An electricity meter can measure the amount of electricity your household or business uses within a billing period. This allows the distributor* to measure the energy usage and provide information to the retailer to issue a bill. If you’re familiar with a meter, you may also be able to monitor your energy usage and prepare for your next bill.
Understanding electricity meters can be tricky, which is why we’re here to break down the basics. We’ll cover the different types of electricity meters, where your meter may be located, and how it can help you save on your bills.
*Energy retailers (also known as providers) buy energy from energy generators, package it into plans and sell it to customers. Distributors are responsible for delivering energy and connecting homes and businesses to the grid.
Types of electricity meters in Australia
There are several types of electricity meters. Depending on your location and when your house was built, you may have up to two of these meters:
While these all serve the same purpose of measuring your electricity consumption, the newer models (i.e., smart electricity meters and solar meters) are more advanced and can help you identify potential savings.
Electricity flat-rate meters
Also known as an ‘accumulation meter’, this meter will record how much electricity you use in kilowatt-hour (kWh). As an older model, the only way to check how much electricity you’ve used within a specific period is to compare the numbers between two consecutive readings.
For example, if you want to keep track of how much energy you use per billing period (i.e., in a monthly or quarterly period), you’ll have to take note of the previous number (called a ‘read’) and the current one, and do some quick maths. Note that these meters may come as an analog or digital electricity meter.
For instance, if your meter reads 345kWh in the morning, then 386kWh the next morning, you’ve used 41 kWh in a 24 hour period.
Electricity interval meters
The electricity interval meter, the advanced version of the flat-rate meter, records energy electronically in either 15- or 30-minute intervals however it still requires a meter reader to take the readings.
Smart electricity meters
Also known as an ‘advanced meter’, a smart meter records your energy usage as you consume energy. It’s similar to an interval meter, however, the data is collected remotely and doesn’t require a meter reader. The availability of the data helps you discern your specific energy habits throughout the day and identify areas in your life where you could potentially create energy savings.
For example, if your smart meter indicates a high energy consumption during the day while no one’s home, there’s an opportunity to lower your consumption. Alternatively, if there are spikes in consumption during specific times of the day, you can observe your energy habits and adjust them to lower your consumption.
You can also read a smart meter remotely through an app on a mobile device instead of going to your meter box to get a reading. Your retailer usually provides this through their online services.
This type of meter is ideal for those on a time-of-use (TOU) tariff because TOU rates will vary throughout the day depending on when you use electricity. Without a smart meter, it can be challenging to identify your energy consumption habits and potential savings as your bill may not accurately represent your energy usage (i.e., your bill may sometimes present an estimate reading).
Learn more about smart meters.
Suppose your home has solar panels. In this case, you’ll have a solar meter to help you read how much energy your household consumes. Additionally, depending on the type of solar meter you have, it can help you see how much energy your system generates in excess.
By observing the excess energy production, you calculate how many kilowatts (kW) you’re selling back to the grid. The amount you make from the excess energy is referred to as feed-in-tariff credits. You can receive these credits at the end of each billing period.
Where is my electricity meter?
Your distributor or meter provider will typically install your meter on the side or front of your home in a safe and easily accessible area so they can conduct meter reads. Depending on when your home was built, some providers will install it inside so you’ll need to be home for them to access your meter.
Although the meter is typically installed on your premises, it’s not something you purchase or move with. Electricity distributors, companies that distribute energy from generators, will typically install an electricity meter when a house is first built, so it’s likely that your home will already have one by the time you move in.
Your electricity distributor owns the device, which means that they’re responsible for meter installations, upgrades to a smart meter, and internal repairs and replacements. You may incur an out-of-pocket fee if it’s outside of the standard maintenance requirements for that meter.
N.B. While the distributor is responsible for the meter, you’re responsible for any repairs or replacements if you’ve directly caused these damages.
How do I read an electricity meter?
You may have either a digital or analog electricity meter. Digital meters are straightforward in that they show you precisely how many kilowatts your household has consumed in a certain period. The below image shows a reading of 78,722kWh.
If you have an analog electricity meter, each dial represents a digit.
For example, the numbers on each dial (from left to right) in the above image reads 7, 6, 9, 6 and 1 your household has used 76,961kWh of electricity. To find the usage per quarter, you’ll need to take note of the number at the start and end of the quarter and compare the figures to calculate the total usage per quarter.
You’ll notice that your bill will either show an estimated or actual read from your meter. The distributor takes a reading and sends it to your retailer who will calculate the bill. Distributors are required to take a reading at least once a year. Depending on the type of meter you have, you may have a balance of estimate and actual readings throughout the year.
An estimated read is based on past meter reads and is used when an actual read isn’t available. An actual read may not be available for a number of reasons, including:
- if your distributor isn’t able to access your meter, or
- if your meter isn’t able to send data to your retailer in time for the next billing.
If you’d like to know more about your bill, check out our article on how to read energy bills or ways to track your energy usage.
How can an electricity meter help me be more energy efficient?
Smart meters can help you identify when your energy consumption increases or decreases throughout the day. By identifying these trends, you can re-evaluate your energy habits and lower your consumption if possible. You could also shift your usage of different products to off-peak times if you have a time-of-use tariff.
For example, if you find that your energy consumption is still high despite no one being at home, you may evaluate what appliances you’re leaving on throughout the day.
Smart meters can be particularly helpful if you’re on a time of use (TOU) tariff, which means that the price of your electricity fluctuates throughout the day depending on your tariff.
For instance, electricity may be cheaper overnight and on weekends than during weekdays (between 4pm to 8pm) when the demand for electricity is highest.
It’s difficult to work out your consumption habits with your bill alone, which is why seeing when you use energy through the data from your smart meter is a handy way to work out what appliances you were using during those usage heavy hours.
Find out how you can be more energy efficient through our guide to technology energy consumption and guide to energy-efficient appliances.
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