white meter

Electricity meter

An electric meter or energy meter is a device that measures the amount of electrical energy supplied to or produced by a residence, business or machine.

The most common type is more properly known as a kilowatt hour meter or a joule meter. When used in electricity retailing, the utilities record the values measured by these meters to generate an invoice for the electricity. They may also record other variables including the time when the electricity was used.

Unit of measurement

The most common unit of measurement on the electricity meter is the kilowatt hour, which is equal to the amount of energy used by a load of one kilowatt over a period of one hour, or 3,600,000 joules. Some electricity companies use the SI megajoule instead.

Demand is normally measured in watts, but averaged over a period, most often a quarter or half hour.

Reactive power is measured in "Volt-amperes reactive", (VArh) in kilovar-hours. A "lagging" or inductive load, such as a motor, will have negative reactive power. A "leading", or capacitive load, will have positive reactive power.

Volt-amperes measures all power passed through a distribution network, including reactive and actual. This is equal to the product of root-mean-square volts and amperes.

Distortion of the electric current by loads is measured in several ways. Power factor is the ratio of resistive (or real power) to volt-amperes. A capacitive load has a leading power factor, and an inductive load has a lagging power factor. A purely resistive load (such as a fillament lamp, heater or kettle) exhibits a power factor of 1. Current harmonics are a measure of distortion of the wave form. For example, electronic loads such as computer power supplies draw their current at the voltage peak to fill their internal storage elements. This can lead to a significant voltage drop near the supply voltage peak which shows as a flattening of the voltage waveform. This flattening causes odd harmonics which are not permissible if they exceed specific limits, as they are not only wasteful, but may interfere with the operation of other equipment. Harmonic emissions are mandated by law in EU and other countries to fall within specified limits. Other units of measurement In addition to metering based on the amount of energy used, other types of metering are available.

Meters which measured the amount of charge (coulombs) used, known as ampere-hour meters, were used in the early days of electrification. These were dependent upon the supply voltage remaining constant for accurate measurement of energy usage, which was not a likely circumstance with most supplies.

Some meters measured only the length of time for which current flowed, with no measurement of the magnitude of voltage or current being made. These were only suited for constant load applications.

Neither type is likely to be used today.

Types of meter

Modern electricity meters operate by continuously measuring the instantaneous voltage (volts) and current (amperes) and finding the product of these to give instantaneous electrical power (watts) which is then integrated against time to give energy used (joules, kilowatt-hours etc). The meters fall into two basic categories, electromechanical and electronic.

Electromechanical meters

The most common type of electricity meter is the Thomson or electromechanical induction watt-hour meter, invented by Elihu Thomson in 1888. Technology The electromechanical induction meter operates by counting the revolutions of an aluminium disc which is made to rotate at a speed proportional to the power. The number of revolutions is thus proportional to the energy usage. It consumes a small amount of power, typically around 2 watts.

The metallic disc is acted upon by two coils. One coil is connected in such a way that it produces a magnetic flux in proportion to the voltage and the other produces a magnetic flux in proportion to the current. The field of the voltage coil is delayed by 90 degrees using a lag coil. This produces eddy currents in the disc and the effect is such that a force is exerted on the disc in proportion to the product of the instantaneous current and voltage. A permanent magnet exerts an opposing force proportional to the speed of rotation of the disc - this acts as a brake which causes the disc to stop spinning when power stops being drawn rather than allowing it to spin faster and faster. This causes the disc to rotate at a speed proportional to the power being used.

The type of meter described above is used on a single-phase AC supply. Different phase configurations use additional voltage and current coils.Reading The aluminium disc is supported by a spindle which has a worm gear which drives the register. The register is a series of dials which record the amount of energy used. The dials may be of the cyclometer type, an odometer-like display that is easy to read where for each dial a single digit is shown through a window in the face of the meter, or of the pointer type where a pointer indicates each digit. It should be noted that with the dial pointer type, adjacent pointers generally rotate in opposite directions due to the gearing mechanism.

The amount of energy represented by one revolution of the disc is denoted by the symbol Kh which is given in units of watt-hours per revolution. The value 7.2 is commonly seen. Using the value of Kh, one can determine their power consumption at any given time by timing the disc with a stopwatch. If the time in seconds taken by the disc to complete one revolution is t, then the power in watts is P = {{ 3600 cdot Kh } over t}. For example, if Kh = 7.2, as above, and one revolution took place in 14.4 seconds, the power is 1800 watts. This method can be used to determine the power consumption of household devices by switching them on one by one.

