Electric Meters & You






April 15, 2019                                                                                                                                                       Home

Every member-owner of Powell Valley Electric Cooperative has a meter that counts the amount of electricity being used.  How the amount is measured has changed a lot since the late 19th century.   

The first home electricity usage was only the light bulb.  People were billed by adding up the number of light bulbs in use and charging a fee – regardless of how often the light bulb was on.  This seems like a very unfair way to charge for electricity.  Some people might use a light bulb two hours a day, and others 15 hours a day. This method of billing was soon dropped.  Meters were then put in use.

Another “meter” in use in almost every household is the thermometer.  The use of mercury in thermometers was common for hundreds of years. In the past few decades of medical use, the mercury thermometer has been replaced by digital thermometers that give a more accurate reading in a shorter period of time.

Science Museum Group. Mercury motor electric consumption meter. Y1996.10.235Science Museum Group Collection Online.

Changes have also taken place with electric meters.  Surprisingly, an early electric meter (in 1880’s) also used mercury.  This meter looked like a mercury thermometer locked in a case.  As electricity was used, the mercury sank to the bottom of the column.  When mercury pooled at bottom, the meter became an open circuit.  No more electricity!  The consumer would then need to pay for more. Someone from the electric company would unlock the meter and turn it upside down to so mercury again filled the reservoir.  Lights would be on again.                                            Article continues below




For most of the 20th century, mechanical meters were used.  These counted the turns of a rotating metal disc. The number of turns of the disc told you how much energy you use.  

Most of us over the age of 30 will remember these meters – and also the Powell Valley Electric employee coming round to take a monthly reading. The more electricity in use, the faster the wheel spun.  If you had a major appliance like a drier running, you could actually see the increase in power usage as the wheel spun faster.  Each meter also had half a dozen or so dials (usually with pointers) that would show the total amount of electricity used.

21st century meters are electronic with a digital readout.  PVEC staff no longer need to drive around checking meters each month.  You can no longer see a wheel spinning round, but you can tell how much power you are using by reading the digits on the front of the meter from time to time.  Go take a look.  These numbers are read digitally by a computer in PVEC’s office on a monthly basis.  Your bill records this usage.  Your bill shows you how much electricity you have used the most recent month and each of the past 12 months.

Everyone needs to learn more about our electric cooperative. For more information, go to pve.coop.

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