Are you a landlord? Find out how a smart meter could impact on your investment

Important information for landlords

 

“Smart” meters (also called “advanced” meters) are NOT compulsory in NZ even though some electricity company staff have made claims to this effect.

 

As a landlord, unless you pay the electricity bill for the property, you are unlikely to get prior notice that a smart meter is due to be installed at your rental property – even though a smart meter installation has the potential to impact adversely on your investment.

 

Many New Zealanders are refusing to have smart meters installed because of the problems with health issues, fires and higher bills that have been reported after smart meter installations.

 

A brief summary of some of the potential problems with smart meters are detailed below:

 

 

Reported health issues:

If your tenants became ill…how would this impact on their ability to pay their rent?

Smart meters produce microwave radiation (also called radiofrequency or RF radiation) which has been classified as a “possible carcinogen” (type 2B) by the World health Organisation’s International agency for Research on Cancer. (Please see this link for more information about smart meters and health.)

Many people have reported unpleasant symptoms after moving into a home with a smart meter, or after a smart meter has been installed at their home.

NB: Two examples of how NZers have been adversely affected by smart meters may be read at this link and this link.

The website www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz has received reports of symptoms after smart meters installations which have been sufficiently severe as to require medical attention and medical investigations, including heart function irregularities. The symptoms that have been most commonly reported in NZ to date are sleeping difficulties and headaches.

Potential for higher bills

If your tenants’ electricity bill doubled or even tripled (with no change in their electricity use) how would this impact on their ability to pay the rent?

While a smart meter installation does not always lead to an increase in electricity bills, many people have reported higher electricity bills after a smart meter has been installed.

(If you go to www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz and type “bills” into the search box you will find a few articles about this aspect of smart meters.) Some people have reported doubling or tripling of electricity bills.

NB: There are a few different ways by which smart meters may increase electricity bills.

These include the fact that electronic meters measure electricity differently from the traditional electromechanical (Ferraris) “analogue” meters. (You can read about this here.)

Smart meters can also allow for Time of Use pricing which electricity companies may use to charge more for power at times of the day when it is most needed (like winter afternoons and evenings.) This can result in an increase in bills with no change in electricity use. (Please see this link for details: http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/what-is-time-of-use-tou-pricing-and-how-could-it-affect-you/ )

Smart meters can also measure a contaminant on the electricity lines known as “reactive power” or “reactive energy” and although it cannot be used by lights or appliances, a request for information made to the Electricity Authority under the Official Information Act shows that companies are legally allowed to charge for this useless electricity. If useless reactive power is added to bills, bills can increase significantly.

 

 

Possible risk of fire and reported electrical problems

If your rental property burned down as a result of a faulty or poorly installed smart meter, do you know if your insurance coverage would be adequate?

There have been problems with fires and reported electrical problems after some smart meter installations in NZ. For more information about this, please see the following links:

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/latest-news/are-smart-meters-causing-fires-in-new-zealand/

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/smart-meters-causing-electrical-problems/

 

A smart meter may make your investment in a heat pump virtually worthless when it is most needed

If you have just spent up to three thousand dollars or so on a heat pump (or plan to purchase one) please read this first….

A smart meter at a property that you own has the potential to make the investment that you have made in a heat pump pretty well worthless to tenants when the heat pump is most needed.

How?  Some smart meters on the NZ market contain what is a called a “ZigBee” chip which is another microwave radiation emitting device in the smart meter. This ZigBee can be used communicate with some appliances in a home.  Some heat pumps have what is called “demand response” functionality which means that they are designed to be able to controlled by other electronic devices such as a smart meter.

In cold weather, a smart meter that contains a ZigBee could be used to take command of a heat pump that has “demand response” functionality and turn it down to its lowest setting. This could be done remotely by the electricity retailer or lines company (or whatever company could interface with the smart meter.)

If your tenants’ heat pump were remotely turned down (by their electricity retailer or lines company) to its lowest setting at a time when the weather were at its coldest, it’s likely that your tenants will simply assume that their heat pump has developed a fault and call you (or the agency that manages their tenancy) to complain.

You can read more about this issue below, including which type of smart meters have ZigBees and how to tell whether a heat pump has “demand response” functionality.

