Disconnecting Meters: Is There a Good Use Case?

Disconnecting Meters: Is There a Good Use Case?

The Disconnecting Meter Question

In years past, we’ll admit that we often recommended disconnecting meters to customers. After all, it seemed a great option.  When the site was vacant, you could turn off the power.  Mr. Johnson in the site next door couldn’t run his extension cord over to the empty site.

However, after talking to customers and through real world data analysis, the team at Wild Energy has come to the realization that disconnecting meters may not be the right solution in 99% of cases. 

In this article, we'll explore the reasons why we don't recommend disconnecting meters and how Wild Energy has found a better way to meet the needs of campground owners.

What are Disconnecting Meters?

Disconnecting meters, refer to special versions of the utility meter which include a large switch or relay that opens and closes the electrical circuit, much like a circuit breaker.  They can be remotely opened and closed without the need to visit the actual location where the meter is installed.

Disconnecting Meter Challenges

While they may seem like a convenient solution at first glance, several factors make them less practical in the long run. 

Disconnecting meters are not only costly to install and maintain but also have a relatively short lifespan. This short lifespan necessitates frequent replacements, incurring additional expenses for property owners.  

Furthermore, disconnecting meters have internal mechanical relays, similar to circuit breakers, that move to turn power on and off. The more these mechanical switches are used, the shorter the device's lifespan becomes, making them a less reliable option over time.

Here are specific reasons as to why we think these devices are a bad idea. 

  1.   Poor Return on Investment

One of the main drawbacks of disconnecting meters is their high cost (an additional $100 per unit) and relatively short lifespan when used frequently. The return on investment (ROI) for these devices doesn't align with the benefits.  Why replace a $200 meter which may save you $10 in energy theft?  Or worse, what happens when the meter does not turn back on when the new guest arrives?

  1.   Reliability Issues

Have you ever had to replace a circuit breaker in a pedestal?  Disconnecting meters are similar. Disconnecting meters rely on internal mechanical relays, like circuit breakers, to manage power supply. The more these mechanical switches are used, the shorter the lifespan. This inherent fragility makes disconnecting meters a less reliable option over time.  The more they are used, the more wear there is on the mechanical components which leads to a higher probability of failure.  

  1. Liability Concerns for Owners and Operators

Disconnecting meters present a series of liability issues for property owners. Accidental disconnection of power could cause irreparable harm to pets or individuals within the unit, leading to potential legal and financial consequences. 

There is a potential for damage to your customer’s equipment. Many campers bring their own surge protectors to keep their RVs and equipment inside protected from accidental surges. However, many campers do not have these devices.   If the staff accidentally turned off power to the wrong site and then turned it back on, the surge of energy could damage your guest’s equipment and electronics.

We learned from real world application, that an accidental disconnect of power can shut down refrigerators and freezers.  Spoiled food in refrigerators (and leakage onto the floor) may require reimbursement to the owner, repair of their equipment, and obvious reputational damage to your property.

Additionally, disconnecting meters may run afoul of local laws and regulations.  

Wild Energy's Shift Away from Disconnecting Meters 

Given the limitations and drawbacks of disconnecting meters, Wild Energy has moved away from this model. We are in partnership with our customers, we need to stand behind our recommendation and our products.  We couldn't, in good conscience, recommend disconnecting meters to our customers.

Instead, we have turned our focus to investing in software and services that add value while addressing the reasons property owners initially considered disconnecting meters.

Why Do Property Owners Initially Consider Disconnecting Meters?

Before we get into the various reasons property owners might contemplate the use of disconnecting meters, it's essential to understand the motivations behind this choice. 

Campground owners face a unique set of challenges when it comes to managing utility usage, ensuring fair billing, and preserving the overall camping experience. Exploring the drivers behind the initial interest in disconnecting meters can help us understand the complex considerations that influence these decisions. Let's take a closer look at the factors that lead property owners to explore this option.

  1.   Preventing Utility Theft (Not Ideal)

Property owners often explore the possibility of installing disconnecting meters for various reasons. One primary motivation is to prevent utility theft, which can pose both financial and logistical challenges for campground operators. Disconnecting meters are indeed designed to address this concern. However, when you crunch the numbers, their cost-effectiveness may be questioned.

On the high-end, consider a campground with closer to 200 sites. In this case, the cost of implementing disconnecting meters would add $20,000 to the upfront capital cost. These costs represent a significant upfront investment that property owners must consider when exploring utility management solutions. 

While disconnecting meters can address utility theft concerns, they must be weighed against the practicality and potential alternatives, such as Wild Energy's cost-effective software solutions, which offer financial and operational advantages for campground owners.

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? We Think: No

And, while these meters may seem like a robust solution to utility theft, they might not align with the goal of preventing relatively minor electricity theft, especially considering that a tenant overstaying their reservation typically incurs an average of just $6.36 in electrical costs per day.  You’d have to catch 3,144 thieves to get a return on the investment!

Instead, Wild Energy recommends using software to alert you of potential utility theft.  It offers a more cost-effective approach by alerting you when utilities are being used at a site without a paid reservation. This mitigates utility theft concerns and optimizes campground resources without the significant upfront investment associated with disconnecting meters.

  1.   Forcing an Occupant Off the Property (Not Ideal)

Another motivation for contemplating the use of disconnecting meters is the desire to expedite the removal of occupants who have overstayed their welcome. However, it's essential to consider the legal aspects of such a practice. Disconnecting utilities as a means to force occupants off the property can potentially conflict with local laws and regulations, raising issues of tenant rights and legal procedures. Once you are clear of any legal obligations, a simpler alternative is to install a $9 padlock on a pedestal.  

  1.   Running a Fully Automated Property (Ideal)

Let’s acknowledge, however, that the concept of disconnecting meters might gain traction in specific circumstances, particularly when operating a fully automated property where no physical presence is required. In such scenarios, the risk of harm or liability is significantly reduced, making it an attractive option. 

Consider RV Self-Park, a campground located in Sullivan, Missouri, with 24 sites.

These campgrounds are designed to function seamlessly without the constant presence of an in-person manager, leveraging advanced systems and technology to streamline operations. By embracing automation, these campgrounds enhance efficiency and offer a unique and convenient experience for campers.

A Better Way With Wild Energy

Wild Energy has developed a more practical and cost-effective solution to offset the shortcomings of disconnecting meters. Our software and services offer campground owners a comprehensive, automated, and reliable energy management approach. We're committed to enhancing energy efficiency and the overall camping experience while minimizing risks and liabilities.

Contact us today to learn more.

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