Common questions

smart meter installation

Common questions about smart meters

Why do we need new meters
These state-of-the-art meters will help us improve your service and provide you with many benefits now and for years to come. Eventually, they will become powerful tools that give you better control over your energy use and your bill.

Will my bill go up because of the new meter?
No. Your monthly bill will continue to reflect the normal fluctuations in your energy use. Any change on your bill of a year ago might be caused by a 2.5 percent rate increase that took effect Jan. 1, 2011. This increase was not to cover the cost of the new meters. Rather, those costs are being recovered through reduced operating costs. Your first bill after installation will show your electricity use under your old meter and after the smart meter was installed.

Have the new meters been tested?
Yes. Both we and the manufacturers have extensively tested our smart meters. In 2010, we successfully completed more than 18 months of comprehensive testing of the first 78,000 meters installed. Our smart meters and network passed more than 140 in-depth tests for functionality and accuracy. Plus, we continued to test meters in each shipment before installing them. We have also taken the extra step of having a meter reader check each smart meter for one to two months after installation.

Does SMUD have any defective meters like the PG&E meters that have been in the news?
No. PG&E's defective smart meters were manufactured in 2008 and early 2009. We did not begin deploying smart meters until late in 2009. The manufacturer has verified that we didn't receive any meters from the defective batch.

How are the new meters different from the old meters?
Our new smart meters measure your energy use with digital technology that enables us to read your meter remotely. Smart meters help us provide even better service when you contact us. Eventually, seeing up-to-the-minute information from the smart meters will give you better control over your energy use and your bill.

Will the new meter cost me anything?
No. The new meters will not cost you anything. In fact, we expect the meters to provide efficiencies that will actually help us save money and maintain some of the lowest rates in California.

What is the estimated payback period of the Smart Meters?
SMUD initially estimated a payback period of eight to ten years based on expected operational savings. However, this initial estimate pre-dated the award of a federal grant which significantly reduced SMUD's costs for the project. Factoring in the positive impact of the federal grant, we currently estimate the payback period to be between three to six years.

With a smart meter, can electric service be connected or disconnected remotely?
Yes. For example, if you're moving, you'll no longer need to wait for a field service technician, leave your gates open, or worry about your pets.

Will the new meter interfere with my home electronics?
No. The new meters are designed not to interfere with your home electronics.

What if I have a Blue Line PowerCost Monitor?
If you have a Blue Line PowerCost Monitor or anything connected to your meter, please remove it prior to installation of your new smart meter. Please do not attach the PowerCost Monitor to your new smart meter. If you have a PowerCost Monitor provided by SMUD, we've mailed you additional information regarding the compatibility of the PowerCost Monitor and the smart meters.

Will my energy use information remain confidential and safe?
Yes. Your energy use information will be safely transmitted over secure servers to SMUD. The company that provides SMUD's wireless network uses the same types of security as the Department of Defense and the online banking industry.

How do the new meters help the environment?
They'll help in several ways. Since meter readers will no longer need to read every meter each month, that will reduce pollution, fuel consumption, and traffic. Also, the meters will let us use new technologies that will allow you to make decisions about using less energy, at your discretion, which can reduce the amount of electricity demand.

How do I read my smart meter?
The smart meter uses a digital readout alternating between four different displays. The number in the corner represents the type of information being displayed. To capture your energy use, you will need to use display 020 showing your energy use in kilowatt-hours (kWh).

To know how much energy you're using, record a reading then record a reading at a later date and subtract the difference. For example, you record 1,260 today. At a later date, you record 1,810. Subtract your first read from your second to get your energy use of 550 kWh (1,810 minus-1,260=550 kWh used during that time period). See more details about reading your meter.


Opting Out of Smart Meters

Can I opt out of having a smart meter?
Yes. For more information about SMUD's opt out policy and fees, please click here.

What does SMUD consider "opting out" of having a smart meter?
A SMUD residential customer will be considered to have opted out of having a smart meter when the customer has done at least one of the following:

  • Refused installation of a smart meter.
  • Failed to respond to SMUD regarding the installation of a smart meter.
  • Informed SMUD they are opting out of having a smart meter.

What kind of meter will I get?
If you choose to opt out, a "non-communicating" meter will be installed at your home. This meter does not transmit any information or data directly to SMUD. These meters do not have an antenna or wireless communication card. As a result, it's not capable of receiving or transmitting wireless communications. There is no radio frequency (RF) transmission from these meters.

Why can't I keep my old meter?
For both operational efficiency (which keep your costs lower) and for the future capability of offering Time-of-Use rates, we need to have only one alternative meter in use. This meter needs to be able to track interval usage data. The non-communicating meters for opt out customers have this capability.

