The Robots are Coming

A casual discussion about the automation of work and the decreasing relevance of humans to productivity.

The Power Company's Argument for Smart Meters

April 20, 2015

This is a press release from ComEd (a power company) about the installation of smart meters in Chatham, which is a neighborhood in South Chicago, It’s fascinating in the way that it positions the issue.

They make a specific claim from the mayor:

“This digital smart-meter system will not only better power our homes and create real savings for families; it will also power job creation in our neighborhoods like Chatham,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Okay, that’s interesting, since it seems like smart meter programs would do the exact opposite, since they remove the need for meter readers.

Reading further, you find this:

If electric bills go down due to energy efficiency, that means more money in people’s pockets to spend in our neighborhood businesses, thus directly helping small businesses that are thriving in our community. [this is] an innovative model program that creates jobs with economic value in our community.

Clearly, there’s some spin here. The organization that most stands to gain from the smart meters is likely ComEd. The line of reasoning goes that if they have lower labor costs...that will trickle down into lower power bills...which will trickle down into more money for residents...which will trickle down into more spending at local businesses...which will trickle down into more need for workers at those businesses...I think?

There’s a whole lot of trickle down there, and it’s interesting how a technology primarily meant to eliminate a job gets spun into “an innovative model program that creates jobs.”

I concede that there’s an additional argument that smart meters correspond to more accurate power bills, and this might somehow help a resident that was over-paying due to inaccurate measurement ("If electric bills go down due to energy efficiency,” from the press release). However, I question how often this occurs, and whether or not this is an advantage that would ever actually be realized.