I had a question awhile back from a reader who had a smart meter installed and checks online for electricity usage.
The reader reported that usage was normal for one or two days, then surged for the next day or two. There is no pattern to the surges. She said it was almost like a timer was turning on.
I published some of your responses almost a month ago, but as this column gets published in newspapers throughout the country, more have come in since. So here goes:
Lee Edelberg in Leverett, Mass., says I was correct to ask about their heating and hot water, and adds a couple of thoughts.
He says a well-insulated electric water heater may not run much every day if its hot-water usage is low. It may stay hot enough for a day or so, then kick on to reheat the tank. Another possibility would be electric dryer usage. Maybe the reader does a lot of laundry, and didn’t consider the impact.
“I’m an electrician, and over the years, I’ve gotten a fair number of calls from people who think there is something wrong with their electric meter, and in all that time, there was only one situation where I found a leak,” he says.
Every other time it was due to an electrical load in the house that the owner hadn’t considered, Edelberg adds.
John Walker spent many years working in customer service in the billing-inquiry area for a large utility company.
“This involved field trips to determine high usage to rule out over-readings, previous estimates,” he says, adding that “newer electronic meters rule out most of the old problems.”
Walker has found “many strange reasons for sporadic use increases, but this sounds like it could be due to underground wiring to an outbuilding with a two-way switch, one leg of which is exposed to dissipation conditions.” (Turning on a light in the house and off in the garage could create this situation. If the action is reversed, it will clear.)
Byron Goldstein suggests that most modern refrigerators and freezers have automatic defrost cycles — “the defrost coils are electric, and then the unit has to rebound from the heat, requiring more cooling.
“It’s always a good idea to check the refrigerator coils, in back or underneath,” Goldstein says. “Even with supposedly self-cleaning coils, they need to be cleaned once or twice a year of dust and dirt for efficiency.”
Here’s where we are so far: The reader says she has oil heat, although it is likely electric-fired. However, “I did find out one solution to the perplexing surges in power usage,” she says.
Apparently, the monitoring website has not yet been officially launched, and there are some glitches, the reader says.
“We have two meters — one was an off-peak meter,” she says. “The computer is picking up total usage for both meters on some days and the usage for the off-peak meter on others, hence the low-to-high readings.”
But “this does not alter the fact that my electric usage has almost doubled on the main meter since the smart meter was installed,” she says. The utility’s initial response is that the old meter was not measuring true power usage. “The off-peak meter is maintaining the same usage as in the past,” she says, adding, “I have registered a dispute to see if they will check the meter.” Let’s see how this one plays out.Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472 or email@example.com.