How often will my meter be read by SMUD field personnel?
SMUD field personnel will read the meter at your home once every three months to obtain your electricity use. For the months your meter is not read, your bill will be estimated based on your previous average usage. The read that we will obtain every three months will be used to reconcile your previous estimates and your account will be adjusted if needed. As a reminder, in order to remain eligible to opt out, you must provide regular access to your meter for the purpose of installation, maintenance and reading.

How often will my meter be read by SMUD field personnel?
SMUD field personnel will read the meter at your home once every three months to obtain your electricity use. For the months your meter is not read, your bill will be estimated based on your previous average usage. The read that we will obtain every three months will be used to reconcile your previous estimates and your account will be adjusted if needed. As a reminder, in order to remain eligible to opt out, you must provide regular access to your meter for the purpose of installation, maintenance and reading.

I Want to Opt Out of Smart Meters Due to a Medical Condition, Must I Still Pay Opt Out Fees?
Yes, opt out fees will apply. SMUD permits all of its customers to opt out from the installation of a smart meter for any reason or for no reason at all. While we understand and appreciate that some persons may hold a different opinion, there exists no credible medical or scientific evidence that RF emissions from smart meters present any health risks or have the potential to exacerbate any current medical condition.SMUD's policies do not exclude anyone from services based on disability.The opt out fee is applied in a non-discriminatory fashion since it is applied to all customers electing an alternative metering strategy regardless of the customer's reason for their election. All customers who decide to opt-out must pay a designated fee pertaining to the increased costs associated with monitoring and maintaining the alternative meter.

How does the 2013 rate proposal affect opt-out customers?
The 2013 rate proposal does not affect opt-out customers any differently than customers currently using smart meters. The proposed change in rates will apply to all customers equally regardless of how usage is metered. One of the aspects of the 2013 rate proposal was to gradually eliminate the existing tier system over the next four years such that by 2017 all residential customers will be paying the same flat rate. In a future rate proceeding, we expect to recommend that the Board adopt Time of Use rates, as well as other rate design alternatives to address customers with non-communicating meters.

What does the "non-communicating" meter look like?
A non-communicating meter is an electric meter with a rotating digital display. There are no communicating or radio mechanisms in the meter. Since it is a non-communicating and non-transmitting meter, all decals and other marks related to Federal Communications Commission are not present on the meter.

Are the alternative meters safe?
To continue to ensure the safety of our customers, SMUD tested the alternate (non-transmitting, digital) meters it will install for customers who have opted out of a smart meter to measure Electromagnetic Field (EMF). EMF in the Solid State meters that SMUD has selected for use in Opt Out is within the same range of recorded EMF in an old analog meter with dials. The chart below illustrates the findings and how they were made.

At 0 Feet At 1 Foot At 3 Feet At 5 Feet   < Select tabs
  Analog / Legacy Meter Itron Sentinel Solid State Meter Itron Centron Solid State Meter
mG @ 0 Amps, Voltage only 300 2 1.8
mG @ 200 Amps 600 260 170
mG @ 100 Amps 400 105 100
mG @ 50 Amps 310 55 50
mG @ 25 Amp 303 23 30
All tests were conducted at 240 Volts for all current ranges. All EMF measurements are recorded in Milligauss. All tests were completed in SMUD's Meter Shop on the WECO 5100 test bench. A Triaxial Teslatronics Model 70 Milligauss meter was used for measuring the results. Base EMF readings were 0.6-1.0 mG when measured 0-5 feet from the test bench.
At 0 Feet At 1 Foot At 3 Feet At 5 Feet   < Select tabs
  Analog / Legacy Meter Itron Sentinel Solid State Meter Itron Centron Solid State Meter
mG @ 0 Amps, Voltage only 11 1.1 1.3
mG @ 200 Amps 22 8.5 19
mG @ 100 Amps 13 4.2 9
mG @ 50 Amps 13.5 2.3 4.8
mG @ 25 Amp 10.9 2 2.9
All tests were conducted at 240 Volts for all current ranges. All EMF measurements are recorded in Milligauss. All tests were completed in SMUD's Meter Shop on the WECO 5100 test bench. A Triaxial Teslatronics Model 70 Milligauss meter was used for measuring the results. Base EMF readings were 0.6-1.0 mG when measured 0-5 feet from the test bench.
At 0 Feet At 1 Foot At 3 Feet At 5 Feet   < Select tabs
  Analog / Legacy Meter Itron Sentinel Solid State Meter Itron Centron Solid State Meter
mG @ 0 Amps, Voltage only 1.3 1 1
mG @ 200 Amps 5 3.4 4.3
mG @ 100 Amps 2.4 2.5 1.7
mG @ 50 Amps 1.3 1.5 1.3
mG @ 25 Amp 1.5 1.1 1
All tests were conducted at 240 Volts for all current ranges. All EMF measurements are recorded in Milligauss. All tests were completed in SMUD's Meter Shop on the WECO 5100 test bench. A Triaxial Teslatronics Model 70 Milligauss meter was used for measuring the results. Base EMF readings were 0.6-1.0 mG when measured 0-5 feet from the test bench.
At 0 Feet At 1 Foot At 3 Feet At 5 Feet   < Select tabs
  Analog / Legacy Meter Itron Sentinel Solid State Meter Itron Centron Solid State Meter
mG @ 0 Amps, Voltage only 0.8 0.7 0.8
mG @ 200 Amps 1.3 1 1
mG @ 100 Amps 0.9 0.9 0.8
mG @ 50 Amps 0.7 0.7 0.8
mG @ 25 Amp 0.8 0.8 0.7
All tests were conducted at 240 Volts for all current ranges. All EMF measurements are recorded in Milligauss. All tests were completed in SMUD's Meter Shop on the WECO 5100 test bench. A Triaxial Teslatronics Model 70 Milligauss meter was used for measuring the results. Base EMF readings were 0.6-1.0 mG when measured 0-5 feet from the test bench.


