A quick lesson in meter reading

Electric use varies from household to household, depending upon the size of your home, number and type of appliances and how you use them. Your electric meter keeps track of it all for you. Electric meters record the total amount of electricity used. You can look at your own usage by learning to read your own meter.

Is your meter a confusing object?

It needn’t be. Meters are not difficult to read and they can provide you with information about your energy conservation efforts. The explanation in this pamphlet provides you with a quick lesson in meter reading.

Your electric meter measures the amount of electricity you use. Just as you purchase pounds of meat, quarts of milk or gallons of gasoline, you buy kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity.

The basic unit of measure of electric power is the Watt. One thousand Watts are called a kilowatt. If you use one thousand Watts of power in one hour you have used a kilowatt-hour (kWh). Your electric utility bills you by the kWh.

The standard analog electric power meter is a clock-like device driven by the electricity moving through it. As the home draws current from the power lines, a set of small gears inside the meter move. The number of revolutions is recorded by the dials that you can see on the face of the meter. The speed of the revolutions depends on the amount of current drawn; the more power consumed at any one instant, the faster the gears will rotate.

When reading an electric analog meter, read and write down the numbers as shown on the dials from right to left. When the pointer is directly on a number, look at the dial to the right. If it has passed zero, use the next higher number. If the dial has not passed zero, use the lower number. Record the numbers shown by writing down the value of the dial to your extreme right first and the rest as you come to them. Should the hand of a dial fall between two numbers, use the smaller of the two numbers.

Note that some newer electric meters use digital displays instead of dials. The difference between one month’s reading and the next is the amount of energy units that have been used for that billing period.

You may also wish to contact your local utility company for more information about reading your electric meter.

How to Read Electric (Digital) Meters

To read a digital meter simply read the meter left to right, just like reading a car odometer, to track your usage. The digital meter keeps a running total of your usage just like your car odometer tracks miles. This is the actual register read/quantity as defined by the register indicator.

Determine which meter type you have, and follow the instructions below the corresponding picture to read your meter.

This SmartMeter™ electric meter by Landis + Gyr uses a digital readout alternating between three different displays:

  • The initial screen will display “888888…” indicating that the unit is functioning properly.
  • The next screen shows the total kWh of energy consumption. This 5-digit number is cumulative and may include leading zeros.
  • The final screen shows the current electric usage at the premise.

This SmartMeter™ electric meter by GE uses a digital readout with one standard display:

  • The 5-digit display showing the total kWh of energy consumption is located on the top line and is always on. This number is cumulative. NOTE: A segment check may display momentarily, but will change back to the standard display.
  • Below the kWh display, the 3-digit voltage level and 3-digit current electric usage displays will alternate (i.e., “240 Volts” is shown for a few seconds and then toggles to “.345 kW” for a few seconds)


Meters for Solar and Renewables are different. Electric NEM meters record the total net amount of electricity used or exported. The display will show an arrow indicating whether you are using or exporting energy.

Net metering is the set of laws and standards that allow utility customers to generate their own renewable resources such as wind, solar or other resources and send excess (unconsumed) energy back to the utility. The “Net Meter” is the meter that keeps track of the energy in both directions, also called bi-directional meter. Every utility has a slightly different approach to their “Net Meter”.

At the meter read out window, there is the digital register indicator on top left corner to indicate how much energy has been consumed or generated. For net metering, there can be a combination of a total of six registers that would be read. The most common registers are 14 and 24.

Register 14 indicator is the total energy the site consumes (usages) from Pacific Power.  Register 24 indicator is the total energy the site generates and sends the excess energy back to Pacific Power. Register 24 is not to be confused with the energy the site total energy generation, because most of that energy is being consumed by the site itself. The energy reading for register 24 will only increment if the site is producing more energy than it is using.

The other registers are 11, 12, 21 and 22. These are the time-of-use reading for sites operating under a time-of-use rate schedule. Register 11 is on-peak energy that the customer consumes. Register 12 is off-peak energy that the customer consumes. Register 21 is on-peak energy that the customer generates. Register 22 is off-peak energy that the customer generates.

LED bar display

This display will show how the power is currently flowing through the meter. If the boxes in the display are lighting up from left to right with an arrow pointing to the right of the meter, the site is consuming power. If the boxes light up from right to left with the arrow pointing to the left of the meter, the site is generating power back to the company.

Electrical safety tips

Electricity always seeks the easiest path to the ground. It tries to find a conductor, such as metal, wet wood, or water. Never touch an energized bare wire or faulty appliance while you are grounded, the electricity will instantly pass through you to the ground, causing a harmful or fatal shock.

When you need to change a fuse or in case of fire or shock, turn off the main switch on your service panel. If you don’t have a main switch, turn off all circuit breakers. Remember, do not tamper with the electric meter. You’ll risk shock, explosion, or fire.

Children’s natural curiosity can lead to electrical accidents. Teach children never to put fingers or objects into an electrical outlet, toaster, or any other appliance, even if it’s off. Use plug covers in all your outlets.