What's so smart about 'smart meters?'

Like it or not, smart meters may be the future of power distribution. In the area served by the San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) there are already over 7,000 businesses "benefiting" from the new smart meters and there are plans to expand usage to residential customers as well.

By the end of 2011 SDG&E projects that 1.4 million standard electric meters will be replaced with smart meters and an estimated 900,000 natural gas meters will be upgraded during that same time frame. SDG&E tells us that.

Smart meters allow for two way communication between you and SDG&E. These meters record your energy use information daily. It's then remotely sent to SDG&E's computer data center for operations, billing and customer service. This means SDG&E will be able to better manage overall energy needs and quickly detect power outages as they happen.

Maybe it's just me, but there is something unsettling about having a smart meter tracking my power consumption. Will there come a day when excessive power usage will be treated as a crime? Who will determine what is excessive? This may seem intrusive, but as SDG&E explains it.

SDG&E and the state have aggressively championed many energy conservation efforts. While this has helped to save energy, the number of days when there has been a potential shortage has been growing. Smart meters and the information they provide can help save energy on these high use days, keeping the lights on for everyone.

Nobody wants blackouts, so maybe the smart meters will turn out to be something for the greater good. What's a little conservation and home energy use monitoring compared to the alternative?

In the United Kingdom there is a push to have smart meters installed in every home by 2020 in order to help meet their energy crisis. However, there may be a problem with the smart meters, according to an article in the UK Daily Mail.

...an 18-page briefing by the Cyber Security Operations Centre-a branch of Government spy agency GCHQ-says computer links between homes and power stations could be hacked into by terrorists, causing a nationwide blackout.

It says: ‘State actors [countries] could use similar techniques to shut off power to the government of a hostile country in time of war, preventing the opposing country from co-ordinating its defence.'

Given the growing number of cyber attacks we have experienced of late, the potential for a disastrous assault on our power grid looms large. Finding ways for more and more people to use less energy doesn't seem very smart to me. Why not expand our energy production to meet our growing needs, I'm with Sarah Palin; "drill baby, drill!"

Phil Boehmke