When I was growing up, a favorite toy was Slinky®—a long metal spring that could walk down stairs or slither from one hand to the other. The company also made a version in the shape of a dog and of a train that you could pull along the floor, always with the rear half hesitating and then suddenly springing forward to meet the front. Perhaps you remember the television commercial jingle that included “It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky, it’s fun for a girl or a boy”. Fast forward 60 years to another place and time where we received a similarly named product but with a totally different, but fun (?), function: the Linky communicating electric meter.
We woke up one morning in the dark. That part is not surprising since it was 5:00 AM but this was pitch-black as in no glowing numbers on the clock/radio, no tiny red or green flashes from a sleeping computer or network box, not a glimmer from the bathroom night light. I went downstairs and was happy to see the streetlights were on and then Bill joined me to confirm that we had indeed lost power. He went to our recently installed Linky meter, pressed the information button that lets you cycle through readouts such as your current usage, your maximum usage for that day, and the amount of daily electricity for which you have contracted. In France, with guidance from the electric company, each household decides how many kilo-volt-amperes (kVA) they are likely to need based on the appliances in their home. You then pay a set annual fee (just over 100 euros for us) plus a kilowatt hour charge for the electricity you use (0.1483 euros for us).
Once you decide how much electricity you would like to contract for, you must then go with one of three plans. Your choices are a tariff that remains the same all day, every day through the year; a peak/off-peak daily plan, and a blue-white-red selection that varies daily across the year. We once rented a holiday home for a week with that tri-color plan and the owner warned us that we’d have to pay a supplement if we happened to be there on a “red” day. Here in our own home, where we heat and cook with natural gas, we’ve opted for the single-tariff rate and have a combined electric/gas budget of 145 euros (170 dollars) per month.
So what caused us to be in the dark? Our best guess is that the electricity to our street went off momentarily and when it returned almost every appliance that we have came on at the same instant which exceeded our contracted amount, thus tripping the meter. To prevent that in the future, we requested an increase in the kVA which was handled at a relay station and downloaded to our meter without requiring a technician to visit. For us that was convenient while others have concerns of privacy invasion, excessive radiation, and remote surveillance. Whether you view this new meter as a step forward or as another loss of individualism, just as that original TV commercial (sort of) sang: Everyone knows it’s “Linky”.