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When energy savings during certain periods are desired, some meters may measure demand, the maximum use of power in some interval. “Time of day” metering allows electric rates to be changed during a day, to record usage during peak high-cost periods and off-peak, lower-cost, periods. Also, in some areas meters have relays for demand response load shedding during peak load periods.Electric utilities use electric meters installed at customers’ premises for billing purposes. They are typically calibrated in billing units, the most common one being the kilowatt hour (kWh). They are usually read once each billing period.

As commercial use of electric energy spread in the 1880s, it became increasingly important that an electric energy meter, similar to the then existing gas meters, was required to properly bill customers, instead of billing for a fixed number of lamps per month.DC meters measured charge in ampere-hours. Since the voltage of the supply should remain substantially constant, the reading of the meter was proportional to actual energy consumed. For example, if a meter recorded that 100 ampere-hours had been consumed on a 200-volt supply, then 20 kilowatt-hours of energy had been supplied.

Many experimental types of meter were developed. Thomas Edison at first worked on a direct current (DC) electromechanical meter with a direct reading register, but instead developed an electrochemical metering system, which used an electrolytic cell to totalise current consumption. At periodic intervals the plates were removed and weighed, and the customer billed. The electrochemical meter was labour-intensive to read and not well received by customers.

An early type of electrochemical meter used in the United Kingdom was the ‘Reason’ meter. This consisted of a vertically mounted glass structure with a mercury reservoir at the top of the meter. As current was drawn from the supply, electrochemical action transferred the mercury to the bottom of the column. Like all other DC meters, it recorded ampere-hours. Once the mercury pool was exhausted, the meter became an open circuit. It was therefore necessary for the consumer to pay for a further supply of electricity, whereupon, the supplier’s agent would unlock the meter from its mounting and invert it restoring the mercury to the reservoir and the supply.

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