The Lowdown on BC Hydro’s Highly Controversial Smart Meters

BC Hydro is in the middle of changing out all of its power meters across the province for Smart Meters. In conversations with friends and family, I’ve come to realise there is a lot of confusion about what it all means.

For most end users, the benefit of Smart Meters will begin right about… now! With winter upon us we enter the traditional cycle of Canadian life where inclement weather leads to periods of power loss. One of the main benefits with the Smart Meters is that they detect power interruptions and instantly inform BC Hydro of the fact. They have a built-in capacitor that holds enough of a charge to send out a “last gasp” SOS message.

The benefits are huge; Hydro instantly knows who has and doesn’t have power. If you have a cabin in a more remote area, you can rest a bit easier knowing that no human intervention is needed to alert BC Hydro of power outages. If you arrive home and find the power out, while it is still a good idea to call and check on the status of your power, you can rest assured that as soon as the power went out the work began on restoring it.

A more subtle benefit is the Smart Meter also informs Hydro of when power is restored. As is often the case in windstorms, a problem in your area may be solved, but if there are multiple issues, the crews will know right away that they have to trouble shoot another issue before the task is complete.

Most of the confusion I hear revolves around the capabilities NOT included in BC’s version of the Smart Meter. They are not designed to facilitate “power shifting.” Some regions of the country are capacity constrained, in other words there are peak times when there is not enough energy to service the demand. This causes the “rolling brownouts” that we hear of from time to time and experience in places like Toronto. In those regions, the concept of power shifting, such as doing your laundry late at night, makes sense to even out power consumption over the day.

In BC there is no need for that sort of conservation; far more relevant is the need to make your home more energy efficient, and here the Smart Meters can help. You can view your home’s consumption and compare it to the neighbourhood average. That way you know if you are consuming more power than others who have similar homes to you, and can trouble shoot excessive energy use.

I had a great interview with Gary Murphy, the Chief Project Officer from Hydro discussing the Smart Meters.