How to get the most out of your smart meter

Smart meters (also known as digital or advanced meters) have been touted as one of the greatest energy developments of modern time. As of 2013, all Victorian homes and small businesses have a smart meter installed by law. While other state governments have not followed suit, smart meters are becoming increasingly common across Australia. So, what’s all the fuss about, how can you benefit from a smart meter, and what do you need to know? Here, we walk you through the questions you might find yourself asking about smart meters.

What are smart meters?

smart-meter-imageSmart meters measure and record electricity usage (per kWh) every 30 minutes. This information is collected by the electricity distributor and passed onto the retailer for billing purposes. Smart meters are popular as they provide close to real-time information on a household’s energy usage, allowing customers to better-manage their behaviour and costs.r

Traditional electricity meters are usually read just once every billing period, or every other billing period depending on your retailer. This is why customers without smart meters often receive estimated bills, rather than actual bills. Traditional meters also require someone to physically visit your property to read the meter.

What are the benefits of smart meters?

It is easy at first to be sceptical about smart meters, but it’s not just the energy companies that can benefit from the technology. Households and businesses with smart meters are eligible for new deals through certain providers and have access to a myriad of live energy-usage consumption statistics. A smart meter could potentially save you a considerable amount on your electricity bill. Only by understanding your energy usage can you act on it and reduce costs.

Live usage information

Electricity meters record energy usage information every 30 minutes. Customers of some retailers, or those connected to certain energy networks, will have access to this information through mobile apps or web portals. Depending on the energy company, customers are given information on how much energy they’re using, when they’re using it, how their property compares to others in the area, and more. This lets customers identify where they may be wasting electricity and how they can cut down to save on their bill.

Some apps, such as the AGL energy app, even provide bill predictions and usage alerts so you’re never caught off guard by a shock electricity bill.

Flexible rate tariffs

Smart meter users can sign up for flexible energy pricing, which is practically the same as a normal time of use tariff. The only difference is that the older time-of-use meters take multiple readings, while a flexible price meter will simply make a single continual consumption reading but simultaneously record the time of usage.

Flexible tariffs charge three rates depending on the time of day: Peak, off-peak and shoulder.

  • Peak: Generally the most expensive period between 3pm and 9pm
  • Off-peak: Generally the cheapest period between 10pm and 7am
  • Shoulder: These rates are higher than off-peak, but lower than peak, between 7am and 3pm

Other benefits of smart meters

  • Fault detection: Electricity distributors can now more easily notice when a property or area is not receiving an electricity feed. This can help distributors more easily identify the problem and respond to it sooner.
  • Lower connection fees: Metering and connection fees are considerably lower with smart meters. Traditional meters require a meter reader to read and connect the meter, however this can all be done remotely with smart meters. Accordingly, while you might pay a connection fee of around $20-$25 with traditional meters, smart-metered properties need only pay around $5.

Controversy around smart meters

Like with anything new, smart meters have been met with a little opposition. Some people have raised concerns about the impact of smart meters on health and privacy.

Are smart meters bad for your health?

The concern with smart meters surrounding health has to do with its levels of radio frequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME) output – a form of radiation. There have been reports, particularly in Victoria, of people experiencing symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (headaches, tinnitus, insomnia etc) shortly after having a smart meter installed. At this stage, however, there is no clear evidence that suggests smart meters are responsible for these effects.

The Victorian government addresses health concerns on its website. It conducted a study into the RF EME of smart meters in 2011 and found that it easily complies with the minimum standards imposed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). The report stated that “the radiofrequency electromagnetic energy transmitted in a single pulse from the smart meter is similar to that from a car remote unlocking fob and much less than a single SMS”. Smart meters impose no considerable threat to your health.

Are smart meters too invasive?

As for the questions surrounding privacy, smart meters draw usage information every half an hour, giving consumers and distributors unprecedented insight into your electricity usage. Concerns have been raised that distributors can now draw insights into when you’re home, when you’re sleeping, and possibly even what appliances you’re using based on consumption figures. Some jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on the use of this information, banning its sale for marketing purposes. However, there are no such laws as yet in Australia.

