Central Texas Electric Cooperative is investing in a new Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI system to improve the reliability and efficiency of the existing electric distribution system. 

Central Texas Electric Cooperative is investing in a new Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI to improve the efficiency and reliability of our electric system. Many members have asked questions about these new meters and how they work. Here are the most common questions and answers about this new system.


 

Frequently Asked Questions about Digital Meters

Yes, a smart meter is a type of electricity meter that can digitally send meter readings. These meters can automatically register meter tampering, transmit outage information, report variances in voltage, and improve outage response.   The new Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI and the digital meters collect this information and transmit the data back to the co-op via a secure radio frequency system. The difference is they do it faster, more accurately, and more reliably.

CTEC employees and contractors hired by CTEC will perform the meter installations and all members should receive a postcard, phone call, and/or email prior to installers being in your area.  If you are installing a new service, or your old meter fails, you may get one of the new RF meters when a new service is established. 

Yes, for a few minutes.  You will need to reset electronic clocks and other devices.

Similar to your current meter, CTEC can read the meter remotely from our offices. Information from the meter is transmitted back to the co-op via a secure radio frequency system.  These new meters also allow CTEC to connect or disconnect meters remotely, meaning a serviceman does not need to physically go to the location to remove or connect a meter. 

The technology of our current meter infrastructure, which we began installing in 1999, will soon no longer be supported by the manufacturers. In addition, the old communication technique using PLC (power line carrier) is becoming more and more unreliable.  The new automated meter infrastructure has many new benefits that include:

  • The ability to read all meters, residential and commercial, at a much more accurate and increased rate.
  • Having a two-way communication with the RF meters will enhance CTEC’s outage management system by more accurately determining outage locations.
  • The new meters will report variances in voltage and other line conditions that will help CTEC maintain a more reliable power distribution system.
  • The new meters will allow CTEC to offer our members more timely information, thru our Smart Hub app regarding their energy consumption, which will help members make wise decisions about how they use energy in their homes.
  • Save money by eliminating the labor and transportation costs of in-person meter connects and disconnects – a saving we pass on to our members
  • Pinpoint the exact location of outages more quickly, meaning a faster response time.
  • Help secure the overall safety of the cooperative employee team.

CTEC employees, as well as contractors, will work in conjunction to exchange the meters.

The new Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI records an electronic kWh reading, the date and time of energy usage, the overall peak demand of the electric account, if the meter has rotated backwards, and the number of times the meter has experienced a loss of power for any reason. In fact, the meter will record the date and time of light blinks and the length of the power outage.  Its’ voltage monitoring ability will also aid our dispatchers in analyzing line conditions.

The Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI utilizes a banking data quality encrypted radio frequency system to transmit meter data from the meter to radio receivers, so it is extremely secure from unauthorized access.  Our goal is to upgrade our electric distribution system to make it safer, more secure, and more reliable. Your new AMI is part of this effort.

No.  Research conducted by the Electric Power Research Institute, the Utilities Telecom Council, and others has revealed no health impacts from digital meters. The radio frequencies emitted by digital meters falls well below the maximum recommended in federal guidelines. Contrary to some misconceptions, the new meters emit radio frequencies (RF) only when responding to a request for data from the co-op office – either once every fifteen minutes or once every hour for less than a second.  Compare this activity to a laptop with a wireless connection, which is constantly sending and retrieving data.  A digital meter equipped to send and receive data has an RF density hundreds of times less than the RF density of a cell phone – and the meters are installed on the outside of your house not next to your ear!

Routine inspections of all meters and services will continue in order to look for safety hazards, theft, or other problems.

Yes, meters can have remote disconnect capabilities.

Yes, in most cases. The new Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI is capable of initiating two-way communication. This means that the meter can report outages and voltage variances, as well as other line conditions, without being prompted by our offices.  This feature will decrease the duration of an outage.  However, CTEC still recommends that you report your own outages by phone for extra insurance that your outage is documented.

