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A smart meter is a gas, electric, or water meter which keeps detailed statistics on usage, with the term most commonly being used to refer to electric meters. In addition, many smart meters are also designed for telemetering, in which they interface remotely with the utility so that a meter reader does not have to travel to the meter to pick up its data. Many nations have smart meter technology available through their utilities, and several manufacturers of meters produce smart meters with various features.
The full suite of features offered with a smart meter can be quite variable. Telemetering features, in addition to allowing the meter to be read remotely, also often allow for things like instant reporting of power outages and other problems, which allows the utility to respond more quickly. An energy smart meter network can also be used for power monitoring by the utility so that it can balance energy needs during periods of peak demand, such as hot summer days in areas where people use air conditioning.
For customers, the smart meter provides a very useful feature in the form of detailed breakdowns of energy usage. Rather than simply telling people how much energy they use between readings, a smart meter can provide breakdowns showing energy usage patterns. This can help people adjust their energy usage to save money and to reduce the overall demand for power. Utilities may tout this particular feature of the smart meter as an environmental benefit.
It is also possible to link smart meters with smart billing systems. People can sign up, for example, for time of use programs. These programs provide an incentive to use power at off-peak hours by keeping billing low during these hours. Using a smart meter, the utility can monitor when power is used and bill differently at different times and people can also access their metering accounts to track their energy use so that they can adjust it dynamically during the billing cycle, rather than waiting for bills to arrive.
The installation of smart meters is also part of a larger program of grid modernization in many nations. As the population increases and the use of electronic devices also rises, many nations are struggling to meet energy needs with their existing grids. Having more sophisticated meters is an important step in improving energy services so that people will be less prone to experiencing outages and other service interruptions.