Smart Meters: What are they and how do they save you money?

Smart meters (also known as digital or advanced meters) have been touted as one of the greatest energy developments of modern time. All homes and businesses in Victoria are already fitted with smart meters, and now the technology is about to become mainstream in other major jurisdictions following changes to the National Electricity Rules.

So, what are smart meters and why the move toward them? In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of smart meters and how you can get the most out of yours below. If you’re short on time and just looking for a certain section, feel free to skip ahead using the links below.

What is a smart meter?

smart-meter-imageSmart meters record electricity usage (per kWh) every 30 minutes and send this information to your electricity retailer for billing. Smart meters look very similar to traditional energy meters. The only difference is that smart meters come with a digital display screen, not a dial.  Unlike traditional meters, however, smart meters don’t require someone to physically attend your property to take a meter reading. This means you should never again receive an estimated bill from your power company.

But how do smart meters save energy? Well, with electricity usage information being recorded every 30 minutes, smart meter users will be able to see when and where they are using the most energy, which in turn may assist bill-payers with reducing energy usage and bills.

What are the benefits of a smart meter?

It is easy at first to be skeptical about smart meters, but it’s not just the energy companies that can benefit from the technology. Here are just some of the things households and businesses can benefit from with smart meters:

  • Access to live usage information: Smart meters record energy usage information every 30 minutes, which means that customers essentially have live usage data on their energy habits. Some retailers and energy networks even have a mobile app or web portal for customers to check this data on too. This data then, can help customers to identify where they may be wasting electricity and how they can cut down to save on their bill.
  • Quicker response to connection issues: With live usage information available, smart meters can also notify electricity distributors of any connection or service issues more efficiently.
  • Access to 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 usage reading, but simultaneously record the time of usage. Flexible pricing tariffs charge three rates depending on the time of day: Peak, off-peak and shoulder.

Can a smart meter save me money?

Power bill

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.

In regard to saving money on your electricity bill however, it all depends on how you use your power. While a smart meter doesn’t automatically lower your bill, it may be able to make suggestions on where you could cut costs, thanks to the live-usage information and flexible time tariffs.

Are smart meters safe to use?

There are some concerns with smart meters surrounding health and safety, in regard to the levels of radio frequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME) output – a form of radiation – used in smart meters. 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 commissioned studies into the RF EME of smart meters in 2011 and 2015 found that it complies with the minimum standards imposed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). As such, government energy authorities are confident smart meters pose no threat to your health.

Will a smart meter invade my privacy?

As for the question surrounding privacy, smart meters draw usage information every half an hour, giving consumers and power companies unprecedented insight into your electricity usage. Concerns have been raised that energy companies can now draw insights into when you’re home, when you’re sleeping, and possibly even what appliances you’re using based on usage figures. There is also the additional concern of smart meters being hacked to cut electricity or change usage 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.

Compare Electricity Plans

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 3900kWh/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 4600kWh/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 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.

How much does it cost for a smart meter?

Smart meters installations cost around approximately $600. 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.

Is it compulsory to install a smart meter?

Under the Power of Choice Reforms in late 2017, customers in most Australian jurisdictions are no longer able to purchase traditional meters. All new meters must be digital or smart meters, however, there is no requirement to upgrade if you already have an old meter installed.

If you are uncomfortable with your electricity retailer having access to your real-time usage data, you can request a non-communicating meter before installation. However, this may incur additional fees though as your retailer will have to do manual time readings. Retailers are required to give at least four business days’ notice before installing or removing anything which could effect electricity supply to customers.

Smart Meters NSW

Smart meter with live-usage information

Energy customers in New South Wales are required to install a digital or smart meter on their property once their traditional meter breaks. Customers can only refuse a smart meter installation in NSW if their current meter is still in tact, if it is faulty, they will be required to install a smart meter. Those in the state who wish to switch to a smart meter will need to get in touch with their electricity provider and set up a time for them to come and install it.

Smart Meters Victoria

Smart meters are mandatory in Victoria and as such, all homes in Victoria should now be equipped with a smart meter.

Smart Meters QLD

Similar to NSW, smart meters are currently not mandatory in Queensland unless your traditional meter breaks or becomes faulty. In this case, a smart meter must be installed on the property in place of the old meter. If you live in QLD and wish to have a smart meter installed, you will need to contact your electricity provider.

Will a smart meter impact my 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 choose my electricity provider with a smart meter?

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.

Can I take the smart meter when I move house?

No. Even if you paid for the smart meter installation yourself, the smart meter can not ordinarily be removed and relocated to another property.

Can I get a smart meter if I have solar?

Yes, 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.

How to read a smart meter

Much like a regular meter, smart meters can’t be read manually. Despite tracking your electricity usage more frequently, the information from your smart meter still needs to be accessed externally as would happen with traditional meters.

This information can be found online by logging into your account with your electricity provider. Or, some retailers will even provide real-time usage information via an app on your mobile device.

Energy companies that provide real-time usage information

smart meters energy usage toolkit

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.

  • Powershop
  • AGL
  • Origin
  • Lumo Energy
  • Jemena
  • AusNet Services
  • CitiPower
  • United Energy

Is it worth getting a smart meter?

As smart meters are the likely progression for future grid energy, it can be difficult to determine whether or not they are worth getting, especially as the option to install one becomes more restricted.

Despite some of the concerns, however, smart meters have an undeniable potential to help consumers understand and reduce their electricity usage by arming them with more information. And, with more information, hopefully comes more savings.
Original Author: Brendon O’Neill
Image credit: SamJonah/Shutterstock.com

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