American Electric Power will soon begin installing Smart Meters on homes throughout the southern Ohio area in early November and AEP Ohio's Director of Grid Modernization, Scott Osterholt, is clearing up the air when it comes to some of the misconceptions surrounding Smart Meter technology.
"A Smart Meter is a device that measures how much energy is consumed by a building, property or house," said Osterholt. "The difference in a Smart Meter [compared to an analog meter], is that it has two-way communications. It uses low-frequency radio waves. So basically we can send signals from our offices to the meter, and it can also send information back to us."
The idea of Smart Meters is to allow both utility companies and their customers to better monitor electric usage, while making it easier for utility companies to collect data recorded by the meter.
Some have expressed concerns over the use of Smart Meters due to their use of low frequency radio waves to transmit information. Some believe these low-frequency waves can have negative impacts on public health, but Osterholt says a variety of studies have shown otherwise.
"The World Health Organization has indicated that small amounts of Radio Frequency, or RF, is not harmful," said Osterholt. "When we start talking about the Smart Meter, people often like to question how much RF that puts out. If I can compare it to a cell phone, which we all have, I can tell you the output side is less than or equal to a cell phone. If you think about a Smart Meter and how much it communicates, it would have to communicate for 375 years to be equivalent to one year of somebody talking on a cell phone for 15 minutes a day."
Another common concern is that Smart Meters collect information on people, and some fear that information may be sold to outside companies. Osterholt says that's simply not true.
"What a Smart Meter is collecting is generally the meter number and the total usage over a determined period of time," said Osterholt. "Besides that, the only other information being supplied to AEP by the meter is whether or not there's a problem with the meter, or whether or not any outages are occurring."
Osterholt adds that Smart Meters run on their own network, so they will not interfere with or use a resident's broadband service.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the new Smart Meters. The first involves durability. Osterholt says Smart Meters don't last as long as the older style analog meters due their internal components
"An older analog meter doesn't have a computerized board so they do last a bit longer than the new Smart Meters," said Osterholt. "A typical life for a Smart Meter from the vendor where we get them from is about 15 years."
The second downside of smart meters, is that they do not require AEP employees to come read the meter, which will result in a fewer number of meter reading positions at the company. Osterholt says while some jobs will be lost, other new high-tech positions will be needed within the company as a result.
If residents are concerned about the new Smart Meters, Osterholt says AEP is not forcing their customers to have one installed. He says residents can keep their analog meter, but I will cost them to do so.
"If a customer wants to opt out, we've worked with the Ohio Pubic Utilities Commission to establish what the right fee for that would be," said Osterholt. "We've established a $24 fee. That's an actual cost-based number for us to send an employee out and get that meter read. But if a customer does want to opt out, we're here to help them make that happen.
American Electric Power will begin installing the Smart Meters throughout southern Ohio starting in November of this year, and is expected to be completed in spring of 2019.
Anyone with questions about Smart Meters can contact American Electric Power by email at email@example.com. Additional information can be found at aepohio.com\smartmeter.