Electricity meters are measuring devices used to determine the amount of electricity delivered to a household. They are thus, so to speak, the connection between the households and the electricity network operator or the energy supplier. The first forerunners of today’s devices were already invented at the end of the 19th century. Today, they can be found in almost every household, since a power connection ready for decades has been standard in Germany.
Different types: mechanical or electrical
The classic among electricity meters is the analog electric meter, named after its inventor, the Italian physicist Galileo Ferraris, also Ferraris counter. In the electro-mechanical box, a metal wheel rotates. This is connected to a roll counter. This shows how much power has been consumed since installing the device in the connected household. The consumption is calculated by comparing the meter reading at the beginning of the billing period with the meter reading at the end of the billing period.
The advantage of mechanical meters: they only have to be calibrated every 16 years. This is much less common than is the case with comparable digital devices. The disadvantage: mechanical meters must be read by hand and meter readings transmitted to the network operator. In addition, mechanical counters can provide incorrect data if they are not calibrated correctly. Then the consumer may pay for each electric bill.
Exchange of all devices in case of errors
These counters are only checked randomly, not every device individually. If a defect is detected during the check, all counters of this type should be overhauled or replaced.
Modern standard is the electric meter. With him, the power consumption is stored digitally. There are models that energy companies can also read out directly, so-called energy meters with remote reading. This reduces the effort for companies and consumers to read each meter reading manually or to process the received meter readings.
An advantage that could ultimately be noticed by the consumer in his electricity bill, theoretically at least. In practice, the electricity bill currently tends to be higher than lower due to the costs of the energy turnaround, grid charges and the EEG surcharge.
The smart electricity meter
As part of the energy transition, smart meters, also known as smart meters, are now on everyone’s lips. They are supposed to reduce the costs for the consumer according to the policy and to relieve the burden on the electricity grids by an intelligent regulation of the electricity consumption. For many energy-intensive companies, such smart meters have been in use for years.
You can record consumption digitally, save it and visualize it for consumers. The idea is that smart meters should ensure that consumers consume more of their electrical energy when a lot of electricity is generated from renewable energy sources. An oversupply in the power grid should then be able to be used at low prices. For this purpose, the devices should store the consumption of all electrical appliances in the household in detail and every 15 minutes.
The advantages are obvious: in addition to a lower electricity bill, higher advance payments or additional payments should soon be over, since smart meters make the actual demand more transparent for the consumer.
Criticism of the smart electricity meters
The behavior in terms of power consumption and thus also very private behavior patterns of consumers could become transparent for the operators as well. Because the very detailed data could land not only on the computer screen of the consumer, but also with the energy suppliers. Whether the operators, however, will examine every household so is still unclear. It would also be conceivable to only observe larger units such as residential blocks or quarters in order to optimize the power grid.
Mandatory introduction of smart meters from 2017
The energy and economic department of the Federal Government want to follow European guidelines with the widespread introduction of the devices. A bill to “digitize the energy transition” by the end of 2015 provides that not only for consumers and businesses, the new meters are installed, but also for normal and average consumers. From 2017, a smart meter requirement for large customers with an annual consumption of more than 10,000-kilowatt hours (kWh) should apply. By 2020, according to the EU directive mentioned above, at least 80 percent of private households will also be equipped with smart electricity meters.
Consumers themselves have doubts about the new devices according to a survey by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations in 2014 and fear additional costs and data protection problems due to the smart meters. As the daily newspaper “taz” reports, the network operators can decide whether they want to install smart meters or not. They also bear the cost of the meter and its installation and installation. A codetermination right of the individual consumer is not yet provided.
As early as 2013, an analysis by the auditing firm Ernst & Young on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics showed that a nationwide introduction of smart meters in Germany makes no sense.
This is how you read correctly
The electricity meter can be found in smaller rental houses usually in the basement or in the stairwell. If you do not know where your electricity meter is, ask your landlord, property manager or caretaker.
For older electromechanical models you need to calculate the power consumption for the current year yourself. On the last electricity bill, you should find the old meter reading. If you subtract this from the current meter reading, you know how much power you have used since your last billing.
