The advantages of “smart meters”
Electricity companies often include statements to the effect that “smart meters” are advantageous for consumers because they help people gain “control over” or “better manage” their use of electricity. For example, from Network Tasman’s website page on “smart meters”:
“Over time it is expected that your electricity retailer will share your electricity usage information with you, so that you can make better decisions about how you use electricity in your home or business. Having this information will give you greater control over your energy bills an understanding of where further efficiency gains can be made – allowing you to save money. ” http://www.networktasman.co.nz/Main.asp?ID=17 [Emphasis added]
(NB: if you are in the Nelson/Tasman area served by this company you may be under the mistaken impression that “smart meters” are compulsory; they are not: See these links for details: www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/in-the-nelson-or-tasman-area-smart-meters-are-not-a-government-requirement/ and www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/network-tasman-there-are-no-privacy-concerns-with-smart-meters-yeah-right/ )
While knowing what your energy consumption is like at any given moment may help people to save money, (such as by turning off lights and appliances when they are not needed, for example) most people who do not want their electricity bill to be higher than necessary do this anyway. It’s a commonsense practice. No one needs a “smart meter” to be able to be able to make sensible decisions to reduce unnecessary electricity use – and thereby minimise their electricity bill.
The real motive for the introduction of “smart” meters may ultimately be what would be colloquially known as “price gouging”.
As WEL (which serves the Hamilton and Waikato area and has been rolling out “smart boxes”*) recently stated in one of its updates (WEL Smart Networks April 2014 Update.pdf):
“Our Smart Network has enable the introduction of optional pricing in the way it is able to measure site-specific information allowing us to introduce different prices for consumption based on offpeak or on-peak hours. We have offered retailers time-of-use pricing plans with the option of passing this flexible pricing plans with the option of passing this flexible pricing model on to customers, empowering our customers with more control options over their energy consumption.” [Emphasis added]
Time-of-use pricing is, in fact, far from “empowering'”. It typically means that a higher rate is charged for electricity at peak times, i.e. when you most need to use electricity, it is more expensive. (By contrast at a time when electricity demand is lower, i.e.in the middle of the night when most people need to sleep, the price of electricity will be lower.) With time-of-use pricing, a typical family’s electricity bill could easily rise even if they do not increase their electricity consumption.
This scenario, which most people would find unacceptable and some would describe as “price gouging” is being spun by the electricity industry as helping to give people “control over their energy consumption”.
Some NZ electricity companies currently offer different pricing plans, some of which offer different tariffs at different times of the day. At the moment these are options, rather than being mandatory. Don’t count on time-of-use pricing to remain optional, however , or for the government to come to the rescue of struggling households (or businesses that cannot change the time of day at which they need to use electricity, and theref0re face excessive costs.) No, the government is all for the “smart grid”.
In a report by the Electricity Commission, “Advanced Metering Infrastructure in New Zealand: Roll-out and Requirements” (3 Dec. 2009) the purported benefits of “smart meters” are extolled:
“‘Smart’ electricity meters, and the infrastructure that accompanies them, can provide a richer information base with which consumers can make better decisions about electricity use. The functionality in ‘smart’ electricity meters allows consumers to participate in the electricity market by allowing them to respond to market signals by altering their consumption patterns.”
“Those ‘smarter’ meters can also provide better information to electricity lines companies about network performance and consumers consumption patterns, allowing better management of networks and more informed investment decisions. ‘Smarter’ meters can also allow retailers to offer a range of tariff options to consumers that:
“(a) financially incentivises consumers to respond to market signals in the form of tariff pricing by altering their consumption patterns to reduce delivered electricity cost;
“(b) allows tariff changes to be carried out remotely. Before smart meter technology, changing tariffs required a site visit and a physical change of meter; and
“(c) provides information to consumers that allows them to choose the best pricing plan for them.” [Emphasis added]
The Electricity Commission considers this differential pricing to be beneficial because it will force people to use less electricity at peak times as many people won’t be able to afford it. This allows the electricity industry to reap the profits from time-of-use pricing while delaying investment in any new generation capacity needed if NZ’s population continues to increase. (Too bad if air pollution in cities increases because people can’t afford to run electric heaters on winter afternoons and evenings and therefore burn coal instead or people in low income households can’t afford to eat hot meals.)
“Developments in AMI have the potential to allow additional peak demand to be managed, delaying the need for investment in new generation, transmission, and distribution,” states the Electricity Commission.
The government has now created a special “smart grid” forum to move ahead plans for “smart” meters and the “smart grid”.
Yes, “smart” meters have a lot of advantages if you are an electricity company.
If you are a member of an ordinary family or run a small business (which can’t negotiate with the government for enormous discounts on your electricity), you will be bearing the costs of the implementation of the “smart grid”, will be exposed to additional electromagnetic radiation from “smart meters” and associated infrastructure, and may have higher power bills to boot. What a great deal! (Not.)
* More information on WEL “smart boxes” here: