Warning: Smart Meters are coming to your state

 Stop do not fit a smart meter 3AWSmart meters will rip you off. They will over-charge you.

One smart meter installation even allegedly electrocuted a woman.

A storm is being whipped up by mainstream media, and it's working. People are down-right scared of the smart meters which are being rolled-out across Australia.

It's a real shame, because the problem is not the smart meters, but rather that they are essentially being forced onto customers. In this post, I'd like to consider some of the issues (and benefits) of the smart meters themselves.

What is a smart meter anyway?

Smart meters can incorporate all kinds of features (interval metering, bi-directional communication, logging multiple channels of data, controlling loads, etc). But, most of the meters being rolled out in Australia at the moment are actually quite 'dumb.'

At the time of writing (2011), most are just interval meters. Unlike your old mechanical meter (which, by the way, most homes still have) these meters can record how much you use and at what time. Some may also be capable of remote meter reading (so someone doesn't have to come and physically read your meter every three months).

You don't own your electricity meter

Amongst all the discussion people are vying to protect 'their' meter.

An old man in Ringwood has threatened to set his dogs on installers, and another more benign bloke wants to turn the garden hose on them.

Neil Mitchell, Herald Sun, 08-Feb-2011

I seriously doubt whether residents have any right to their meter. It's really the property of the electricity network provider who gets the power to your home. They are the ones who ensure the infrastructure is there and that the meters are read. (Read more about smart meter ownership and your electricity contract).

You can't choose your network provider: they are a regulated 'monopoly' in your area. If we didn't have this then we could have the situation experienced in New York in the early days of electricity. Back then, Thomas Edison and others ran competing poles-and-wires to their respective customers. That would be a mess.

You can, of course, choose your electricity retailer. The network provider merely relays the information (and charges fees) to the retailer.

Smart meters can actually save you money

Contrary to popular belief, smart meters can actually save you money. Before we get into that, it is worth mentioning that just because you have a smart meter, it does not mean you are locked into a certain tariff structure. In NSW you can still ask to keep your old tariff structure. In Victoria it seems that this is also possible.

In most cases, however, smart metering is coupled with a new tariff structure. These tariffs more closely reflect the real costs of supplying electricity to your home.

Typically, there are three tariffs. The peak tariff is much more expensive than your old rate, but it is only in place for about 20% of the hours in a week. The shoulder and off-peak rates are cheaper than your old rates and can therefore mean big savings on your electricity bill.

Here is an example of Energy Australia's Power Smart tariff for homes in NSW:

Energy Australia Power Smart Meter Home Rates

This does not mean that you have to walk around in the cold and dark in winter. The following simple changes will go a long way to reducing your bills:

  • run your dishwasher, washing machine (and pool pump) outside of peak times,
  • switch off other unused appliances, including those in standby mode (see the EcoSwitch standby power switch),
  • upgrade your lighting to more efficient technology (see our range of Philips LED lighting),
  • make sure that very large loads like electric hot water tanks are not coming on during peak time.

If you have a smart meter, I'd be keen to hear your experiences.

New Post #1: Smart meter ownership and how much extra you will pay.

New Post #2: Read your electricity contract before attacking your smart meter.

- Ryan McCarthy

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