However, there is a very simple way that should ensure that your investment in a heat pump is not wasted  – and that is to refuse for smart meters to be installed at properties that you own.

 

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/smart-meters-heat-pumps-and-demand-response-functionality/

 

Many New Zealanders are still unaware of the potential risks of smart meters

Your tenants may be unaware of the potentials risks to their health, finances and safety.  They may therefore agree for a smart meter to be installed, or a smart meter may be installed at the property that they are renting by their electricity retailer or lines company (or other company) without prior notification.

If you would like to raise the topic of smart meters with your tenants to protect their health and safety and your investment, this link sums up many of the common reasons that people are refusing to have smart meters installed.

 

Please note that recent “Settlement Agreements” between the Electricity Authority and companies in the electricity industry shows that that the Electricity Authority supports companies offering an alternative type of electricity meter to people who refuse smart meters. (This link has more information about these settlement agreements.)

Some electricity meters in NZ do need to be replaced for regulatory reasons.

However, there are a variety of alternatives to smart meters on the NZ market including electromechanical meters (Ferraris) meters (the type where you can see a  horizontal metal disc rotating as power is being used) and electronic meters that have analogue displays.  There is also a new a company (Legacy Metering Group) that specialises in installing alternatives to smart meters for electricity retailers whose customers do not want smart meters.

 

NB: If you would like to keep up to date with the smart meter issue in NZ, please sign up to the free email list at www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz Thank you

 

NB: If you would like to keep up to date with the smart meter issue in NZ, please sign up to the free email list at www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz Thank you

 

Smart meters, the “Internet of Things” and your privacy

What impact could smart meters and the “Internet of Things” have on your privacy? This topic is explored on the link below:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/digital-electronic-internet-of-things-and-smart-grid-technologies-to-fully-eviscerate-privacy/5428595  

In the meantime, if you want to retain control of the appliances in your home (rather than cede it to your electricity retailer and/or lines company) you may wish to consider doing the following:

1)  Refuse to get a smart meter or getting an existing smart meter removed

2) Making sure that any appliances that you may purchase or already have in your home are not s0-called smart appliances.

Please see the link below for information on how a smart meter may allow your electricity company to take control over your heat pump or air conditioner – and how to choose a model that should not be vulnerable to this type of corporate hijacking:

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/government-and-electricity-industry-positions/smart-meters-heat-pumps-and-demand-response-functionality/

NB:  If you are interested in the smart meter issue, please sign up to the free email list on www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz  Thank you.

Smart meters, heat pumps and “demand response functionality”

Smart meters, heat pumps and “demand response functionality”

An earlier post on this website (since corrected) erroneously stated that having a smart meter could mean that householders could have their heat pump turned off remotely by their electricity company.  (In actual fact, some smart meters may be able to turn down heat pumps down to their lowest setting, but they should not be able to turn them off  altogether… please read on for more details and to learn whether you may be affected if you have a heat pump that may be able to be controlled via a smart meter.)

My initial error (in stating that a smart meter with a ZigBee chip* could potentially be used to remotely turn off a heat pump) was kindly pointed out to me by Graeme Purches from Trustpower.  In an email he wrote:

“There are probably less than 20 meters in NZ that are equipped for this [turning off  heat pumps and other devices remotely], and they are installed as part of field trials to test their capabilities.”

He added:

“At the end of the day, the direction the industry is headed is that people will in the future be able to determine at which price point they want their appliances to start and stop. The control will be in the hands of the consumer, unlike controlled hot water, which is a network load issue and can legitimately be controlled in return for lower price because those using the option have hot water storage. You can’t  ‘store’ the heat from a heat pump so the industry would never want to control those.”

I decided to investigate the issue of how smart meters may be used to remotely control heat pumps (without the householder’s consent) in more detail.

My initial (and as it turned out, incorrect) information about heat pumps having mandatory “demand response functionality”  came from the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

In following up on this issue, I first tried to access the current  standard for heat pumps and found that while there was one in existence, I could not access it unless I either went to the central library in Auckland (not very practical) or paid a couple of  hundred dollars (not feasible either).

I therefore sought the advice of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Agency (EECA). 

A helpful staff member wrote an email that explained the following:

1)  That having “demand response functionality” is not currently mandatory in NZ.

