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This report is limited to a very simple overview of how smart meters work, and the other parts of the communication system that are required for them to transmit information on energy usage within a home or other building. The reader can find more detailed information on smart meter and smart grid technology from numerous sources available on the Internet.
Often called ‘advanced metering infrastructure or AMI’, smart meters are a part of an overall system that includes a) a mesh network or series of wireless antennas at the neighborhood level to collect and transmit wireless information from all the smart meters in that area back to a utility.
The mesh network (sometimes called a distributed antenna system) requires wireless antennas to be located throughout neighborhoods in close proximity to where smart meters will be placed. Often, a municipality will receive a hundred or more individual applications for new cellular antenna service, which is specifically to serve smart meter technology needs. The communication network needed to serve smart meters is typically separate from existing cellular and data transmission antennas (cell tower antennas). The mesh network (or DAS) antennas are often utility-pole mounted. This part of the system can spread hundreds of new wireless antennas throughout neighborhoods.
Smart meters are a new type electrical meter that will measure your energy usage, like the old ones do now. But, it will send the information back to the utility by wireless signal (radiofrequency/microwave radiation signal) instead of having a utility meter reader come to the property and manually do the monthly electric service reading. So, smart meters are replacements for the older ‘spinning dial’ or analog electric meters. Smart meters are not optional, and utilities are installing them even where occupants do not want them.
In order for smart meters to monitor and control energy usage via this wireless communication system, the consumer must be willing to install power transmitters inside the home. This is the third part of the system and involves placing power transmitters (radiofrequency/microwave radiation emitting devices) within the home on each appliance. A power transmitter is required to measure the energy use of individual appliances (e.g., washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, etc) and it will send information via wireless radiofrequency signal back to the smart meter. Each power transmitter handles a separate appliance. A typical kitchen and laundry may have a dozen power transmitters in total. If power transmitters are not installed by the homeowner, or otherwise mandated on consumers via federal legislation requiring all new appliances to have power transmitters built into them, then there may be little or no energy reporting nor energy savings.
Smart meters could also be installed that would operate by wired, rather than wireless means. Shielded cable, such as is available for cable modem (wired internet connection) could connect smart meters to utilities. However, it is not easy to see the solution to transmit signals from power transmitters (energy use for each appliance) back to the utility.
Collector meters are a special type of smart meter that can serve to collect the radiofrequency/microwave radiation signals from many surrounding buildings and send them back to the utility. Collector meters are intended to collect and re-transmit radiofrequency information for somewhere between 500-5000 homes or buildings. They have three operating antennas compared to two antennas in regular smart meters. Their radiofrequency microwave emissions are higher and they send wireless signal much more frequently. Collector meters can be place on a home or other building like smart meters, and there is presently no way to know which a homeowner or property owner might receive.