Most domestic electricity meters must be read manually, whether by a representative of the power company or by the customer. Where the customer reads the meter, the reading may be supplied to the power company by telephone, post or over the internet. The electricity company will normally require a visit by a company representative at least annually in order to verify customer-supplied readings and to make a basic safety check of the meter.Accuracy In an induction type meter, creep is a phenomenon that can adversely affect accuracy, that occurs when the meter disc rotates continuously with potential applied and the load terminals open circuited. A creep test is when the meter is tested for the error due to creep.

Solid state meters

Some newer electricity meters are solid state and display the power used on an LCD, while newer electronic meters can be read automatically.

In addition to measuring electricity used, solid state meters can also record other parameters of the load and supply such as maximum demand, power factor and reactive power used etc. They can also include electronic clock mechanisms to compute a value, rather than an amount of electricity consumed, with the pricing varying by the time of day, day of week, and seasonally. Technology Most solid-state meters use a current transformer to measure the current. This means that the main current-carrying conductors need not pass through the meter itself and so the meter can be located remotely from the main current-carrying conductors, which is a particular advantage in large-power installations. It is also possible to use remote current transformers with electromechanical meters though this is less common.

Historically, rotating meters could report their power information remotely, using a pair of contact closures attached to a KYZ line. In this scheme, line "K" is attached to two single-pole single-throw switches "Y" and "Z". "Y" and "Z" open and close as the meter's disk rotates. As the meter rotates in one direction, Y closes, then Z closes, then Y opens, then Z opens. When it rotates in the opposite direction, showing export of power, the sequence reverses. KYZ outputs were historically attached to "totalizer relays" feeding a "totalizer" so that many meters could be read all at once in one place.

KYZ outputs are also the normal historical way of attaching electric meters to programmable logic controllers, HVACs or other control systems. Some modern meters also supply interfaces to PLCs, or a contact closure that warns when the meter detects a demand near a higher tariff.Communication technologies High end electronic meters may now be equipped with a range of communication technologies including Low Power Radio, GSM, GPRS, Bluetooth, IrDA apart from the now conventional RS-232 and RS-485 wired link. They now store the entire usage profiles with time stamps and relay them at a click of a button. The demand readings stored with the profiles accurately indicate the load requirements of the customer. This load profile data is processed at the utilities and renders itself to a variety of representations, all sorts of graphs, reports et el. Remote meter reading is an application of telemetry. Often, meters designed for semi-automated reading have a serial port on that communicates by infrared LED through the faceplate of the meter. In some apartment buildings, a similar protocol is used, but in a wired bus using a serial current loop to connect all the meters to a single plug. The plug is often near the mailboxes.

In the European Union, the most common infrared and protocol is "FLAG", a simplified subset of mode C of IEC 61107. In the U.S. and Canada, the favoured infrared protocol is ANSI C12.18. Some industrial meters use a protocol for programmable logic controllers (Modbus). The most modern protocol proposed for this purpose is DLM/COSEM which can operate over any medium, including serial ports. The data can be transmitted by Zigbee, WiFi, telephone lines or over the power lines themselves. Some meters can be read over the internet.

Some meters have an open collector S0 output that gives 32-100 ms pulses for an constant amount of used electrical energy. Usually 1000-10000 pulses per kWh. Output is limited to max 27 V DC and 27 mA DC. The output usually follows the DIN 43864 standard. Automatic reading AMR (Automatic Meter Reading) and RMR (Remote Meter Reading) describe various systems that allow meters to be checked by without the need to send a meter reader out. This can be effectively achieved using off-site metering, that is an electronic meter is placed at the junction point where all the connections originate, inaccessible to the end-user, and it relays the readings via the AMR technology to the utility.Design

As in the block diagram, the meter has a power supply, a metering engine, A processing and communication engine i.e a microcontroller, other add-on modules such as RTC, LCD display, communication ports/modules etc.Metering engine The metering engine is given the voltage and current inputs and has a voltage reference, samplers and quantisers followed by an ADC section to yield the digitised equivalents of all the inputs. These inputs are then processed using a Digital Signal Processor to calculate the various metering parameters such as powers, energies etc.

