Wellington, June 26 NZPA - As politicians and industry watchdogs warn about the potential for "smart" electricity meters to go wrong, energy companies are defending their use.
Parliament's environmental watchdog, Jan Wright, said there was a need for regulations and standard-setting because most of the 1.3 million new meters to be installed by 2012 would actually be "dumb meters" -- good for electricity company profits but little help in saving electricity or costs for householders.
Contact Energy said its smart meters were designed to "allow households to benefit from the introduction of smart appliances and from pricing plans which enabled customers to choose to use electricity when it was most cost effective".
Retail general manager Jason Delamore said Contact looked at the international market and the range of smart meters available to ensure the right choice was made.
Contact's meters were able to have in-home displays and communicate with smart appliances, he said.
"We are also working on new time of use retail pricing structures to enable customers to take full advantage of the superior information from smart meters and benefit from lower electricity prices at non peak times," Mr Delamore said.
The meters mean "an end" to estimated bills and manual meter readings.
Genesis Energy, which began rolling out new meters in February, said it would install 500,000 over five years, with scope for consumers to manage their consumption during peak and off-peak periods.
Genesis Energy general manager of retail, Dean Carroll, said the first challenge was to introduce tariffs later this year that reflect daily price changes.
Lobby group Refit-NZ said smart meters were the "best way to give consumers control over their electricity consumption".
They gave consumers power and power companies were delaying their introduction to prevent consumers reducing demand, chairwoman Charmaine Watts said.
Dr Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, said delays by the Government could mean consumers were stuck with the wrong technology: "I recommend that the Government takes a more hands-on approach".
Electricity companies deploying "smart" meters were choosing to skip functions crucial to delivering environmental and consumer benefits, said Dr Wright.
"This is not surprising given that encouraging more efficient electricity use appears to offer little financial benefit to retailers," she said. "Regulatory intervention is needed to ensure environmental and consumer benefits."
Smart meters, providing two-way communication between households and electricity retailers, could help households use electricity more efficiently, by cutting consumption and peak demand, carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental impacts.
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee said smart meters were a good idea if they worked but not if they only helped energy companies make money.
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