2)  That some of the heat pumps on the NZ market do have “demand response functionality”.  This “demand response functionality” cannot be used to turn the heat pump off altogether but it can be used to turn the heat pump down to its lowest setting.

3)  That manufacturers can choose to show that their heat pump has demand response functionality on the label on their heat pump.  You can click on the image to make it larger.  The tick mark which is circled in red indicates that the appliance has “demand response functionality”.

Photo of labelling showing demand response functionality

Presumably heat pumps that have “demand response functionality” will contain a ZigBee and/or some other radiofrequency radiation (RFR) producing device to allow the appliance to communicate with a smart meter.   I have no idea whether appliances which have “demand response functionality” will be producing RFR all the time or intermittently or whether the default setting for the appliance will have the “demand response functionality” switched off.

However, if you do not want extra RFR in your environment and/or you do not want to risk your electricity company being able to control your heat pump via a smart meter in your home,  it would seem prudent to avoid buying items with “demand response functionality” indicated by the label.

Please note that I do not know whether it is mandatory for manufactures that make appliances that have “demand response functionality” to declare this capability on the label.  For this reason it would be prudent to ask the retailer whether any appliance you would like to buy has any “demand response functionality”, regardless of the label.  If you already have a heat pump and it not longer has its label, please see the info at the bottom of this post.

Conclusion

So there you have it.  It does appear that some smart meters in NZ (those than contain ZigBee chips*) may have the capacity to remotely control some heat pumps, although this feature may not yet be active.  It also appears that there are heat pumps on the NZ market which have “demand response functionality” which could allow them to be controlled via a smart meter.

 

*In NZ,  smart meters that contain ZigBee chips include:

WEL Networks Ltd “smart box” (actually a Landis+Gyr smart meter) and the Landis+Gyr smart meters being installed by Network Tasman Ltd  and Counties Power in South Auckland/Franklin.  These contain a “silver spring” brand “network interface card” which includes a  modem and a ZigBee.  The default mode for the ZigBee on the “silver spring” brand “network interface card” has been stated to be inactive, so these ZigBee chips, may not yet be functional.  (Presumably they could be activated remotely by a power or lines company should the company with an active link to the smart meter modem decide to do this.)

It is possible other smart meters contain ZigBee chips; some EDMI smart meters which are very common in NZ have the potential to include a ZigBee chip. 

If  you are in any doubt about whether the smart meter at your home has a ZigBee chip,  your electricity retailer should be able to tell y0u.

 

If your heat pump no longer has its label you can find out about its “demand response functionality” through the following procedure:

 

1)  Go to this link: 

http://www.energyrating.gov.au/for-industry/regulation-information-for-industry/meps/

 2) Scroll down the link above until you come to this text:

Next steps for households and businesses

3) Click on the word “Compare energy ratings”…as above and you will get to this link:

http://reg.energyrating.gov.au/comparator/product_types/

 

4) At the link above you will see a list…pick “Air Conditioners” by clicking on this link Air Conditioners – AS/NZS 3823.2 and you will get through to this link:

http://reg.energyrating.gov.au/comparator/product_types/64/search/

 

At the link above you will see a row of black buttons…one is Download CSV. 

Click on this and you will get an Excel file. Open the file.

The field that indicates whether a heat pump has “demand response functionality” is labelled “BE” at the top of the column. The word “TRUE” in the “BE” column indicates the heat pump has “demand response functionality”.  The word “FALSE” in the “BE” column indicates that a heat pump does not have “demand response functionality” .

 

 

Who controls your heat pump? You? Or your electricity company?

SITE EDITOR’S NOTE August 20: I have received some feedback on this article, which stated, in part, that most “smart” meters in NZ do not contain ZigBee chips. (See below.) The post below in its original version did state that “not all” smart meters in NZ contain ZigBees;  however, for the sake of clarity I have re-edited the post to make it clear that most smart meters in NZ do not contain ZigBees.

I will write a follow-up post in response to other comments as soon as I can.

