(Don’t fear) The meter

The AEMC is expected to soon announce its draft determination to accelerate the uptake of smart meters in the National Electricity Market (NEM). Smart meters are crucial for the future grid as they enable greater visibility, reliability, and sustainability. In the future, customers will be provided with real-time data on energy consumption, smart meters empower consumers to make informed decisions about their usage, leading to reduced waste and lower costs.

It also gives energy retailers a level of customer insights that allow them to make innovative products that fully recognise the value of a customer’s demand flexibility and reward them for it accordingly. Similarly, customers can use their own smart meter data to shop around for the best deals.

Customers are protected

While change is sometimes scary, the promise of better things is exciting and it’s important to know that customers’ best interests are front of mind.  This is why the AEMC has built strong customer protections to ensure that this change works for customers, and not against them.

These protections are expected to include (as a minimum):

  • Notice of a meter replacement must be provided between 60 and 4 business days prior to the replacement schedule date.
  • Where a tariff may change due to the replacement of a meter, the retailer must give 30 business days’ notice before any variation is made and details on how to understand, monitor and manage electricity usage. This is critical to avoid the horror bill shock stories we see in the news.
  • To support customer transitions, upon request, retailers must provide an estimate of what customer’s previous bills would have been under the varied tariff so they make an informed ‘apples to apples’
  • Retailers cannot charge any upfront cost or exit fees for legacy meter replacement when the replacement is scheduled in line with a LMRP. This transitional rule is in place until 6 months after the acceleration period concludes.

To allay any safety fears, ARPANSA – the national radiation protection and nuclear safety body – assure that there is no established scientific evidence that the low level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure from smart meters causes any health effects. It is likely that you’d get more of this from a mobile phone near your head or in your pocket.

Customer benefit

The data that smart meters provide also enables greater visibility to networks around safety risks like the mysterious-sounding ‘neutral integrity’ test, which proves the integrity of the neutral connections between the customer’s switchboard and the distribution transformer (otherwise known as the tingle you can get off taps).

It also allows networks to make better decisions around investments, especially when they relate to maximising the amount of solar that can be exported back into the grid.

At a high level, the benefits include:

  • Basic power quality data is proposed to be provided to electricity distributors(DNSPs) free of direct charge, contributing to overall lower costs in data for customers. That power quality data can add safety benefits, save energy, and lift hosting capacity from DNSPs, knowing where to invest more resources into grid management.
  • Smart meters can alert DNSPs to power outages , without having to rely on the customer notifying the DNSP. This is especially useful for vulnerable customers with life-support equipment.
  • Smart meters are needed for solar installation and provide valuable data on the generation and consumption of renewable energy. This information allows for better forecasting and management, ensuring their optimal utilisation and thereforeemissions reductions.
  • Meter reads can be done remotely, removing the need for utilities to perform manual inspections and testing.
  • Moving in and out of your home can also be done much more quickly and simply with remote connections/disconnections.
  • Completing an accelerated smart meter rollout achieves economies of scale and makes it cheaper overall than if each individual household were to request a meter replacement.

An investment for the future

The AEMC knows the importance of smart meters to the energy transition and is keen to ensure that customers are empowered and protected as we travel along the journey towards a smart grid that serves Australia.

For those of us in Victoria who currently enjoy the benefits of smart metering today, we take for granted the small luxuries of switching retailers in search of better deals, using the Victorian Energy Compare website to find them, or even the simplicity of moving house.  We hope that our friends in other parts of Australia get to enjoy these benefits soon.

As Blue Oyster Cult’s famous song teaches us, we shouldn’t fear the unknown, but instead make the best of the big, ambitious task of life, or in our case successfully achieving the energy transition.