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I am trying to figure out how the electric utility service reads my meter. We have an old electric meter, with a mechanical spinning disc and the analog faces above it.

The meter has not been upgraded by the utility in many years (at least 10 for certain). As far as I know, this meter does not have the capability to be read remotely. I read online that:

Your electrical consumption is read manually by a utility service person who visits the home to read the numbers on the dials. A mechanical electric meter cannot be read remotely. Your building's electrical consumption is calculated by subtracting last month's numbers from this month's reading. A savvy consumer can learn to read these dials to gauge their own electric usage and verify that utility charges are accurate.

Source (emphasis mine)

Now comes the part I can't understand. Someone is home almost every day, and we are generally very aware of who is around our house. The meter is at least 30 feet from the street and the driveway. Someone would have to park in our driveway and walk right in front of the house to read the meter. We have never seen someone from the utility read this meter in the last 10 years.

We regularly see a car, clearly marked as being from the utility company with antennas all over it. I always assumed that they were able to read the meter from the street. But I don't think that is what is going on. How could a meter this old be read remotely?

A few times I have read the dials and they do seem to make sense based on the bill. But how are they reading it?

If it matters, our electric bill always says something like Read Type: ACTUAL. What am I missing.

This is our meter:

enter image description here

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    – Michael Karas
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 4:40
  • While it has been established that your meter likely can be read remotely, it is also possible that they're not reading it every month. Our company got some flak during the pandemic due to inaccurate readings due to them averaging them over some months, although their smart readers haven't fared much better. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:58
  • Having worked on the electronics for water meters, even those completely analog ones can have an addon to be read remotely - for example by adding another gear with a magnet and a small circuit counting the revolutions of that gear using a Hall effect sensor. This digitization then allows for sending the information over some sort of radio.
    – jaskij
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 0:47

6 Answers 6

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Your meter is a General Electric watthour meter type I-70-S catalog # 720X70G1 with the optional pointer register. It is fitted with an electronic circuit board mounted inside the housing to enable communication with the utility's billing computer via the power lines.

If you enter 'general electric watthour meter type "i-70-s"' into your favorite search engine you can learn all about the many editions of this popular instrument. Of course you can't believe everything you read on the internet. For example, the spruce's claim that "A mechanical electric meter cannot be read remotely" is the opposite of true.

GE originally made this meter without any remote or automatic read function. Many companies make AMR retrofit boards for the I-70-S. Your power utility must have bought batches of meters from a retrofit company decades ago.

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  • I suppose it would have been good of me to post a picture of my actual meter from the beginning of this! This is undoubtedly the correct answer, that they are able to read the meter despite what I read about mechanical meters.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 14:40
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    to be fair, a mechanical meter with extra electronics is no longer a mechanical meter but a hybrid mechanical/electronic one Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 15:35
  • Interesting that this older meter can remotely report the reading. One person living near me reckons they have electromagnetic sensitivity and insisted the gas company remove its installation of remote reporting module on the gas meter. Some people refused, or tried to refuse, the installation of the new digital electronic electric meters. Our water meters are still read manually by lifting the cast iron cover and reading by eye. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 15:58
  • @nuggethead You should take a picture of the meter from the side/top. You can probably see the AMR boards from there.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 19:24
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    @JimStewart drawing on my experience from working on the electronics for water meters, yes, the stuff is sensitive to magnets, and one of our requirements was to actually detect if a magnet was present near the meter and send this information along with the reading. I worked on the electronic side of fully digital meters though, so don't ask me about details.
    – jaskij
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 0:49
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We regularly see a car, clearly marked as being from the utility company with antennas all over it.

Your meter likely has a pulse counter with a radio transmitter connected to it that those antennas on the utility vehicle are reading.

The disc that's spinning in the center of the meter has a needle or notch at one spot with a corresponding needle or notch inside the meter. There's a pair of wires leading out of this to a box somewhere (often just sitting in the bottom of the meter socket) with some electronics and long-duration battery that detects each time the opposite end of that wire is short-circuited or open-circuited. Then it just transmits that number along with some unique identifier for your meter.

This output is called a KYZ interface and has been around for ages. It's the same way they're reading your water meter and your natural gas meter, if you've got either of those.

