Dr. Willard H. (Bill) Wattenburg

Testing Smart Meters

Expanded Version:

Field tests of smart meters must be done before millions more are installed

 Dr. Bill Wattenburg*

March 24,  2010

The California Public Utilities Commission  (CPUC) gave the shocking testimony to the state legislature last week that the CPUC did not do the most basic and essential  field testing of new “smart meters”  before ordering the utilities to install them at millions of customer locations.   Apparently,  the  utilities have relied on tests supposedly done by the  suppliers of the maters!   There have been too many customer complaints from honest customers to ignore.

The installation of more smart meters must be stopped until independent field tests are done to test the accuracy of these meters and restore public trust.   Power bills represent  a big part of the income  for millions of working families.   Each customer is stuck with whatever power meter is installed for decades in the future.  Customers are generally helpless on their own to verify the accuracy of their power bills or  recover payment for any inaccuracies.

There is a straightforward and inexpensive way to test the accuracy of the smart meters.   A sample of all existing smart meter installations at actual customer locations (like 1 out of every 100 at least)  must be tested by re-installing standard meters alongside the smart meters.  

An inexpensive “dual –meter base insert”  can be used to do this:

The  dual meter base insert allows an easy comparison  between the actual in-use power readings of the two meters over a period of several months.  This field testing must be continued  over at least a year to validate the smart meter readings during various times of the year, and thereafter on a continuous basis.  

The only way to generate public confidence in the smart meters is to have them field tested  by an independent  scientific laboratory that has the experience and technology to test  the smart meters under the most demanding environmental conditions  -- and begin the testing  immediately.

The  “energy consultants” that circle around the  (CPUC) and the state energy agencies  cannot do this job.   If they knew what to do, they would have demanded that the CPUC and the utilities adequately test these meters before the CPUC ordered the utilities to install them all over the state.    Almost all  “energy consultants” work for the utilities or the state  energy agencies  in one manner or another.   They seldom report anything that might embarrass their sources of contract income.   Even if they knew how to do the necessary field experiments,  they are not likely to report problems that might embarrass the utilities or the CPUC (which is effectively spoon-fed by the power utilities).  

The governor and the legislature must take charge now and demand that a respected, outside,  independent  scientific laboratory perform immediate performance  and reliability tests on the smart meters before millions more of them are installed at customer locations.   Once installed,  these meters will dictate the power  bills that twenty million customers in California must pay for the next twenty years at least.   Customers will have no defense against any  failures of these meters.  

During the energy crisis in 2001,  blackouts were occurring almost every week because of energy shortages.  The utilities were being charged such high prices for energy that some declared bankruptcy.  The  state had to spend billions to buy power to keep the utilities alive.  In February 2001,  the  governor asked the University of California  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to help  find solutions.   In less than thirty days,  scientists from the Livermore Laboratory began  conducting experiments that had not been done by the California Energy Commission or the California Public Utilities  Commission.  The published results of these experiments helped bring about the end of the disastrous energy crisis in July 2001  (see the official report posted by the California Energy Commission at:
http://www.energy.ca.gov/2006publications/CEC-500-2006-058/CEC-500-2006-058.PDF ). 

The .pdf file is also available at:  http://www.wattenburg.us/2006CECreport.pdf

There is another serious uncertainty beyond the accuracy of the power readings by the smart meters.   The utilities plan to read and control the smart meters using a radio communication scheme.  There is hardly any over the air (radio) communication scheme that has not  been defeated by clever “hackers.”   If this is done  and the knowledge is widespread, hundreds of millions of  not-so-smart power meters  in the country will have to be modified or replaced.   This will be a national security matter because it could disrupt the power grids of the country.   There must be thorough testing of the smart meter communication schemes by the most sophisticated cyber-security laboratories in the country.  The private energy  consultants” hired by the CPUC and the power utilities have no experience or capability in this area.     The cyber-security testing can not be  ignored.

*KGO Radio AM810
900 Front Street
San Francisco, CA  94111

Email:   wattenburg@aol.com

Background:  www.wattenburg.us