Electromagnetic Fields and Radio Frequency

What is EMF?
The term EMF (electromagnetic fields or electric and magnetic fields) is used for low frequency, alternating or direct current, magnetic or electric fields. An electromagnetic field (also EMF or EM field) is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects.

Where does EMF occur?
EMFs are everywhere in our modern world. They result naturally from the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in homes and businesses. Sources of EMFs include power lines, internal building wiring and appliances. Low frequency systems are used to transmit electrical power into our buildings. Electric fields are created by the voltage present in the electrical system, either the building wiring or power cords.

Is EMF the same as radio frequency (RF)?
At much higher frequencies, EMFs are described as "radio frequency" or RF. Radio Frequency is used for radio transmissions including wireless communication. Any of the frequencies of electromagnetic radiation in the range between 1 kHz and 300 GHz, including those used for radio and television transmission, are Radio Frequencies. High frequencies are used to transmit power and signals through the air and are wireless signal transmission systems. These high frequencies are used for AM and FM satellite radio, television, radar, cell towers, cell phones, cordless phones, Bluetooth, wireless computer and data transmission (WLAN, WI-FI, WiMAX) networks.

Do smart meters generate radio frequency (RF) fields?
Yes. Smart meters emit about 1 watt. This is less than the 1 to 2 watts emitted by cell phones or wireless routers. Smart meters transmit radio signals once every four hours to collect data for billing purposes, with each transmission lasting only 5/100ths of a second.

In addition, due to the low power of each meter, and the need for each smart meter to create a network to function, each smart meter may acts as a "repeater" (part of the communication chain) for nearby meters.

There are several other reasons that smart meters may communicate throughout the day, including reporting of outages, voltage fluctuations, alerts about power thefts and tampering, and on-demand reads done at a customer's request. However, these communications are infrequent and of very short duration and, on average meters communicate for approximately 60 seconds every 24 hours, well within MPE limits.

In September 2012, SMUD conducted a detailed analysis of the transmission frequency and weighted average “on air” time across the smart meters network. The results of the study are below:

Electric system message type Transmission frequency per 24-hour period: Average Transmission frequency per 24-hour period: Maximum (99.9th percentile)
Meter read data 6 6
Network management 15 30
Time sync 360 360
Mesh network message management 13,000 240,000
Weighted average duty cycle 61.4 seconds 1,262 seconds

The results of this study confirm that, on average, meters communicate for approximately 60 seconds during every 24-hour period. This “duty cycle” is significantly less than other typical devices including cell phones, wireless routers, and cordless phones.


Comparison of RF power density in the daily environment

Device Relative power density in microwatts per square centimeter
FM radio or TV broadcast signal 0.005 microwatts
Smart meter device at 10 ft. 0.1 microwatts
Cyber cafe (wi-fi) 10-20 microwatts
Laptop computer 10-20 microwatts
Cell phone held to ear 30-10,000 microwatts
Walkie-talkie at head 500-42,000 microwatts
Microwave oven, 2 inches from door 5,000 microwatts
Source: Richard Tell Associates, Inc.

Are smart meter RF fields safe?
Yes. Key factors for exposure risk are the power and frequency of the emission and the distance from a person. Smart meters emit only about 1 watt and, when installed, no transmitter is located within the home. Cell phones are considered riskier since they're held to the head.

Although our smart meters meet all FCC testing and certification, SMUD took the extra step of including vigorous RF testing during the initial rollout. Even when meters are grouped together such as at apartment complexes, their RF emissions are low compared to FCC exposure guidelines.

Will smart meter RF fields interfere with my electronics or medical devices?
SMUD's smart meters have been certified by the FCC and shouldn't interfere with devices in or around your home.

Read more about FCC guidelines regarding RF exposure.

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