Smart Utility Meters

© Brooke Clarke 2011

Water, Water Leak, Hose Bib Digital Water Meter


The failure of Tesla's electric power system is probably due to the fact that it contained no provision to meter the users.  Some utility companies do not use meters, for example the Sacramento, California water utility, since they feel the added cost of the meters, reading the meters and additional billing complexity does not make economic sense.  But for most applications metering the usage is the common practice.

The motivation for making this page was the recent mail from Pacific Gas & Electric saying they would be installing a "smart meter" in the very near future.

Note smart meters (Wiki) can be applied to any metered utility such as: electricity, gas, water, liquid nitrogen, etc.

There are different flavors of Automatic Meter Reading (Wiki AMR).

Types of Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) Systems

Walk By

In the simplest "walk by" system the meter can be queried by a nearby reading radio.  But this requires a meter reader to get close to the meter, but it's easier and faster than reading the meter using your eyes and writing down the reading.  The reading is automatically recorded along with the meter ID information.  Also some systems, like for water, record hourly use rather than just the total.  Note that the meter reader does not to remove the lid from the pit saving a lot of time.  The meter only transmits the data after getting a query from the meter reading radio.  The transmitter in the meter is low power (100 milli watts?) since it only needs to cover on the order of about 50 feet.  902 to 928 MHz ISM band  My water meter.

Fixed Network

A more capable system used a fixed network where the meter communicates with the network so no meter reader is needed, but when a new meter is added it might get complicated if the network is very heavily loaded.  Repeaters are needed since there's no central point where a single antenna can see all the meters.  There are different protocols for this type of system, in one the central computer will query each meter in turn.  The transmitter in the meter has more power (1 Watt?) and is a spread spectrum type to minimize interference with other systems.  902 to 928 MHz ISM band

Mesh Network

The current hot technology is the mesh network (Wki).  The idea is that each meter is a node in the mesh and receives signals from nearby meters and relays them to other meters that are closer to a collection point.  This allows easily adding and removing nodes.  The problem in my case is that the meter can not hear or talk to the closest neighbor's meter so can not join any network.  A meter reader comes once per month (he came today) and reads the meter using the optical link with a belt mounted device..  You'd think he would have an RF device that would allow reading the meter as he drove by in the street, but that doesn't seem to be the case.  902 to 928 MHz ISM ban.  Might be my electric meter except I'm too far from the neighboring meters to form a mesh, so read manually just like the prior meter.


Analog Electric Meter - Single Stator Watt-hour Meter

Analog Electric Meter

Digital Electric Meter

17 Dec 2013 -Got this email from PG&E today, in response to my query to see why I could not see any on line indication that there was a smart meter here.

"We sincerely apologize; however, at this time your meter is not being read remotely. Pacific Gas and Electric Company will establish a remote connection with your meter once the SmartMeter Network is in place. This usually takes 60 to 90 days. Keep your eyes open for communications from Pacific Gas and Electric Company that will help you take advantage of this new technology."

I thought they would not install a Smartmeter if there was no way for it to communicate in the direction of downtown, but they did.  I'm guessing that once they've installed a bunch of them the next step will to make a connection diagram, i.e. have a computer in a vehicle drive around and query meters and see what other meters they can talk to.  This would be needed to determine how many and where to install pole mounted units to allow all the meters in this area to communicate with the rest of the system.

I'm guessing that the guy who used to read my meter manually now can just drive down the street and probably not even slow down to read the meter.

meter reads:  1178.  Last month usage was 652 kWh, but that last couple of weeks has been the coldest in the past 20 years.  There is snow on the ground that's over a week old, that's never happened before.

