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Power Bills Can Be Slashed With "Really Smart" Meters

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Dec 10 NZPA - "Really smart" electricity meters could save householders up to 15 percent of their power bills -- before they even buy any appliances with technology to communicate with the meters, Parliament's Environment Commissioner Jan Wright said today.

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 today.

The metering could make a 5 percent saving in household consumption, worth $125m, and up to 10 percent reduction in peak demand, saving another $100m, 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 purchase "smart plugs" to track the power being consumed by a specific appliance, such as a washer or drier.

She 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."

Dr Wright, who holds degrees in physics and energy, told the committee she was concerned about growth in electricity consumption, especially at peak times, when thermal power plants were going flat out.

Introduction of advanced meters containing a "home area network" HAN computer chip would allow householders to reduce electricity use without hardship.

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.

She provided a detailed rebuttal of the four main arguments against her case, noted that one critic, Genesis Energy states that use of the ZigBee protocol incurred an ongoing licence fee of $10 a year.

"There is no such licence fee," said Dr Wright.

She said the British government planned to roll out smart meters through energy suppliers to every home by the end of 2020, because they would give people control of how much energy they used, cut greenhouse gas emissions and slash bills.

"In New Zealand, we are not rolling out smart meters; we are rolling out dumb meters," said Dr Wright. "Our consumers and the environment deserve better."

What she was advocating fitted well with the electricity sector reforms introduced today by the Government, and open access protocols would support switching between power retailers.

Committee chairwoman Liane Dalziel said the committee would also look at claims that power companies face pressure to replace the meters they have been using for the past 80 years because a new regulation would require all meters to be calibrated by 2015.

Dr Wright said such rules could be easily delayed with little impact on households.

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