Minister leaves door open for truly smart meters

At the moment we have a serious problem. Electricity consumers around the country are having smart meters installed that aren’t really smart, and then have to pay for them through their electricity bill, without getting any of the benefits.

Many groups have spoken out against this silliness, but despite some solid advice on how to fix the problem, the government still has not expressed support for remedying it.

The idea that Energy Minister Brownlee rejected my Smart Meters (Consumer Choice) Bill is mistaken. The Minister has said repeatedly that he rejects extensive regulation of smart meters, something with which I entirely agree. The Minister has also accepted the advice of the Electricity Commission that “The Commission does, however, recommend regulating some technical standards, for example on information exchange protocols and data security, through electricity industry rules”.

This is precisely what my Bill does, as well as requiring that companies installing smart meters, offer the customer an in-home-display, and a variable rate tariff that allows them to save some money, but only if they want it.

In effect, my Bill does four things:

  1. Makes some parts of the voluntary industry standard mandatory
  2. Requires the smart meter to be installed with the smarts – a HAN chip
  3. Requires the installer to offer money saving accessories to the consumer
  4. Requires the power company to offer a money saving electricity tariff.

The customer wouldn’t be required to buy or accept any of it. That’s the consumer choice bit.

Last week the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, spoke to Grey Power about the power of truly smart meters:

My basic job is to provide Parliament with independent advice on the environment. It’s a set up that gives me independence from the government of the time and allows me to give full and frank advice to our legislators.

Of course this occasionally leads to me getting involved with some controversial issues such as the current mining debate or indeed, my reason for being here today — smart meters.

We are not always blind consumers. When I go to the shop to buy apples, I see the choices laid out in front of me. But when I buy electricity, my information is very poor. And therefore the market cannot function well. My monthly bill is largely mysterious. Maybe it’s lower than last month. I don’t know if this is because I bought a more efficient refrigerator. Or because the weather was warmer than usual. Or because the price has fallen – but pigs might fly.

What makes a meter really smart?

At the heart of a really smart meter is a Home Area Network chip – a HAN. We have computer chips in many things now – in our washing machines, for example.

First a really smart meter – one with a HAN chip – will be able to talk to an in-home display. An in-home display might be as simple as a globe that sits on your coffee table or kitchen bench and glows red in peak times to remind you to turn off unnecessary lights or appliances. Or it could be something much more sophisticated giving you detailed information about how much electricity you are using and how much you are paying – what is called real-time information.

Overseas evidence shows that in-home displays, delivering only simple consumption information to a readily accessible location, can lead to a 5 to15 percent reduction in electricity use. This could happen virtually right away – Noel Leeming, Dick Smith and L V Martin will make sure in-home displays are quickly available as soon as there are meters that can talk to them.

What more can I add to that? If Parliament’s independent watchdog says that truly smart meters are a good idea, I’m keen to take that advice and put it into law. That’s what my bill sets out to do, and I hope I’ll have the Government’s support when it has its first reading in the House. Then we can have a full and open debate about the benefits of smart meters, and how best to ensure that New Zealander’s get one of them, and not the half-dumb meters being installed at the moment.

14 Comments Posted

  1. These (not so very) smart meters send a short message similar to (or possibly is) a TXT message so they are not transmitting all the time, unlike a cell phone which transmits continually during a call. The peak power output is (I believe) less than that of a cell phone, and the meters are usually installed in service areas away from where people spend their time. They are not a health risk.


  2. The new not very smart meters which are being rolled out currently, operate like a cellphone sending a signal back to the electricity company via the cellphone network every so many minutes. I don’t have my cellphone on all the time in my home as the health of my family comes first, so why would I want one of these constantly transmitting?

  3. If you read your meter every day you can tell how much you use for basic appliances which are always on. If you use something seldomly the usage can be determined from the following days reading.
    Our minimum usage is 9 to 10 units a day.
    Wahing clothes or using a waterblaster are not daily occurences in our household. Most appliances have ratings on them.
    A 100 watt light bulb will use 1kwh every 10 hours.
    With that information you can tailor your usage to your purse.
    Large screen TV’s (LCD or Plasma) use vast amounts of power, as do heaters, dryers etc.
    If everyone studied the feasibility/cost of converting their power supply to solar/generator they would have a much better appreciation of how much power they waste, and a better understanding of their power bills.

  4. Genji, just reading your meter has little to with it. The whole point is to monitor times of peak rates so that you can tailer your consumption to best take advantage. To achieve that you need real-time information.

  5. You’re right McTap “If you want to get things done as a minority party you have to be prepared for National to own it and take credit for it.”

    We do like to get some credit for good ideas, but don’t mind sharing the love if it means we get good policy in place that helps achieve our social and environmental goals!

    Xenoplexy, what the commission said (and the Minister agreed) is that there is no need for extensive regulation in the sector. What we’re proposing is really very light handed regulation, just that we get the smart meters and that consumers get some choices about sharing the benefits they offer. There is some suggestion that we should ‘wait and see’ and maybe retrofit the half-smart meters later, but there really is no reason to hold back, and every reason to avoid the significant cost of retrofitting.

  6. Dave the Commmissioner says its a good idea, but Brownlee’s release talks about an Electricity Commission report that says the regulation of the type you talk about is a bad idea (mandatory home area networks etc)… what do you say about that?

  7. In our adversarial system, if Brownlee cooperates with the Greens he risks giving legitimacy and credibility to an opposing party. He will only give support if he can make it so that National takes credit, and if anything goes wrong he can blame the Greens.

    Just like Labour and now National claim credit for the insulation scheme, but prior to the election when Brownlee was soapboxing against standards for lightbulbs and showerheads, the Labour Govt did not publicly counter Brownlee’s misinformation.

    If you want to get things done as a minority party you have to be prepared for National to own it and take credit for it.

    That’s the way it seems that the political economy works in our adversarial system..

  8. what’s the matter,i can’t leave a comment..

    [frog: kotani, comments are fine, but your advertising spam is not. Your comments will be moderated until I’m happy the latter has disappeared.]

  9. This is such a no-brainer, you shouldn’t even have to spend 5 minutes debating it – the concept at least. If the Nats were truely focused on consumer power and choice – not to mention decreasing power bills! – Gerry would be adopting this as a government bill in a flash. Instead he’s shown every likelihood of doing the opposite. Stupid.

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