Just a few years ago, you’d only be able to import (buy) energy from utility companies. Nowadays, thanks partly to solar panels, you can export your energy to the grid in exchange for credits, too.
This 2-way relationship is called net metering and it’s made possible through smart meters. Now, you might be asking, “What in the world is that?”
Well, that – and other related questions – is what I’m here to answer. If you already know what smart meters are, though, feel free to tap on the topics listed below to skip sections. Let’s get to it!
- What are smart meters, exactly? (hint: there are 2 types)
- How to read a smart meter
- The pros and cons of smart meters
What is a smart meter?
A smart meter is a digital electricity meter that shows you information about your daily electricity usage. What makes it “smart” compared to traditional meters, though, is that it can communicate with you and/or your electricity company via mobile network.
Naturally, this comes with a myriad of benefits both to you and the utility company (but more on that later).
Having said that, there are 2 kinds of smart meters you need to be aware of:
- The retailer-owned smart meter, and
- The one that you own
Let’s talk about them.
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Utility smart meter (retailer-owned)
Needless to say, the utility company owns this smart meter. It is also their responsibility to install and maintain.
These smart meters record your electricity usage every 30 minutes and send the data to your power provider. This lets them read your electricity consumption data remotely, bill you accordingly, and let them know of any issues (e.g. outages) with your power.
This smart meter isn’t just for your energy provider either. You have access to data that shows how much energy your home is using, when energy is being used, and how much power you’re sending to the grid.
This meter will be installed if your old analog meter is faulty or if you have a new home that doesn’t have a smart meter installed yet.
Inverter smart meter (homeowner-owned)
The smart meter is attached to your switchboard, enabling your solar inverter to measure energy-related data.
Similar to the utility smart meter, this also measures your home’s energy usage and how much power you’re sending to the grid. Additionally, inverter smart meters also track the solar energy generated by your system.
Likewise, you have access to all this data as well, via a phone app or the meter itself. This leads us to the meat of our conversation…
How to read a smart meter with solar power
Step 1: Locate your smart meter
If you’re not sure where yours is, they’re generally at the front or back of your house. It’s going to look similar to the old analog meters except they have digital displays.
Step 2: Look for the scroll button
This button is what you’re going to use to scroll through the different screens on your LCD.
Step 3: Scroll through the displays until you find what you’re looking for
Every smart meter is going to have different sets of screens that show different information. What the screens show will vary depending on the manufacturer as well.
Generally, though, here’s what you’ll find:
- The first page will almost always be a number displayed in kWh (kilowatt hours). This number is the total number of kWh your home has drawn from the grid.
- There will be a page that shows the total amount of solar energy you’ve fed to the grid in kWh. This number generally comes with a negative symbol (-) to make it easier to tell the pages apart.
- There will also be a page that shows you the exact amount of energy you’re either taking or feeding to/from the grid.
- Within these pages, you will also notice arrows (or rectangles) pointing or moving to the left or right. If it’s to the right, that means you’re taking electricity from the grid; if it’s to the left, you’re sending your excess energy to your electricity provider.
Alternatively, you can always use your inverter’s app on your phone
This, of course, comes with your purchase of solar panels and inverter. Naturally, every brand will have its own app but all of them will show you your solar power production data even if you don’t have a smart meter.
Installing smart meters that communicate with your inverter, however, will grant you access to more data. As I mentioned earlier, this includes information about your energy consumption as well as how much energy your solar system is sending to the grid.
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Pros and cons of using smart meters
Now that we have that covered, let’s quickly tackle some pros and cons.
- You have instant access to accurate data about your home’s electricity usage. This allows you to compare your consumption to that of the average and see if your energy usage is more or less than the people in your community.
- Access to your electricity data allows you to cross reference your info to the ones shown on your electricity bills.
- Knowing your solar power generation and consumption patterns can help you change a few habits that could save you more energy. Like filling up the water kettle halfway instead of full, for example.
- Your property data being sent to the electricity company means no one has to go to your home to read your meter, making energy bills generally more accurate.
- The data you have can also serve as an indicator if you have enough excess energy to justify a solar battery.
- Utility smart meters are non-transferable. Meaning, that if you decide to switch providers, your meter needs to be changed, too.
- Different retailers offer different prices for their smart meters. Some offer them free; some at a cost.
- Mobile data is required to transfer data. So, if your property has poor coverage, the data you send back to your electricity retailer might not be as accurate and up-to-date as you’d like.
- You’re sharing your home’s data. That’s a bit too intrusive for some people. If that’s you, ask your provider if you have the option to stop telecommunications. You will still have access to the data on the screen but you might have to pay extra every month for a meter reader.
Whether we like it or not, smart meters are the norm now. They’re the new and replacement meters for everyone, so learning how to read them could play a crucial role in saving more money.
Unfortunately, different brands come with different instructions but all of them will come with a scroll button to navigate through pages, and these pages will show you the net amount of energy you imported and exported to the grid.
With solar panels, your system’s inverter can show you even more information about your solar power production, particularly if you have an inverter smart meter installed on your switchboard.
That being said, if you’re ready to make the switch to solar power, we have a network of pre-vetted solar installers ready to give you 3 FREE quotes right now.