CTEC employees or the co-op contractor will leave a door hanger on your front door to let you know they have changed the meter. We will work with businesses to minimize any inconvenience. You do not have to be present during the meter change. In the event of a circumstance such as a locked gate, pets in the yard or an obstruction that prevents the employee or contractor from exchanging your meter, a door hanger will be left notifying you of the problem. If you receive a notice like this, please follow the instructions on the card and contact us as soon as possible so that arrangements can be made.

The new RF meters will allow CTEC to maintain a more reliable power distribution system, have improved efficiency throughout the cooperative billing system, have improved system power quality, and provide better member/customer service. The Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI will allow CTEC to offer members more timely energy consumption data.

On residential meters, there can be three different screen displays. Usually, the meter display will alternate between showing the kilowatt-hours accumulated on the meter and a display refresh screen with all “8”s showing along with the words “VOLTAGE and kWh”. If the meter has been disconnected, it will display an icon showing the status of the meter switch.

RF Exposure of Smart Meters Compared to Other Commonly Used Devices

The use of radio frequencies (RF) in consumer products such as cellular phones and wireless routers has increased considerably over the past decade, and continues to increase. Although Smart Meters utilize RF technology, by staying within regulated requirements, transmitting infrequently, and remote placement, they present significantly lower RF exposure for consumers than many other products that are used daily without concern.


In the US, the FCC establishes the requirements for use of the RF spectrum and acceptable exposure limits for the public. Honeywell Smart Meters comply with and exceed these requirements, as well as international requirements set by global bodies. Typical exposures from Honeywell Smart Meters are well below the most conservative limits.


Smart Meters send information about electricity use to utilities by RF signals. The exposure from Smart Meters is much lower when measured over time than other common sources for two reasons:


1) infrequent signal transmission, and
2) distance from the source.

Smart Meters bring many benefits to consumers through operational efficiencies and enhanced service. A few examples of the many benefits are improved energy management, minimized utility visits to your home through remote meter reading and remote turn-on and turn-off capabilities, as well as improved outage response. Deferred generation and transmission capital expenditures for utilities may defer rate increases and provide for a cleaner environment, while benefits such as optional load control and new rate designs can help reduce costs during periods of peak demand.

There has been some concern in the industry, especially on the part of energy consumers, over the potential health impact of smart meter radio communications. This document will assist Honeywell’s EnergyAxis® and SynergyNet™ customers in understanding matters related to radio frequency (RF) safety and the smart meter endpoints—the REX family of meters and the A3 ALPHA® meters—these systems use.

The use of RF in consumer-facing products has increased considerably over the past decade, and continues to increase. Prominent examples of this are the prolific use of cellular phones, wireless routers and even microwave ovens. A lack of education on smart metering technology has led to
rising public concern over their use and associated health risks.


Although smart meters utilize RF technology, they represent significantly lower RF exposure for consumers than nearly all other products, such as cellular phones, that we use daily without concern.


The bottom line is that smart meters represent no known health hazard and have significantly lower exposure levels than most other typical devices that emit radio waves. Two additional contributing factors to the negligible RF exposure from smart meters follow:

  • The distance consumers are typically from smart meters and the minimal amount of time smart meter radios are actually transmitting.
  • Honeywell smart meter radio achieves equivalent performance with a much lower power than most other smart meter designs. This is an intentional characteristic of the Honeywell design to avoid potential equipment Interference and to lower the technical losses on utility distribution grids, while also lowering RF emissions.

For example, a typical Honeywell smart meter transmits (that is, emits power) with an approximate duty cycle of only 1%. In addition, these meters are normally outdoors with a wall and a metal socket separating the meter from the living space.  This effectively diminishes the signal that reaches occupants of the living space.

