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CSAA: Industry should get smart about smart meters

CSAA: Industry should get smart about smart meters An association spokesman says industry should educate customers about potential problems

VIENNA, Va.—Utility companies are installing smart meters on homes and businesses around the nation to help the utilities and their customers better manage power usage. But the devices also appear to have some drawbacks—one of them being possible interference with property owners' security alarm system.

That concerns the Central Station Alarm Association, which published an article late last year in the CSAA Dispatch, a publication of the association, which is based here. The article cites news reports saying that after smart meters were installed, some property owners experienced problems with their other electronics, including security alarms.

“We wanted to bring that to the attention of the industry so they could start doing something proactive about addressing it,” John Prendergast, an attorney who handles FCC and legislative issues for the CSAA and who helped author the article, told Security Systems News in March.

Among questions the article says should be considered are: “What happens to home alarms when smart meters interfere?” and “Are homes left vulnerable to break-ins?” Also, the article questions whether smart meters can lead to more false alarms, costing municipalities and property owners money (if alarm owners are fined for false alarms).

Prendergast said the extent of the problem isn't yet known. One reason, he said, is that the installation of smart meters is so new that “it's still in the very early stages.”

Also, he said, homeowners may have problems but not know it.

“Many may go a long time without realizing that it's the smart meter that's causing the interference, especially in the case of an alarm system because of course in a sense the only time you're going to find out is if your alarm doesn't go through,” Prendergast said.

He suggests the industry be proactive and educate customers.

“I think installers are going to have to be trained to notify customers to check if they've got a smart meter, and I suspect that the industry will also want to as a protective measure to somehow communicate in writing conspicuously to their customers, 'Hey, if you've got a smart meter, you might have interference issues here, this needs to be looked into,'” Prendergast said.

Warning customers in writing could also help companies avoid being held liable should an alarm system fail in an emergency because of smart meters, he said.

How can the problem of interference by smart meters be resolved?

Prendergast said one “obvious fix” would be for property owners to opt out of getting smart meters.

But that may not be easy. In Maine, for example, the Central Maine Power electric utility opposes letting customers opt out, saying that if some don't participate, it creates additional costs and a void in the grid. The case is before the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

Another solution, Prendergast said, could be a technical one.

“Interference issues are often remedied through the use of some sort of appropriate filter that keeps the signal from the interfering device from affecting the other devices,” he said.

“So there could be a technical solution here,” he continued, “but I don't know that anyone's focused on it because we're still at the stage of waking up and realizing there's a problem to begin with.”

At least one security company has a different take on smart meters.

Utah-based Vivint, formerly APX Alarm, announced earlier this year that it had acquired Meter Solutions, a company that installs smart meters for utilities, to create a new channel to increase customers, leading with energy management and then upgrading them to other services such as security.

Vivint said it hasn't encountered any interference issues between smart meters and that company's systems.

Alex Dunn, Vivint COO, said in an email to Security Systems News, “Our home security panel and smart meters use complimentary technologies that communicate with one another, eliminating concerns of possible interference.”



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