Installed 16 Nov 2013 (Saturday).  If I refused the installation there would be a one time charge like $50 and a monthly charge of $10.
The SmartMeters have a wireless module, typically made by Silver Springs Networks (Wiki), that receives and transmits in both the:
902 to 928 MHz ISM band (peak power out 1.5 to 2.5 Watts) and in the      (for meter to meter mesh networks)
2.40 to 2.45 GHz Wifi band (peak power out about 0.1 to 0.2 Watts).  (for the HAN mesh network)
Note both these bands are in the Industrial, Scientific & Medical (ISM) frequency allocations (Wiki).
My guess is that the Wifi is to support both the Home Area Network (Wiki).
It's not clear which frequency my meter is using.  As far as I can tell the meter transmits once each 15 minutes and with a duty cycle that's way below 1 percent so it's not an easy thing to catch it transmitting.

Installation by Wellington Energy (see their web page for the hand held optical interface test set).
If you know the name of the test set let me know.  It's something like TruGPSE01

26 Dec 2013 - A technician came to confirm that the meter was provisioned correctly.  He said they are doing that to some percent of all Smartmeters that were installed, but it also may be related to my asking PG&E why it wasn't working.

It's possible that the WiFi radio is for ZigBee (Wiki).  If that's the case it would be for the HAN.

The technician who installed the smart meter had a hand holdable test instrument on his tool belt.  It had two cylindrical protrusions which I'm guessing are an ANSI C12.18  Type 2 Optical Port.
This my works with the two horizontal dots just below the lower right corner of the LCD.  The left (darker) is the IR LED and the right (clear) one is the photo transistor
One IR LED pulse for each Kt (1.0 Wh in this case) in calibration mode.  Each pulse is about 25 ms wide.

The PG&E My Energy page is not updated to show any SmartMeter data until a full billing cycle after the installation (about 30 days).

Fig 1 Analog meter just after being removed.
Total reading since house was built: 80215 kWh
Year of construction about 1992 or about 3800 kWh per year
or about 300 kWh per month.
                Electric meter
Fig 2 Smart electric meter just after being installed
Model: GE I-210+
Wireless: Silver Springs Networks NIC 314 (Wiki)
                Installation of electric SmartMeter
mfg date 09/13
CL 200 -> 200 Amps
240 VAC
3W -> 3 Wire
ANSI C12.10 Form No. FJ2S
TA30 -> Test at 30 Amps
Test constant (Kt) 1.0 Watt hour
Fig 3 LCD
GE Electric SmartMeter LCD
1 Main kWh display cycles between:
     segment check:  -88888 and the
     kWh total.
     "ERROR" will alternate with the kWh total if there's a problem
2 Watt hour disk emulator  - use stopwatch to time between
    --- and then ---.
Wh = Kh (10.0 Wh) * Number of rotations
3 subsidiary display cycles through:
     247 Volts (voltage of mains feed 240 is nominal)
     on     (maybe shows off if you don't pay your bill)
     Ad1  (maybe showing rate structure)
     2.28 kW showing current energy usage

     I expect the area 3 display will change when the meter has
     been programmed to other electric rate schedules or
     if time of use billing is implemented.
     Note:  There is NO clock shown now.
PG&E: Reading the SmartMeter 
The lower right "Delivered ->" shows energy direction
Fig 4 Video of LCD display cycle
The flickering may be caused by the Terralux flashlight since it does not show up in other videos.

Fig 5 Green LED blinking on right side
                Installation of electric SmartMeter

Photo when the new meter is installed.
There are a number of motivations on the part of P.G. & E. to install these meters
July 20, 2006 CPUC approves PG&E smart meters -

Two Tier Smart Electric Meter

This is not my meter, but belongs to a friend.  It's setup for Time Of Use metering.
Landis Gyr (Wiki) (Now owned by Toshiba) model:  Focus AXR SD

Fig 1 Line Voltage
Two Tier
                  Smart Electric Meter

I expect that the triangle with two dots is the
ANSI C12.18  Type 2 Optical Port.
Fig 2 TOU 01 total kWh
Two Tier
                  Smart Electric Meter
Fig 3 TOU 02 total kWh
Two Tier
                  Smart Electric Meter
Fig 4 "CLS" Clear Screen?
Two Tier
                  Smart Electric Meter
Fig 5 *** All LCD segments on
Two Tier
                  Smart Electric Meter


Although the smart electric meter was installed in Nov 2013, it was not until Jan 2015 that it worked.  The problem was the mesh network could not reach to the collection center.  To fix that PG&E installed a repeater on a power pole on a ridge line that has a very long line of sight.