The largest source of long-term errors in the meter is drift in the preamp, followed by the precision of the voltage reference. Both of these vary with temperature as well, and vary wildly because most meters are outdoors. Characterizing and compensating for these is a major part of meter design.Processing and communication section This section has the responsibility of calculating the various derived quantities from the digital values generated by the metering engine. This also has the responsibility of communication using various protocols and interface with other addon modules connected as slaves to it. RTC and other add-on modules These are attached as slaves to the processing and communication section for various input/output functions. On a modern meter most if not all of this will be implemented inside the microprocessor, such as the Real Time Clock (RTC), LCD controller, temperature sensor, memory and analog to digital converters.

Multiple tariff (variable rate) meters

Electricity retailers may wish to charge customers different tariffs at different times of the day. This is because there is generally a surplus of electrical generation capacity at times of low demand, such as during the night (see supply and demand).

Some multiple tariff meters use different tariffs for different amounts of demand. These are usually industrial meters.Domestic usage Domestic variable-rate meters normally only permit two tariffs ("peak" and "off-peak") and in such installations a simple electromechanical time switch may be used. They are commonly used in conjunction with electrical storage heaters.

Multiple tariffs are made easier by time of use (TOU) meters which incorporate or are connected to a time switch and which have multiple registers.

Switching between the tariffs may happen via a radio-activated switch rather than a time switch to prevent tampering with a sealed time switch to obtain cheaper electricity. United Kingdom Radio-activated switching is common in the UK, with a nightly data signal sent within the longwave carrier of BBC Radio 4, 198 kHz. The time of off-peak usage is between 12.30am - 7.30am, and this is designed to power storage heaters and immersion heaters. In the UK, such tariffs are branded Economy 7 or White Meter. The popularity of such tariffs has declined in recent years, at least in the domestic market, due to the (perceived or real) deficiencies of storage heaters and the low cost of natural gas.

Some meters using Economy 7 switch the entire electricity supply to the cheaper rate during the 7 hour night time period, not just the storage heater circuit. The downside of this is that the daytime rate will be a touch higher, and standing charges may be a little higher too. For instance, normal rate electricity may be 7p per kWh, whereas Economy 7's daytime rate might be 7.5p per kWh, but only 2.8p per kWh at night. Timer switches installed on washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers and immersion heaters may be set so that they switch on only when the rate is lower.Commercial usage Large commercial and industrial premises may use electronic meters which record power usage in blocks of half an hour or less. This is because most electricity grids have demand surges throughout the day, and the power company may wish to give incentives to large customers to reduce demand at these times. These demand surges often corresponding to meal times or, famously, to advertisements in popular television programmes.

Appliance energy meters

Plug in electricity meters (or "Plug load" meters) measure energy used by individual appliances. They can help in energy conservation by identifying major energy users, or devices that consume excessive standby power. Examples of plug in meters include various Kill A Watt and Watts Up Meters. A power meter can often be borrowed from the local power authorities or a local public library

In-home energy use displays

A potentially powerful means to reduce household energy consumption is to provide real-time feedback to homeowners so they can change their energy using behavior. Recently, low-cost energy feedback displays, such as The Energy Detective, wattson , or Cent-a-meter, have become available. A study using the similar PowerCost Monitor deployed in 500 Ontario homes by Hydro One showed an average 6.5% drop in total electricity use when compared with a similarly sized control group. Hydro One subsequently offered free power monitors to 30,000 customers based on the success of the pilot.

Smart meters

Smart meters go a step further than simple AMR (automated meter reading). They offer additional functionality including a real-time or near real-time reads, power outage notification, and power quality monitoring. They allow price setting agencies to introduce different prices for consumption based on the time of day and the season.

These price differences can be used to reduce peaks in demand (load shifting), reducing the need for additional power plants and in particular the higher polluting and costly to operate natural gas powered peaker plants. The feedback they provide to consumers has also been shown to cut overall energy consumption.

Another type of smart meter uses Nonintrusive load monitoring to automatically determine the number and type of appliances in a residence, how much energy each uses and when. This meter is used by electric utilities to do surveys of energy use. It eliminates the need to put timers on all of the appliances in a house to determine how much energy each uses.

Prepayment meters

The standard business model of electricity retailing involves the electricity company billing the customer for the amount of energy used in the previous month or quarter. In some countries, if the retailer believes that the customer may not pay the bill, a prepayment meter may be installed. This requires the customer to make advance payment before electricity can be used. If the available credit is exhausted then the supply of electricity is cut off by a relay.