SITE EDITOR’S NOTE August 28:  I have followed up on other criticisms of this post and found out that it is not mandatory for heat pumps to have ZigBees or “demand response functionality”  in NZ (despite the statements on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; see below for the reference.)  However, there are heat pumps that are registered as being for suitable for use in NZ and Australia that do have “demand response functionality”.  This “demand response functionality” allows for the heat pumps to be turned down to their lowest setting, rather than be turned off. 

I will be writing a new post that explores these issues and give references so that you can find out whether your heat pump is one that may be able to be controlled remotely by your electricity company in a new post as as soon as I have time.  In the meantime, I have added Editor’s notes to the post below to correct the errors. If you would like to be notified when the new post has been written, please join the email list at www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz.

 

Who controls your heat pump…You?…Or your electricity company?

Do you have a heat pump in your home? I bet you appreciate its reliable warmth, especially when NZ is in the grip of a southerly that has come straight up from the Antarctic.

However, if you have a “smart meter” in or on your home, don’t count on always being able to enjoy that wonderful warmth….even if you always pay your bill on time.

Why not? Because your electricity or lines company may be able to turn off your heat pump remotely. [Ed note:  Actually the electricity or lines company may be able to turn your heat pump down, rather than shut it off altogether.  See Ed note of August 28, above.]

Smart meters which are fitted with a ZigBee communications chip have the ability to “talk” to “smart” appliances – and since 2011, according to a document on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment heat pumps in NZ have been required to be “smart”.* [Ed note:  There is actually no such requirement at this stage, despite the statement on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; see Ed note of August 28, above].

Not all smart meters in NZ contain ZigBee chips at this point;  in fact, to the best of my knowledge most smart meters that have been installed to date here do not contain ZigBee chips.

However, the “smart boxes” being rolled out by WEL Networks Ltd in the Waikato and the Landis+Gyr E350 series smart meters being rolled out by Network Tasman Ltd, Counties Power and some other companies that are part of the SmartCo consortium do contain ZigBees.  (The ZigBees are part of the Silver Spring model 454 Network Interface Card (NIC) which the meters use to send information back to the lines company and/or electricity retailer. The default setting of the ZigBee part of the Network Interface Card is claimed to be “off”.  However, it may only be a matter of time before the ZigBee is turned on.  I have no information regarding how the ZigBee can be turned on;  it is possible this may be able to be done remotely.)

The Labour party would like to see all smart meters fitted with ZigBees: see http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/uncategorized/labour-party-2014-election-questionnaire/

(Please note that the Labour party is one of many parties that support smart meters in general;  see the 2014 Election Questionnaire from www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz if you want to learn about other parties  that support smart meters http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/category/2014-election-questionnaire/.

If you have a smart meter that contains a ZigBee, your power or lines company may therefore potentially be able to switch off your heat pump remotely. [Ed note:  Actually the electricity or lines company may be able to turn your heat pump down, rather than shut it off altogether. See Ed note of August 28, above.] Of course it’s done in the name of managing energy better, of course; but what may be great for your lines company may not be so wonderful for you. (Goodbye cosy warmth.)

If you do not yet have a smart meter, count yourself lucky;  you control your appliances; your lines or electricity company cannot switch them off  [or otherwise interfere with their operation] when you least expect it – or most need them.

 

 

Please see this link for information on how to keep your home “smart meter”-free.  http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/faqs/how-to-avoid-getting-a-smart-meter/ )

 

PS: Interested in learning how smart meters can affect your electricity bills?  Read this post:

http://www.stopsmartmeters.org.nz/faqs/how-to-avoid-getting-a-smart-meter/

 

*According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s  “Analysis of submissions on Smart meters: How households and the environment can benefit Briefing for Commerce Committee: “From 2011 in New Zealand, all new heat-pumps will be “smart”. New heat pumps will be required by the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) to have “demand response functionality”. This means they will be able to “talk to” a HAN. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) is looking at extending this requirement to more appliances.”

SOURCE LINK:  http://www.pce.parliament.nz/assets/Uploads/Reports/pdf/Smart_meters_submission_web.pdf

(NB: Even if there is no “smart meter” in the home, appliances which contain the ZigBee communications unit may still produce microwave radiation at  in an attempt to communicate with a non-existent “smart meter”, so if buying new appliances, it is prudent to avoid those that are marketed as being “smart” if you do not want to unnecessarily expose yourself to RFR in the microwave range.)