Since PG&E already has a center tapped 240 VAC transformer on the pole (120-0-120) they wired up the 120 VAC power to the repeater directly to the transformer.
Green and white to the center tap and black to the right side 120 VAC terminal.

Two Tier Smart Electric Meter Two Tier Smart Electric Meter Two Tier Smart Electric Meter

Also see my telephone pole web page.

Electronic Wireless Meter Reading

The meters have 2-way wireless connectivity.  It may be Blue-tooth (Wiki) if so the max range is on the order of 100 m (300 feet).  The idea is that the meters can use neighboring meters to form a mesh network and so in populated areas the communication between meters and a node can cover a large area.  At the node the communication is transferred to a cell phone network and from there to the P.G. & E. central office.  In my case I'm in the forest and I very much doubt there are any neighbors within range (in addition to the distance there's hills and trees).  So I expect them to mount a lot of nodes on telephone poles in hope's of getting a cell phone signal (my cell phone only has 1 or 2 bars inside by house).  It may be that the data is low speed and can be reliable at signal levels lower than would be needed for a voice connection.

There are some who are worried about the radiation and it's effect on their health, but as far as I know there's data that says it's harmless and no data that shows a problem.


There was a CPUC investigation into the accuracy of the smart meters based on radical increases in monthly bills.  The meters turn out to be more accurate than the analog meters.  The rate increases came from billing changes.

Frequent Reading

The meters are read once per hour.

Orwell's Big Brother

By monitoring your utility usage big brother can get some insight if you're home and if so you level of activity and even what that activity is.  For example if you get up in the middle of the night and open the refrigerator door someone can tell that's what's going on.

Internet access to usage

I expect you will be able to go to a web page and see your electrical usage in the reading time interval step size.
See Your Power in My Account - 17 Nov 2013 (Sunday) setup "My Energy" page with PG&E, but so far they are not showing any smart meter stuff.

My Usage/ My Rates: "We're in the process of collecting your usage and will provide you with a rate analysis as soon as we have 9 months of billed SmartMeter usage."

Energy Highlights
Select "My SmartMeter™" and view your Energy Highlights for quick facts on your monthly energy usage, like what your next bill is projected to be, and your average daily cost for energy.

Hourly/Daily Usage
Select "Usage" and view your Hourly/Daily usage to see your gas usage by the day or your electricity usage by the hour.

Energy Alerts
Select "My SmartMeter™" and sign up for Energy Alerts to receive your choice of a phone call, text message or e-mail letting you know you're projected to move into Tier 3 or higher during your billing cycle. You'll also receive additional alerts if you move into Tier 4 or Tier 5.

Time of Day Billing Note 1

The smart meters contain a digital clock that's set over the network so can bill at different rates depending on the time of day.  If you run an air conditioner at noon your bill is going to go way up with Time of Day (Time of Use (TOU)) billing.  I specifically asked about time of use billing and my smart meter does NOT have it.

Off Peak Load ControlNote 1

The idea is that you could load a smart washing machine and let P.G. & E. turn it on when the load is light.  In exchange you would get a discount in the electric rate you pay.  For big loads like an air conditioner the utility may make a free installation of a smart switch to allow remote On-Off control.  But for smaller loads it will be up to the resident to acquire a smart appliance.

Peak Load Control Note 1

If you agree to this option some appliances, like air conditioners, furnaces, clothes dryers, etc. would have an Off function that could be activated when the system load is high.  There would be some limit on how long they could keep the appliance turned off.  I've heard that some electric utilities have smart thermostats where the utility can change the set point temperature so save energy.  In exchange the electricity used would be at a lower cost.