The electricity meter must be read at least once a year. This is usually taken care of by the energy supplier or network operator. If meter readings cannot be transmitted digitally because old mechanical meters are still in use, you will be prompted to transmit the current meter reading. This is often done by postcard, but usually, you can pass your meter reading also via the Internet or phone. It then determines whether your monthly payments made were higher or lower than the actual consumption. If you have paid too much or too little with the electricity cost prepayment, you will either receive a credit note for the next electric bill or you will be asked for an additional payment.
If the electricity meter measures incorrectly
Responsible for the electricity meter is not the consumer, but the so-called measuring points. This is usually the respective network operator. Therefore, he is also responsible if the electricity meter is not working properly. The reading also falls in principle in his area of responsibility, even if many network operators now pass this task on to consumers. You pay these services to him with your electric bill, to be found as item “Fee for measuring point operation” “Fee for billing” and “Fee for reading”.
Since 2005 it is possible to order an external measuring point operator. In practice, this option is rarely used, among other things, because the items mentioned are relatively small in relation to the rest of the electricity bill. Anyone who hires an external service provider should report this to the utility company and make sure that the basic price has actually been reduced in the next bill. Otherwise you may pay twice for the measuring point services. An extra bill for reading and maintaining the electricity meter does not make matters clearer.
Unrealistically high consumption: Check if the meter measures incorrectly
If your electricity bill seems too high despite the more economical consumption, electricity price comparison and electricity supplier change to a lower tariff and the most economical new household appliances, you should take a closer look at your electricity meter.
Calculate comparison values with an online tool
You can easily determine which consumption values are realistic for your living situation with the Consumer Checks electricity check tool. So you have a comparison value at hand.
Especially with the older, mechanical models, it may be that the electricity meter is running but wrongly calibrated. The result: the electricity provider will charge more electricity than you actually consume. Then you should check whether the counter is working properly or if someone taps their power line.
The following three steps can provide more clarity:
- Switch off the devices completely and check the meters
Turn off all electrical appliances in your household. And indeed all, including fridge and freezer. Do not worry, the review is done quickly, frozen foods will not be damaged. You do not have to pull each plug individually out of the socket or switch off the devices via a switch. It is easier and more reliable to do this with the fuses in the fuse box. If you have switched off all devices, check the wheel in the electricity meter. As there is no more current, it should not turn anymore. If the meter still measures consumption despite completely switched off appliances, ie continues to rotate, you should report this to your energy provider.
- Measure the energy consumption of the devices
The consumption of household appliances can be estimated flat, but not always the information from the manufacturer. Especially with old devices, the consumption can be higher than expected. Obtain an energy or energy meter. You can borrow that from some energy providers. It rarely costs more than 50 euros in retail. Well invested money, because you can use it to check every electronic device for its consumption and to locate power guzzlers. A cheap helper to make an electricity inventory for your entire household. To do this, it is plugged in each time between the consumption device and the socket. Write down the results. If the results of your measurement are confusing, consult energy or electricity consultants, for example, from Consumer Centers.
- Request verification of the meter from the meter operator
If you have doubts that your electricity meter is still calibrated correctly, you can commission the meter operator with a check. Be sure to ask about the costs involved. The cost of a review can pay many energy suppliers with about 100 €. If it then turns out that the meter is defective and measures inaccurately, the utility companies often bear the costs of the check themselves.
Exchange of counters
As a general rule, electricity meters should be replaced by newer devices from time to time to ensure correct operation. Some network operators change counters after the validity period expires, others when problems with a particular model occur. How long the legal validity period is, depends – as described above – on the meter type. The verification period is:
- 16 years for mechanical electricity meters
- 12 years for instrument transformer meters (mainly used at high energy consumption in industrial companies)
- 8 years for electronic electricity meters
When your electricity meter has been calibrated, you can read off the calibration stamp. The number at the bottom of the rectangular gray or yellow plaque indicates the year of testing. However, network operators are not required to replace a meter at the end of the calibration period. In addition, a meter can be validated as valid due to a random check.
In Germany, private individuals are not allowed to exchange electricity meters themselves because of the required standardization. As a rule, energy suppliers or network operators undertake the replacement or entrust companies that have a corresponding license.