LBNL Report Number
The cost of deploying smart meters throughout many of California’s utility service areas has been justified by a combination of benefits to both utilities and consumers. Utilities would receive operational benefits from the use of modern Smart Meter communications capabilities (i.e. Advanced Metering Infrastructure – or AMI) for both automated meter reading and enhanced monitoring of the power distribution grid. Consumers would benefit from newly available services that would allow near real-time readout of energy usage – both power and price – and enable, through ubiquitous Demand Response (DR) signaling, cost-saving automatic responses to changing energy price conditions. At this point in time, some of the utility goals related to the “back end” or AMI communications systems have been achieved. However, many of the benefits promised to consumers, such as enhanced control over their energy consumption and related bills, have yet to materialize. Although the installed systems are technically capable of utility-to-residence communications, California utilities have not yet enabled smart meter communications into the home. The reluctance on the part of utilities to enable wireless communication between smart meters and residential devices (e.g. thermostats, energy displays, etc.) has been the primary factor in limiting the availability of these new consumer services. While some of this reluctance has been based on technical shortcomings of the currently selected communications technology (ZigBee PRO and ZigBee SEP 1.0), the overarching issue has been concern about the level of security provided by this particular set of network and application-level protocols, Utilities remain uncertain about the ultimate, system-wide risk entailed by allowing customers to directly interact, via a wireless network, with their smart meters. As a result, the proposed consumer benefits that depend on such communications have not been achieved.