Other concerns

  • Hackers: We live in a digital world with new risks. Like everything involving computers these days, some have raised concerns that smart meters could be hacked to cut electricity supply or change usage figures.
  • Increased distributor control: Smart meters give distributors the ability to limit electricity consumption and disconnect homes and businesses remotely. While this is technically true, consumer laws still apply to smart meters, and a retailer will not be free to unduly restrict your access to electricity.
  • Limited choice of retailer: Outside of Victoria, a few retailers either don’t offer digital meter services, or limit what’s available. While retailers like this are becoming increasingly rare, there’s a chance you may have a little less choice of energy companies.

How much do smart meters cost?

Smart meters cost around $600 to install. Fortunately, as part of the market-led rollout of smart meters, many retailers will front the initial cost on behalf of their customers. However, this cost is then recovered through additional charges in your electricity bill. If your retailer pays for the meter, ensure you ask about ongoing costs and possible exit fees.

Are smart meters compulsory?

Smart meters are only currently mandatory in Victoria. A mandated rollout of smart meters concluded in late 2013, with virtually all homes and businesses upgraded to smart meter systems. The response to this was mixed, and other states have chosen not to follow suit, instead favouring a market-led rollout.

While smart meters are actively encouraged by some governments, they are completely optional in all other states and territories at this time. In NSW, QLD and SA, all new meters installed after 1 December 2017 must be smart meters, however there will be no requirement to update old meters.

Where can I buy a smart meter?

While metering is technically the responsibility of the distributor, you should contact your electricity retailer if you’re looking to upgrade.

What if I have solar?

Smart meters can be installed regardless of whether or not a property has solar installed. Smart meters measure electricity being exported by your solar system and any applicable feed-in tariffs or subsidies will be applied as usual.

Some apps, such as the one offered by Powershop, include features which show you how much electricity your solar system is exporting.  This means smart meters make it easier to see the savings of solar.

What happens to my current electricity deal?

Upgrading to a smart meter means you will have access to more tariff structures – including time-of-use/flexible rates. Changing your tariff generally won’t affect your energy deal, so you should still receive the same discounts and rewards as before. Be sure to ask your retailer about possible changes to your energy plan before going ahead with installing a smart meter.

Can I take the smart meter when I move house?

No. Even if you paid for the smart meter installation yourself, the smart meter belongs to your local energy distributor. It is not yours to take away and remains at the property if you move house.

Companies which provide real-time usage information

As we know, smart meters provide close to real-time energy usage information, but some electricity retailers and distributors are utilising this information better than others. If you’re keen to get the most out of your smart meter, the following companies all provide specialised reporting services.

smart meters energy usage toolkitPowershop: Toolkit

  • Check usage and cost predictions
  • Receive special energy offers
  • Non-smart meter customers can track usage by imputing kWh figures manually.

AGL: My AGL IQ

  • Check usage and compare with similar homes
  • Receive energy saving tips
  • Bill projections
  • Goal and alert settings

Origin: Energy Manager

  • Energy usage information Energy tips
  • Business energy plans and checklists

Lumo Energy: My Account

  • Energy usage information
  • Pay your bill
  • Access deals and rewards

ERM Power: My Portal

  • Energy usage information

Jemena: Electricity Outlook

  • Energy usage information
  • Cost estimates
  • Power outage notifications

real time energy usage informationAusNet Services: My Home Energy

  • Energy usage information
  • Energy tips

CitiPower: myEnergy

  • Energy usage information
  • Energy use area comparison
  • Compare retailers based on usage

United Energy: Energy Easy

  • Monitor your electricity usage and when you are using it.
  • Request Data Reports to a maximum of 2 years data.
  • Set your Retailer Tariff as well as Target Reductions.

Where to now for smart meters?

Whether you like it or not, smart meters appear to be where the future of grid energy use is heading. While some have raised concerns, smart meters have an undeniable potential to help consumers reduce their electricity usage by arming them with more information. To that end, they are a great idea.

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