House On-Off

If you didn't pay your bill they could just turn off your whole house.  When moving into a new house they could turn it on after a phone conversation were you setup your account.

Power Outage Detection

When there's a power outage P.G. & E. would notice at the next scheduled reading of your meter.  If that was many times an hour they would know right away, I've heard the meter reports every 15 minutes.

Power Outage Mapping

Once they know there's an outage at some address I'm sure they will have a search procedure where they will query nearby houses based on the wiring of the grid, location of  fuses, etc. and will quickly know the exact location of the problem.  This will allow dispatching a repair crew instead of sending out a scout to find the problem.

Prevent Energy Theft

I'm guessing that this is about messing with an analog electric meter by using a strong magnet.  The smart meter does not use magnetic fields like the analog meter and so is immune to this hack.

Home Area Network (HAN) (Wiki)

The idea is to have various appliances connected to a network including the smart utility meters so that they can be turned on remotely in such a way as to use energy when it's not in demand.
This network will not be a normal home WiFi type network because each appliance needs it's own URL and there are not enough of them.  But it can operate using WiFi protocol.

Utility Inter-tie

The analog meter will run backwards if you are putting power back into the grid.  This was not a recommended practice by P.G. & E., they wanted you to have a separate meter just for that purpose.  It may be that the smart meters are designed to automatically accommodate feeding power into the grid. The most common system is a solar panel array that drives a special load controller combined with the utility inter-tie AC inverter.  A big advantage of this type of system is that it's does not need a bank of batteries that have limited life and are expensive.

I asked if my new smart meter would work with by utility intertie photovoltaic system and the answer was that I would need to order a special meter that could meter returned energy.   But since my system can not overcome my use there's no need for a meter that can measure power going into the grid.

Note1 - For residential customers as of July 2011, you have the option to agree to time of day billing.  But you can see that large commercial and industrial customers have no choice except to be on Time of Day billing.
CPUC - The Benefits of Smart Meters -
"Beginning on May 1, 2010, large commercial and industrial customers will be placed on new Peak Day Pricing rates.  Customers on these rates will pay different prices for electricity depending on the time of day. On the few hottest days of the year, prices for electricity used between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. will increase further. However, PG&E will notify customers about these peak days one day in advance, so customers can plan accordingly. Beginning on November 1, 2011, medium and small commercial and industrial customers will begin moving to new Peak Day Pricing rates.

Residential customers may elect to enroll in PG&E’s Smart Rate program, which is designed to encourage customers to reduce their electricity usage at during peak periods.  Participants in Smart Rate may also elect a bill protection option for the first full summer of participation."

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

ACEEE Study Finds “Smart Meters” Not Smart Enough to Slash Residential Power Use and Significantly Reduce Consumer Electric Bills
In order to save electricity an "In Home Display" or a real time internet feedback system is needed that not only lets you know how much electricity you're using but also can let you know how well you're doing in relation to similar houses that are nearby.  For example if a neighbor has a similar house but a much newer air conditioning system how much difference is there in monthly bills for the same time period.  Substitute and other appliance name and do the comparison.

Smart Gas Meter

PG&E Smart Gas Meter ACLARA does networking and smart meter readers.

Meter in downtown Ukiah on retail building.

You can see that it's a applique that's been added between
the body and analog readout rather than a whole new meter.


A friend's meter.

This is a Badger-Meter, Recordall Transmitter Register Model 25 for 5/8" or 3/4" lines.  Reads in Gallons.  The transmitter is marked Orion.
Note: there are 4 digits with white background and 3 digits with black background.  The rightmost digit is the 10 gallon test circle so does not move.
That leaves 4 + 2 = 6 digits that are live meaning the maximum reading is 9,999,999 or 10 million gallons.

Badger-Meter Recordall Transmitter Register Model
The ideal location for the Orion RF (902 - 915 MHz ISM Wiki) transmitter would be in the lid of the utility box rather than below it for better transmit range.

