What is a smart meter and how does it work?

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.

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. Unlike traditional meters, 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.

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. Households and businesses with smart meters are eligible for new deals through certain providers and have access to a myriad of live energy-usage statistics.

Live usage information

Smart 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.

Plus, thanks to the live-usage information, smart meters can notify electricity distributors of any connection or service issues more efficiently. This can help distributors to locate the problem and respond to it sooner.

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.

  • 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

Can a smart meter save me money?

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.

Controversy around smart meters

Like with anything new, smart meters have been met with some opposition. While government and industry bodies have praised the technology as the future of electricity retail, others have raised potential health and privacy concerns.

Stop Smart Meters Australia

There are a number of groups dedicated to raising awareness regarding their concerns with smart meters, the most prominent of which being Stop Smart Meters Australia. This group dedicates itself to opposing the mandated smart meter rollout on the grounds of health, privacy, security, financial and safety concerns. It’s easy to find the arguments in favour of smart meters, but if you’re interested in the other side of the story, be sure to check out the website.

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.

Can a smart meter ruin my appliances?

There are occasionally reports of smart meters causing damage to wiring and appliances, however, electricity companies insist smart meters are not at fault.

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.

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 do smart meters cost?

Smart meters cost around approximately $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?

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.

Where can I buy a smart meter?

You will need to contact your electricity retailer, and not the distributor, to organise the installation of a new smart meter.

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 can not ordinarily be removed and relocated to another property.

How do I read my 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.

Companies that 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.

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

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