Smart-meter technology distrusted for expense, privacy, health concerns

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Proponents of smart meters say that giving immediate information to utility customers on their energy usage will make them more aware of their energy consumption and will consume less power as a result.

That information, however, doesn’t come cheap. As can be seen from the PG&E example, a smart meter program may take decades before it pays for itself.

That payback figure may take even longer than expected due to recent natural gas finds in the United States. Energy companies have found themselves in a natural gas glut that has depressed prices to the lowest levels in a decade. These depressed energy prices should reduce electricity costs for consumers, making smart meters less attractive.

In addition, in most cases, the customer would have to bear the cost of setting up a home network to access the information in the meter and monitor their power consumption. The utility company is interested in harvesting the billing information for the electricity coming into the house. They are not interested in how it is used, at least for now.

The argument for using smart meters to stem global warming is also losing its appeal as doubts have arisen about the entire global warming issue, and it is taking a back burner to the economic problems in the country.

There is also a concern among both customers and utility companies about the security of the meters. At this year’s Black Hat computer hacking conference, two smart meter hacking tools were demonstrated. While these “hacks” could be used to check for smart meter vulnerabilities, such as password strength levels, they could also be used by a customer or a third party to commit fraud.

According to Spencer McIntyre, a member of a team that developed the hacking tools, “Our tool is framework-extensible by the community: It’s completely open source. … Being able to write and read from a meter … could be used for fraud, which is a large concern for power companies.”

Other privacy advocates are worried that smart meters and smart home networks may be used for more than just monitoring energy usage. Power companies (and governments) may use the meters to cut power to home with a series of keystrokes.

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