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Smart Meters may be dumber than you think, according to Dutch study

Why it matters to you

Even if your electricity and gas supplier wants you to upgrade to smart meters, it might be worth reconsidering for the time being.

Smart meters are one of the new ways that energy companies are looking to keep a closer eye on our energy usage, while ostensibly making life easier for consumers. However, new research suggests that self-checking meters may actually be exaggerating the amount of energy being used, in some cases by as much as 580 percent.

The concept of the smart meter is a relatively simple one. Instead of requiring a regular meter reading from consumers, they electronically record how much energy is used and then transmit that information to the supplier on an hourly or daily basis. It shouldn’t be too complicated because beyond transmitting the data, less-smart meters have, of course, been reading energy usage for a long time. But this new generation could stand to learn something from its elders.

This latest investigation was conducted in The Netherlands, where some 750,000 smart meters have recently been installed in homes, in conformity with a government mandate introduced to see every home fitted with a smart meter by 2020.

Following rumors that smart meters were seeing excessive charges applied to consumers, Professor Frank Leferink, at the University of Twente, Netherlands (via Engadget), conducted a study of several commercial electronic smart meters manufacturers between 2004 and 2014. When hooked up to a number of power-consuming devices, actual consumption was compared to the meter readings.

Out of the nine meters tested, five of them were found to give readings higher than the power actually consumed. In one case it was 582 percent higher, though in two others, the meters recorded 30 percent less power usage than actually took place.

Although the largest discrepancies seem likely to be due to problems with the meters themselves, many of them struggled with specific appliances used in peoples’ homes. Energy saving lightbulbs, LED bulbs, and dimmer switches all seemed to cause the most variation when it came to the meters’ outputs.

The suggested reason for the inconsistency with certain hardware is a lack of a perfect waveform, often found with more energy efficient devices.

Although all meters tested meet all legal requirements, the study’s authors believe that they do not factor in the effect of many “modern switching devices,” and are therefore not capable of wholly accurate readings.