Next-Gen Smart Meters Have Arrived. Why That’s A Good Thing.

It’s been almost 20 years since the first smart electricity meters were deployed in the U.S. The introduction of these new power meters promised greater transparency, accuracy, and reliability around home energy usage. While they’re more sophisticated than the analog meters of the past, they’ve mostly fallen short of expectations.

The data they provide is not as detailed as hoped. They can’t tell customers how much energy they’re using at the moment or how it’s being used within the home. Any data or insight comes after energy has already been used, so no immediate action can be taken to reduce energy usage.

First-generation smart meters are a misnomer that makes the introduction of truly “smart” meters more challenging. But the new generation of smart meters actually live up to the name. With them, customers finally have access to real-time energy data to make their homes smarter and more energy efficient.

Next-generation smart meters are poised to modernize the grid

Given their importance in the energy transition, it’s time we thought of electricity meters as more than a digital billing device.

We know that in order to electrify everything, we’re going to need smart tools to help balance an evolving energy supply and growing demand, while also managing the transition from aging to newer infrastructure.

Next-generation smart meters are capable of so much more than calculating our home energy usage. They can balance resources, including integrating DERs (Distributed Energy Resources) like rooftop solar, battery storage, or solar microgrids that will play a major role in the energy transition.

As demand grows through the adoption of heat pumps, electric vehicles, and electrification in general, utilities will be able to defer higher-priced upgrades to the grid by using these smart meters to effectively predict and respond to demand.

Sense-enabled electric meters will also help utilities automate and improve grid health. By being able to detect and respond to issues between the distribution network and energy consumers, they can increase reliability and decrease downtime when something goes wrong.

Next-generation smart meters will empower consumers with real-time data on the energy they’re using so they can improve their home’s energy efficiency. Real-time data happens in a second or less, which allows consumers and utilities to make changes to optimize energy use in the moment, not on a delay when it’s less likely to have the same impact.

With the use of AI, Sense-enabled smart meters will be able to measure how much energy individual devices in the home are consuming at any given time from dishwashers to heat pumps to EVs. This technology will also help identify grid restraints and power anomalies, like tree branches affecting distribution lines.

New, important consumer benefits

With their upgraded capabilities, Sense-enabled smart meters offer a host of benefits for consumers.

They can connect to residents’ home Wi-Fi networks to deliver real-time data about their energy usage through the Sense Home app. That real-time data is necessary for understanding not only how much energy consumers use, but which appliances are using the most energy and when.

When users understand how and when their homes use electricity, they can reduce their energy use and time certain power loads for when electricity is cheapest if they’re on a Time-of-Use (TOU) rate plan. This could look like shifting electric vehicle charging to the early morning to save on their electricity bill, help reduce demand during peak hours, and take advantage of plentiful green energy.

During times of heavy demand, local governments, utilities, or third-party demand response services can ask residents to reduce their load. Real-time data, and visibility to it through the Sense Home app, helps consumers to determine which loads can be shed to meet the request.

By giving both utilities and consumers access to detailed, real-time data, next-generation smart meters are a major step forward in the energy transition.

Next-generation smart meters are here

Large infrastructure changes like this take time. New investments require regulatory approval and utilities have to be able to justify major investments. In most cases, existing smart meters and their supporting infrastructure like communications networks will need to come to the end of their lives before a utility can make the case for replacing them.

But next-generation smart meters are being installed now. New York state began rolling them out last fall and will have more than 500,000 in operation by the end of 2024. Other states, including Massachusetts, are set to follow with their own installations in 2025.

By 2030, Sense projects that 20 million Sense-enabled smart meters will be installed around the country. Through empowering consumers and utilities with real-time, actionable data, their installation will pave the way for a smarter, cleaner energy future.