All electronic devices have some RF emissions. The measure of the strength of these signals is the power density, which is the amount of RF power (measured in milliwatts (mW)) hitting a particular surface area (measured in square centimeters (cm2)). The power density of a signal can be calculated using the output power level (for example, 250 mW), and the distance from the transmitter. Higher power density numbers equate to stronger signals, a closer proximity to the signal, or a combination of these two factors.

Calculate the power density using the following formula:

Power density = (TxPwr ∙ AntGain) ∕ (4∙π∙Distance²) mW/cm² where:
     TxPwr = The radio frequency transmit power input to the antenna (in milliwatts)
     AntGain = The power gain of the antenna (unit less)
     π = 3.1417 (unit less)
     Distance = Distance from the transmitter (in centimeters)

Honeywell smart electricity meters use radios that operate in the 900-MHz ISM band using Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology and they have a maximum transmit power (TxPwr) of 250 mW (EnergyAxis Gatekeeper) and 1000 mW (SynergyNet Router).  The radiation pattern of a device depends on the antenna and on surrounding objects. When installed in an electrical socket, the energy radiated backwards through the socket into the home would be significantly less due to the metal socket.


The metal socket reduces the energy transmitted into the residence but redirects the energy out the front of the meter. As measured as part of the FCC certification process, the maximum antenna gain for a meter in a metal socket was 5.64 dBi, which equates to a gain of 3.66. For calculation purposes,
we will use a distance of two feet (61 cm). However, typically, the distance between an electricity meter and a person would be far greater than two feet.

 

Using the numbers in the previous paragraph, we can calculate a worst-case theoretical power density for our 250-mW smart meter.


Power density = (250∙3.66) / (4∙π∙(61)2) = 0.02 mW/cm²


More typical numbers, especially for someone in the residence of the meter in question, would be an antenna gain of 0.5 and a distance of more than 10 feet. Using these numbers, a more realistic power density value would be:


Power density = (250∙0.5) / (4∙π∙(305) 2) = 0.0001 mW/cm²

A substantial number of studies have been performed by various organizations to evaluate the impact of RF emissions on the human body. Taking input from these studies, the FCC set exposure limits that “incorporate prudent margins of safety” (according to the FCC’s RF Safety FAQ sheet¹ ). Similarly,
Health Canada has issued limits of human exposure to RF radiation in Safety Code 6. 

Devices that emit radio energy must be certified by the FCC to meet maximum permissible exposure (MPE) requirements, as specified in FCC 1.1310. The limits specified by the FCC vary based on frequency. The power density limits are specified as an average value over a six-minute period. The
power density limit for the 915 MHz band is 0.6 mW/cm².


Health Canada has a similar limit specified in Safety Code 6.² The FCC and Health Canada validate a device using a calculation distance of 20 cm. In the MPE report submitted to the FCC for the communications device used on the REX meter, the transmitter power was measured as 232 mW,
with an antenna gain of 3.66 and at a distance of 20 cm. This results in a calculated power density of 0.169 mW/cm², which is 0.431 mW/cm² below the limit, less than one-third of the limit.


It is important to note these calculations assumed the device was transmitting 100% of the time during the six-minute averaging period, whereas there is no possible scenario existing where a Honeywell smart electric meter or device would transmit at a 100% duty cycle for even a short period, let alone for six minutes.


As highlighted above, raw power density calculations do not take into account how often a device is transmitting. The consumer electronic devices listed above are transmitting nearly continuously when they are in use. In comparison, an electricity meter transmits hardly at all. A Honeywell smart
meter has a transmit duty cycle of less than 1%. The average power density would therefore be 1/100 of the maximum calculated power density.

In summary, Honeywell smart meters:
• Pose no known health risks to humans through RF emissions
• Are proven to have lower RF emissions than other readily accepted consumer devices in use today
• Comply with all applicable FCC and Health Canada exposure limits by a wide margin
• Emit lower RF energy than many competing smart meters which use radios with 1W or 2W of transmit power