In the UK, mechanical prepayment meters used to be common in rented accommodation. Disadvantages of these included the need for regular visits to remove cash, and risk of theft of the cash in the meter.

Modern solid-state electricity meters, in conjunction with smart card technology, have removed these disadvantages and such meters are commonly used for customers considered to be a poor credit risk. In the UK, one system is the PayPoint network, where rechargeable tokens (Quantum cards for natural gas, or plastic "keys" for electricity) can be loaded with whatever money the customer has available.

A similar system, with 2 way communication smart cards, has been used for more than 1 million meters by Elektromed in Turkey.

In South Africa and Northern Ireland prepaid meters are recharged by entering a unique, encoded twenty digit number using a keypad. This makes the tokens, essentially a slip of paper, very cheap to produce.

Around the world, experiments are going on, especially in developing countries, to test pre-payment systems. In some cases, a lack of social acceptance has led to non-implementation of this technology. Utilities are finding it to depend on one supplier and multiple supplier systems demand thier own system & network connectivity. There are various groups, such as the Standard Transfer Specification (STS) association, which promote common standards for prepayment metering systems across manufacturers. However in spite of these efforts prepayment meter market had not spread except in South Africa.

Time of day metering

Time of Day metering (TOD), also known as Time of Usage (TOU) metering involves dividing the day, month and year into tariff slots and with higher rates at peak load periods and low tariff rates at off-peak load periods. While this can be used to automatically control usage on the part of the customer (resulting in automatic load control), it is often simply the customers responsibility to control his own usage, or pay accordingly (voluntary load control). This also allows the utilities to plan their transmission infrastructure appropriately. See also Demand-side Management (DSM).

TOD metering normally splits rates into two segments, peak and off-peak, with peak typically occurring during the day (non-holiday days only), such as from 1 pm to 9 pm Monday through Friday during the summer and from 6:30 am to 12 noon and 5 pm to 9 pm during the winter.

Large commercial users can purchase power by the hour using either forecast pricing or real time pricing. Prices range from we pay you to take it (negative) to $1000/MWh (100 cents/KWh).

Some utilities allow residential customers to pay hourly rates, such as Illinois, which uses day ahead pricing.

Power export metering

Many electricity customers are installing their own electricity generating equipment, whether for reasons of economy, redundancy or environmental reasons. When a customer is generating more electricity than required for his own use, the surplus may be exported back to the power grid. Customers that generate back into the "grid" usually must have special equipment and/or safety devices to protect the grid components (as well as the customer's own) in case of faults (electrical short circuits) or maintenance of the grid (say voltage potential on a downed line going into an exporting customers facility).

This exported energy may be accounted for in the simplest case by the meter running backwards during periods of net export, thus reducing the customer's recorded energy usage by the amount exported. This in effect results in the customer being paid for his/her exports at the full retail price of electricity. Unless equipped with a detent or equivalent, a standard meter will accurately record power flow in each direction by simply running backwards when power is exported. Such meters are no longer legal in the UK but instead a meter capable of separately measuring imported and exported energy is required. Suppliers offer different rates for imported and exported electricity while meters that go backwards provides a different area of risk for the industry.

Lately, upload sources typically originate from renewable sources (e.g., wind turbines, photovoltaic cells), or gas or steam turbines, which are often found in cogeneration systems. Another potential upload source that has been proposed is plug-in hybrid car batteries (vehicle-to-grid power systems). This requires a "smart grid," which includes meters that measure electricity via communication networks that require remote control and give customers timing and pricing options. Vehicle-to-grid systems could be installed at workplace parking lots and garages and at park and rides and could help drivers charge their batteries at home at night when off-peak power prices are cheaper, and receive bill crediting for selling excess electricity back to the grid during high-demand hours.


Due to the deregulation of electricity supply markets in many countries, the company responsible for an electricity meter may not be obvious. Depending on the arrangements in place, the meter may be the property of the electricity distributor, the retailer or for some large users of electricity the meter may belong to the customer.

The company responsible for reading the meter may not always be the company which owns it. Meter reading is now sometimes subcontracted and in some areas the same person may read gas, water and electricity meters at the same time.


