“Really smart” electricity meters could save householders up to 15 per cent of their power bills, before they even buy any appliances with technology to communicate with the meters, Parliament’s Environment Commissioner Jan Wright said yesterday.
This was because simply having a real-time display, perhaps in the kitchen – showing how much electricity was being consumed and how much it cost – could change the way householders used energy and influence them to switch some of their load to off-peak periods, she told the commerce select committee. The metering could make a 5 per cent saving in household consumption, worth $125 million, and up to 10 per cent reduction in peak demand, saving another $100 million, according to Dr Wright. The really smart meters have computer chips in them, set up to allow two-way flows of information. The eventual introduction of major appliances manufactured with technology to communicate with the meters would take years, but, in the meantime, people could buy “smart plugs” to track the power being consumed by an appliance, such as a washer or drier. Dr Wright said it was important to dissuade big power companies from plans to distribute “smart” meters without microchips or open-access communications protocols which could cope with technology from a wide range of appliance manufacturers. In many cases, those meters would only help the companies gather marketing and billing data, rather than aid householders. “I am disappointed to learn that householders are being told by electricity companies they can’t have a really smart electricity meter installed – even if they ask for it, or offer to pay for it themselves,” said Dr Wright. “Without really smart meters, consumers have no ability to make the most of the new technology, to save money, and benefit the environment at the same time.” She called for rules to set a minimum standard for such meters, and require them to use an open-access communications protocol, such as ZigBee, which is being adopted in Victoria. What she was advocating fitted well with the electricity sector reforms introduced yesterday by the Government, and open-access protocols would support switching between power retailers.
NZ Herald Dec 11, 2009