Question: What are smart meters? How do they affect my energy costs?

Answer: If you own a small business in Ontario, BC or Quebec (including a restaurant, coffee shop or cafe), chances are you have a smart meter keeping track of your electricity, water and/or natural gas usage. At the moment, the majority of smart meters track electricity usage.

What makes smart meters “smart”?

Unlike old “interval” meters” (the kind that need to be read by meter readers), smart meters can track when energy is used, rather than averaging use over an entire day. This allows utilities to charge according to time-of-use: energy that’s used during peak demand times is more expensive, while energy that’s used during off-peak times is correspondingly cheaper.

As well, smart meters send data to your utility company automatically, so there’s no need for manual meter reading.

How does smart metering work?

Smart meters divide a 24-hour day into three types of demand periods: off-peak, mid-peak and on-peak.

From May 1 to October 31, the times are divided like this:

  • On-peak: 11 am to 5 pm. This reflects the use of air conditioners during the hottest part of the day.
  • Mid-peak: 7-11 am and 5-7 pm. This reflects when people are generally getting ready for and coming home from work.
  • Off-peak: 7 pm to 7 am, and weekends/holidays. During much of this period, people tend to be sleeping or using less energy.

From November 1 to April 30, the times are slightly different:

  • On-peak: 7-11 am and 5-7 pm. This is when people tend to turn up the heat and turn on the lights in their houses.
  • Mid-peak: 11 am-5 pm. People tend not to be home during the day, and so use less heating and lighting energy.
  • Off-peak: 7 pm-7 am and weekends/holidays. As in the summer, people tend to use the least amount of energy during these times.

How to make smart metering work for you

One thing you’ll notice is that on- and mid-peak times correspond to business hours (and a little beyond). If you run a business that operates during these times, implementing some basic conservation measures will help you keep your costs down.

  • Switch your lighting to compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. These use far less energy than incandescent bulbs—a bonus if your lights are mostly on during on-peak times. Plus, because CFLs don’t generate heat, for every watt you save on lighting, you save a watt on air conditioning.
  • Install occupancy sensors in low-traffic areas, so you’re not lighting spaces unnecessarily.
  • Only run the dishwasher when it’s full. Although you may not be able to avoid running it during on-peak times, running it less often will still help save costs.
  • Install demand-control ventilation. By only running exhaust fans when you need them, you’ll save energy. (And if you’re looking at installing a demand-control system, check out our energy rebate offer.)
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis to see whether opening later or earlier would affect your energy costs. For example, opening later in the day during the winter would help avoid one on-peak billing period.

More resources on smart meters

Take a look at these resources for more info.

Do you have any other questions about smart meters and time-of-use billing? Leave them in the comments.

Image credit: akpoff