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    This goes well with the "utility vehicle with antennas all over it" .vs. "actual smart meter" - I know my smart meter is labeled to indicate that it communicates via cell modem, so no meter reader driving a vehicle around is involved (nor is the vehicle or the salary of the non-existent meter reader, and that's 21st century economics for how the company can afford those fancy meters with cell modems built into them.)
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 1:31
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    @Ecnerwal A basic modem like that is dirt cheap anyway.
    – Bob
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 7:34
  • @Bob the actual cost on those would be negotiating how many sms messages the meters can send over the gsm network. Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 11:11
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    Just a quick search for GE I-70-S and one can see that it is compatible with most AMR (Automated Meter Reader) modules/boards. I haven't seen an actual meter reader on foot in over 25 years.
    – rtaft
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 12:51
  • Search term: "drive-by AMR"
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 19:25
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In many places, the meter is only read sporadically, and approximations based on past usage and "heating days" are used between those points. This may or may not be indicated on your bill.

If it really matters -- if there's a rate change coming up that you think might make the error a nontrivial amount of money -- you can request an actual reading. A real reading is also taken when you close or open an account, eg when the house is purchased.

As you said in the comments, "usually close enough."

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    @keshalm thanks, but ... a few things. If it were being read sporadically, should the bill still say "actual" for read type? Also, heating days wouldn't be a good estimate for us because we get heat/hot water from oil.
    – nuggethead
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 2:24
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    If it's saying actual, it's supposed to be an actual reading. If you want to know exactly when readings are being taken and watch how it's done, call your utility and ask them to ring the bell when taking the next reading (or hang a note on the meter with that request, or set up a cheap motion-detecting camera to watch the meter, or....)
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 2:31
  • *electricity not gas
    – nuggethead
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 2:33
  • Edited, tnx. Applies for any metered utility without a remote function, really...
    – keshlam
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 2:36
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( The question is how they access it without my knowledge – nuggethead )

The answer needs to come from the utility. Anything else is speculation. Call the utility company.

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    This is a comment, not an answer.
    – isherwood
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:35
  • My smart meter is clearly marked with the brand name of the AMR network and FCC ID of the transmitter. No need to call the utility, and even if I did, the agent likely has no idea what the brand or frequency or transmit power is.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 2:41
  • @user71659, great for you but the OP doesn't have that type of meter.
    – RMDman
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 11:55
  • @RMDman And you're sure the AMR board cannot be read through the side of the meter? Clearly you already know his setup, so there's no reason to call!
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 17:05
  • @user71659...yes I know, but OP doesn't ...so the call will have to be made....or telepathy or smoke signals.
    – RMDman
    Commented Apr 5, 2023 at 1:11
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This is how our utility company upgraded our meters (Bulgaria, EU, but pretty much applicable elsewhere):

The old (rotary, geared, analog) meters were generally inside the property and one had to welcome the meter guy/girl inside to copy the readings.

The new fancy, digital, ir-readable meters are generally in an enclosed panel on the utility pole on the street with a double cover - transparent (one can see own readings and even reset their own breakers should a need arise, they are exposed) and metal sheet that locks over the transparent cover. Owners generally keep a key to the metal cover and not to the transparent one.

What the lazy replacement people did: they installed the panel with the new meter on the pole and did not bother to remove the old meters.

(in addition to laziness, there was some diplomacy: we don't look around your meter for signs of tampering, you lose the option to tamper with your meter for good)

Most people ended up with the old meter in the house that no one comes to read anymore.

p.s. in the new reality the meter guy/girl is pretty hard to spot, at least in friendly neighborhoods - once in a month they walk to the panel (no car involved), open the meter box, make some quiet beep-beep-beep with a portable phone-like device, close the cover and walk away. About 30 seconds in total for a box with 1-10 subscriber meters inside.

This made some people thinking that their bills are completely made-up.

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In my country, the meters are inside the house.

So, they send a postcard where you complete the readings (there are 3 meters) and send them in.

They also have a person come to the house to read the meters directly, but only rarely. Last time was last year for me, they don't worry unless they have a reason to check; like the reading you send in is incorrect.

I know that the "early" or pre-digital meters could still be read remotely as when I lived in France they checked the reading and supply while we were on the phone to them and that was in 1991.

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    They're obviously not doing the postcard thing for the OP, they'd know about it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 2, 2023 at 19:12
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    Not only would the customer know about doing a reading themselves, the reading would be labelled "CUSTOMER" (or some such). Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 13:45
  • Before smart meters, if you had a difficult to access meter, our US utility would give you a plastic card printed with a meter face and rotating hands. You'd match the hands to the meter and place the card in your window.
    – user71659
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 2:44

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