Badger-Meter also makes an In Home Display that might work with this meter.  That would be great for detecting leaks.  But that might require repositioning the Orion transmitter so a stronger signal could get to the house?  It turns out that the In Home Display only works if the utility company is using a Wi-Fi network to read the meters (i.e. if there's a Wi-Fi signal to feed to In Home Display.  But Millview Water has not installed the smart meters with the antennas above ground and has not built in relay infrastructure needed, the meter reader still needs to get within a few yards of the meter in order for his laptop to get the wireless signal.).

The meter uses a piezo spark generator to send a high voltage pulse to the Orion transmitter.  That may be it's source of power or it may have a long life battery?

Flexible piezoelectric switch activated metering pulse generators,
Badger Meter, Inc., Sep 19, 1989, 340/870.3, 324/157, 310/339
                Called a "High Resolution" meter in patent 5298894.
5298894 Utility meter transponder/antenna assembly for underground installations, Badger Meter, Inc., Mar 29, 1994, 340/870.02, 343/872, 340/870.01, 343/719, 324/74
                This is a walk by automatic meter reading system.
                US5298894 Walk by automatic meter reading system
Field-replaceable battery pack and method for underground installations, Badger Meter, Inc., Dec 19, 1995, 429/97, 429/98, 429/99, 429/100
6300907 Antenna assembly for subsurface meter pits, Badger Meter, Inc., Oct 9, 2001, 343/700.0MS, 343/846, 343/719, 343/850
7626511 AMR transmitter and method for both narrow band and frequency hopping transmissions, Badger Meter, Inc., Dec 1, 2009,
              340/870.02, 340/870.18, 370/310, 370/338, 340/870.01

Water Leak

The water bill was way too high so looking for a leak.
Here's a plot supplied by the water company:

                Water Usage Plot

My interpretation of the above plot:

The spikes are the irrigation timers because those are set to open once every other day for an hour. 
The spikes appear to alternate where one is high the next is lower the next is higher and so on.  
These spikes are mostly over 170 gallons and the time between the high and high (or low and low) is every other day, the same as the timer programming.
That amounts to over 5,000 gallons in a month, far exceeding normal total water usage, so a major problem.
Although the actual number of gallons varies a little that's probably due to changes in water pressure.
So there's two different irrigation circuits that each have a leak.
The drip irrigation emitters are about 1 gallon/hour and the timers are set to be on for one hour every other day.
A typical drip string has maybe 30 emitters, or should use 30 gallons in the hour and do that once every other day, but the actual usage is 4 or 5 times too high.
There are two kinds of problems with drip: First the end of the 5/8" tube opens or second, the emitter or 1/4" line opens.  Since there are a lot of the 1/4" emitters and lines these easily get broken.  Since there was a deer (although a fence is supposed to keep them out) in the exact place the emitters are located, i.e. at the Rose bushes, it's probable that a deer has broken many of the 1/4" lines.

Along the bottom there's a pedestal keeping the usage from going to zero and these are constant leaks.

These are the classical leaks, things like a toilet that never stops running, a faucet that always is dripping, a garden hose on all the time, etc.
I think these small leaks are what's keeping the curves from actually touching the zero use line, but instead being a few gallons above it.

On very hot days (the plot includes many days that are in the area of 100 to 110 deg F) the auto fill for a swimming pool will be adding water with a long time constant, i.e. it may take many days to make up the evaporation since the valve is identical to those used to fill toilet tanks.  This may explain the pedestals.

A rough estimate for normal evaporation would be 1/4" per day.  If the pool was 16' x 40' that's 640 square feet times 1/48' of evaporation is 13.3 cu ft or 100 gallons/day.
If the meter sample rate is once peer hour then 4 gallons/hour would account for evaporation.

It turns out that one drip irrigation line uses 10 gallons in 2-1/2 minutes and a different line uses 10 gallons in 3-1/2 minutes, this is consistent with the spikes on the plot.

