provided readings that were substantially greater than the real amount of energy utilized, while two actually gave readings lower than the amount of power consumed.
Researchers found the biggest discrepancies when they joined dimmer switches with LED and energy-saving light bulbs.
Upon finishing their experiments, researchers then took apart the tested smart meters to see if they could find out what was causing the massive deviations. In the process, the researchers found that the meters which provided the dramatically higher usage rates used a Rogowski Coil in the construction, while meters that gave artificially lower readings employed Hall effect-based sensors. Both modes of construction inaccurately measured the actual amount used.
Are These Meters Safe?
In addition to costing consumers far more money, some researchers contend that the meters themselves are also health hazards.
A few lawmakers at the state level are taking action, including State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Michigan. He testified before the state House Energy and Technology Committee in March 2017 regarding a piece of legislation – HB 4220 – that would permit homeowners to opt-out of having smart meters installed without having to pay a fine.
Mr. Colbeck has based his opposition to smart meters on research indicating that they can cause a wide array of health problems. He also argued that they pose a cybersecurity threat in their installation and use, since they are wireless and transmit data to the utility company.
“When I look at what happens with smart meters, in particular, I’m actually concerned it is putting our homes, our nation, and frankly some of the power suppliers at significant risk,” he said during his testimony .
Others have issues with the privacy aspect of smart meters. Criminals can take data from a wireless smart meter to determine when people are home and when they are gone, which provides them a window to enter the home.
There have also been a number of reports from the US, Australia, and Canada documenting smart meters catching fire or exploding, making them a possible safety hazard .
Its 2021- Have Smart Meters Been Fixed?
In 2009, when smart meters first arrived on the energy scene, president Barack Obama praised the innovation.
“Smart meters will allow you to actually monitor how much energy your family is using by the month, by the week, by the day, or even by the hour,” he said. “So coupled with other technologies, this is going to help you manage your electricity use and your budget at the same time.” 
In 2016, the European Union announced that it would expect suppliers to have offered or installed smart meters to eighty percent of households by 2020. The UK decided that it expected that number to be one hundred percent by the same year .
The problem was that governments gave the responsibility for this to the energy suppliers. They should have given it to gas and electricity network operators, who have the workforce and infrastructure to install whole streets at a time instead of home by home.
In the rush to meet this aggressive deadline, suppliers are still installing first-generation meters because not enough new ones are available. These do not transmit live readings if a customer switches suppliers.
There are also not enough trained technicians to install all these meters.
“Customers have complained of meters with holes drilled into them to fix to walls, damaging the mechanisms of the meter, long waits for missing parts and problems with displays that don’t work, wrong readings and random bills,” said Martyn James of the complaints website Resolver .
He highlighted one case in particular where an installer caused a gas leak. When they returned to fix the problem, they found an asbestos panel and insisted the customer pay a massive sum to have it removed before they fixed the issue.
The National Audit Office of the UK has estimated that over the next few years, taxpayers will have paid half a billion pounds more than expected for the project.
Smart Meters in the US
The situation in the United States does not appear to be much better. Residents across the country have been speaking out since their monthly energy bills have doubled or even tripled. They are blaming the sudden increase on their new smart meters. David Marshbanks complained to his supplier, Duke Energy Carolinas, about his increasing bill. They performed a remote test, and said the reading was fine.
“They did a remote test and said there was nothing wrong with it,” he said. “It’s transmitting wirelessly how much power I use. But it went from $230 to over $500 in one month.” 
Another nearby resident claimed his bill also shot up as soon as a smart meter was installed.
“A month later my bill had more than doubled, almost tripled,” Leon McCoig said. “They told me it was because of the weather. But it was extraordinarily high. I was expecting a $200 bill, and I get an almost $500 bill. I’d never had such a high charge before.” 
When McCoig asked the company to install a new meter, they told him he would have to pay for it. This, he thought, was outrageous, since he never asked them to change the meter in the first place. Joshua Hart, the founder of the California-based stopsmartmeters.org, says that the increase has to do with the different ways these meters measure electricity.
“The digital meters are picking up electronics and picking up other activity and billing people for it, which was never the practice before,” he explained. “Essentially, the utilities are reaping a lot of profit from this.” 
He added that there is also some evidence that the meters can be affected by sunlight, high temperatures, and nearby cell towers.
The Debate Rages On
Even after several years, it still appears that there are some fundamental issues with smart meter technology, and the debate has continued. Opponents of the meters cite unjustly high energy bills and health concerns. Energy companies argue the smart meters save customers money and do not pose a health risk.
One thing, however, is abundantly clear: for all their promise, smart meters have not appeared to save Americans any money. Some have pointed out that this is because if Americans want to save energy, simply installing a smart meter is not enough. They must also actively use the information the meter provides and make changes to their habits if they want to see their bills come down .
Still, others vehemently argue that the smart meter is flawed technology and is causing massive increases in their energy bills. For those people, the numbers do seem to be on their side.
In the meantime, it is worth paying attention to your energy bills and watching for any sudden increases. If you have a smart meter installed in your home, you, too, could be getting overcharged.
- “Electronic energy meters’ false readings almost six times higher than actual energy consumption.” Science Daily. March 3, 2017.
- “Secure Your Family from Cyber Threats with an Analog Meter, Says Michigan State Senator.” Smart grid Awareness. K.T Weaver. March 13, 2017
- “Smart Meter Fires and Explosions.” EMF Safety Network
- Washington Post
- “Not so smart: bad meter installations leave users in debt and in the dark.” The Guardian. Anna Tims. July 28, 2019.
- “‘Shocking’ electricity bills spark concern about smart meters in the Upstate, but Duke says they’re accurate.” Greenvile Online. Paul Hyde. April 30,2018.