The location of an electricity meter varies with each installation. Possible locations include on a power pylon serving the property, in a street-side cabinet or inside the premises adjacent to the consumer unit / distribution board. Electricity companies may prefer external locations as the meter can be read without gaining access to the premises but external meters may be more prone to vandalism.

Current transformers permit the meter to be located remotely from the current-carrying conductors. This is common in large installations. For example a substation serving a single large customer may have metering equipment installed in a cabinet, without bringing heavy cables into the cabinet.


In North America, it is common for smaller electricity meters to plug into a standardised socket. This allows the meter to be replaced without disturbing the wires to the socket. Some sockets may have a bypass while the meter is removed for service. The amount of electricity used without being recorded during this small time is considered insignificant when compared to the inconvenience which might be caused to the customer by cutting off the electricity supply.

In the UK, the supply and load terminals are normally provided in the meter housing itself, at least for smaller meters (up to around 100 A).

Tampering and security

Meters can be manipulated so as to make them under-register, effectively allowing power use without paying for it.

The enforcement actions enabled by modern anti-tampering meters are inexpensive compared to the revenue losses and public inconveniences they prevent. Power companies may install remote-reporting meters specifically to enable remote detection of tampering, and specifically to discover theft of energy.

When tampering is detected, the normal tactic, legal in most areas, is to switch the subscriber to a "tampering" tariff charged at the meter's maximum designed current. At US$ 0.095/KWh, a standard residential 50 A meter causes a legally collectible charge of about US$ 5,000.00 per month. Meter readers are trained to spot signs of tampering, and with crude mechanical meters, the maximum rate may be charged each billing period until the tamper is removed, or the service is disconnected.

A common method of tampering is to attach magnets to the outside of the meter. These act in addition to the braking magnets already installed in the meter, causing the meter to under-register. Rectified DC loads will not cause the meter to under-register the amount of power used to a significant degree, nor will a combination of capacitive and inductive load. An electricity meter registers real power (watts), not apparent power (VA); changing the reactive load has no effect on the meter. Similarly, a meter will not run backwards unless you are generating power and feeding it back on the grid from your house (and if detent equipped, will not run backward even then). This is called "net metering", and is commonly used where homeowners have photovoltaic or wind energy systems installed.

The owner of the meter normally secures the meter against tampering. Revenue meters mechanism and connections are sealed. Meters may also measure VAR-hours (the reflected load), neutral and DC currents (elevated by most electrical tampering), ambient magnetic fields, etc. Even simple mechanical meters can have mechanical flags that are dropped by magnetic tampering or large DC currents.

Newer computerized meters usually have counter-measures against tampering. AMR (Automated Meter Reading) meters often have sensors that can report opening of the meter cover, magnetic anomalies, extra clock setting, glued buttons, reversed or switched phases etc. These features are normally present in computerized meters.

Some fraud perpetrators bypass the meter, wholly or in part. This normally causes an increase in neutral current at the meter, which is detected and billed at normal rates by standard tamper-resistant meters. However, most residential meters in use in the United States are single-phase 240 volt meters that are coupled only to the energized lines with the neutral bypassing the meter entirely. This common setup is unable to detect neutral currents.

Even if the meter's neutral connector is completely disconnected, and the building's neutral is grounded to the phantom loop, causing an unsafe house or building, metering at the substation can alert the operator to tampering. Substations, interties and transformers normally have a high-accuracy meter for the area served. Power companies normally investigate discrepancies between the total billed and the total generated, in order to find and fix power distribution problems. These investigations are an effective method of discovering tampering.

In North America power thefts are often connected with indoor marijuana grow operations. Narcotics detectives associate abnormally high power usage with the lighting such operations require. Indoor marijuana growers aware of this are particularly motivated to steal electricity simply to conceal their usage of it.

Privacy issues

The introduction of advanced meters in residential areas has produced additional privacy issues that may affect even ordinary customers. These meters are often capable of recording energy usage very frequently, usually once every 15 minutes or hour. In an IEEE research paper published in 1989, it was shown that readings of this sort can reveal information about the electrical loads being used within the home. A more detailed and recent analysis of this issue was performed by the Illinois Security Lab, as discussed on the Attested Metering project website.

Nonintrusive load monitoring gives even more detail about what appliances people have and their living and use patterns.

See also


  • "Handbook for Electricity Metering" by The Edison Electric Institute-- The Bible of electric meters, continuously updated since electricity was discovered.

External links

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