Digital smart meter

Could a mandatory smart meter rollout help to reduce household power bills?

Households and businesses across the country could find their property equipped with a mandatory smart meter by 2030, if new recommendations from the electricity rule makers are passed into action.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) – the body responsible for policy change for the electricity grid – has pushed for a mandatory rollout of smart meters within the next six years as part of a suite of reforms and recommendations regarding better information, protections and data for customers connected to the electricity grid.

Smart meters provide real-time data about electricity usage to help households manage and monitor their energy costs. They are currently installed in about one quarter of households across New South Wales, South Australia and south-east Queensland, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). All Victorian households already have a smart meter thanks to an earlier rollout initiative.

The recommendations for an accelerated smart meter rollout follow calls from the industry to better equip households and businesses for the transition to net zero emissions from their electricity usage.

Will a smart meter rollout help to reduce power bills for households?

The AEMC claims that its recommendation to accelerate the smart meter rollout would help customers to reduce their power bills in the short-term, as well as provide longer term savings for the entire energy market.

Though a household bill figure has not been estimated, the AEMC’s review suggests that switching 100% of households to smart meters by 2030 would provide savings worth $507 million (net) to specific regions of the grid collectively, based on calculations for NSW, QLD, SA and the Australian Capital Territory.

AEMC Chair Anna Collyer said smart meters offered customers access to load shifting tariffs and programs which can help to reduce energy costs.

“A number of Australians are already using smart meters to cut power bills, from those who have resources such as rooftop solar, to customers without solar who may be using smart meters to access cheaper tariffs such as the ‘solar soaker’,” she said.

“Smart meters present clear benefits for consumers and form a crucial link for the wider energy system, paving the way for significant advances necessary to reach net zero.”

Smart meters allow customers to access time of use and flexible pricing tariffs, which utilise peak and off-peak times. These times not only work to lessen the strain on the grid, but when utilised correctly also allow customers to save on their power bill by incentivising usage at cheaper times, e.g. the middle of the day.

Additionally, thanks to the rise of solar batteries and smart technology, smart meters can provide solar and battery owners with the opportunity to join and benefit financially from load shift, demand response and Virtual Power Plant (VPP) programs on their network.

Outside of household savings, smart meters can also assist in reducing the severity of faults and power outages in the grid.

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Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3911kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4613kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4011kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Is there a catch to a wide-scale smart meter rollout?

Despite the many benefits of switching to smart meters, concerns remain over whether the anticipated costs will be outweighed by the potential savings. Particularly, if more isn’t done to educate households on how to best use their smart meter.

Despite the reported uptake of smart meters in about one-quarter of households in NSW, QLD and SA by the ACCC, the number of customers making use of time of use or flexible pricing tariffs remains stagnant.

The Victorian Government reported a similar issue upon review of its smart meter rollout in 2009, with the auditor-general stating that the cost of the rollout would not outweigh customer savings as many households did not understand how to utilise their new meter to reduce their costs.

While households tend to avoid significant upfront costs, smart meter installation costs are still absorbed into customers’ electricity costs in some way or another, either via network costs on the distributor’s behalf (if installed by the distributor) or through the customer’s power bill (if installed by the energy retailer).

Some households may also require wiring upgrades in order to be compatible with smart meter technology which can come at an additional cost.

Ms Collyer said the AEMC’s recommendations for the rollout highlighted this issue, and suggested better resources be put in place for households to help them make the most of the potential savings.

“Going from an old accumulation meter to a smart meter can be like going from a landline to a smart phone, and people deserve transparency and timely information about how they can make the device best work for them.”

The AEMC’s review stated that retailers would be obligated to provide friendly information to households prior to meter installations as well as after, when looking at the best tariff option for customers based on their energy usage. It was also recommended that households receive mandated free access to this usage data.

A coordinated smart meter rollout could begin as early as 2025 if the AEMC’s recommendations are passed through the rule-making process.

Image credit: JWPhotoworks/Shutterstock.com

Kelseigh Wrigley
Energy Specialist
Kelseigh Wrigley was a content producer at Canstar Blue for three years until 2024, most recently as an Energy Specialist. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the Queensland University of Technology.

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