This brings up the idea that while drip irrigation conserves water when the system is new, it can waste more water than it saves when something goes wrong.
I've experienced a couple of occasions where the end stop on a 1/2' or 5/8" line opened up, wasting a lot of water.  If 1/8" line is used to feed an emitter it's very common for the line to get pulled out of the main line by an animal.  It's also common for an emitter to break creating a water fountain (if it's pointing up) but if it's pointing any other direction you don't see that there's a problem.  So for the most reliable drip irrigation system only use large (1/2" or 5/8" line) and only install the emitters pointing up so you can see when there's a leak.  Do NOT bury the system since that will hide problems.

My Meter

Because my friend has strange numbers on her bill, I checked my bill and for Aug 2014 it shows:
Last year 23
This year 3355
But there are no units of measure.

I looked at my water meter and it's been changed to a smart meter and they never told me they did that.

The radio transponder is made my American Meter Co.

Analog Water Meter
Analog Water Meter
Analog water meter reads in cubic feet.
Notice the 4 white background digits are hundreds of cubic feet (748 gal/unit)
These are the units on my old water bills.

The rate in 2008 was $1.29/100cu ft.
There are other items on the bill that are fixed amounts related to the meter and cost of capital.

In 2014 the rate is $0.00192 per gallon

The old rate $1.29/100cu is equivalent to $1.29/748 gal or $0.001725/gal
So the new rate about 11% higher.
Smart Water Meter Reading shown is:
1057|780|1  (format:   WWWW|BB|P)
which is 105,778 Gallons since the meter was at zero.
If the typical monthly usage was 3355 gallons the meter was installed about 35 months ago,
or October 2011 is when it was installed.

Note the new meter reads in gallons and the prior analog meter read in hundreds of cubic feet.
The difference is the new meter reads 748 times higher numbers.
That's why the new meter has 4 digits with a white background,
i.e. the units on the white background are hundreds of gallons. 
The billing rate needs to change to account for the change in units and that in turn depends on
how the meter is being read. 

My current bill has the numbers for previous and present all jammed together like this:
00105347001056828 which is a 17 digit number not easy to divide into two numbers.

The Model 25 has 4 white digits, 2 black digits that change and the pointer which takes 10 gallons to make a full circle.  So my readings are as shown below.
WWWW is the white background, BB is the black background and P is the pointer.
format:   WWWW|BB|P
Previous: 1053|47|0 Gallons
Present:  1056|82|8 Gallons
Difference:    3358 Gallons in 30 days or 111 Gal/day. ($ 6.44 for the water)
The bill shows a difference of 3355 Gallons, why?

The rate is $0.00192 per gallon, or 0.192 cents per gallon, or about 20 cents per hundred gallons.

Hose Bib Digital Water Meter

Got this as a way of checking for leaks.
Top and bottom reading to 999.9 Gallons or Liters.

RainWise RW-9FM Digital FLow Meter
RainWise RW-9FM
                    Digital FLow Meter
RainWise RW-9FM Digital FLow Meter
CR2032 Battery
RainWise RW-9FM Digital FLow Meter
5 Gallon Bucket
11-1/4" dia at top
10"       dia at bottom
average diameter: 10.625
Bucket: 14" tall
Fill to 13" for 5 Gal. (1155 Cu In) Ridge at fill line.

5 Gal Bucket filled to 5.0 Gal
RainWise RW-9FM Digital FLow Meter
Meter after filling bucket reads 4.4 Gal
112% error.
RainWise RW-9FM Digital FLow Meter


Press left button to zero top reading.
Press and hold right button to zero top & bottom reading.
Press and hold left button until Gal or LIT flashes, then press right button to toggle between GAL and LIT, then press left button to set.


Vehicle-to-grid - only works with plug-in electric cars that have the proper software, not the older Prius. - self installed utility meters

Youtube - DEFCON 20: Looking Into The Eye Of The Meter

Smart Meter RF Radiation Assessment

Back to PRC68Products for Sale, Military Utility Poles

[an error occurred while processing this directive] page created 8 July 2011.