If you’ve ever researched electricity providers (retailers) and how they track your energy usage, chances are you’ve heard about smart meters.
But what are these devices, how do they measure energy usage data and can they help you keep energy bills down? We answer these questions and more in this article.
A smart meter is a power-monitoring device that replaces traditional electricity meters and provides you (and your energy retailer) with insight into your energy consumption.
Smart meters record and send energy usage information data in half-hourly blocks to your energy provider to measure the amount of electricity you use.
These digital meters (known as type 4 meters or advanced interval meters) can do more than track your power usage. They can:
There are also other meters available that aren’t smart meters. For example, basic meters only record data every 3 months, while type 5 meters can still record half-hourly data but can’t do things that type 4 or advanced meters can do, such as send the data to the distributors and a meter reader is required to download the data from the meter.
Smart meters record how much electricity you use and when, then sends this information to your electricity distributor. While smart meters are widely used in Victoria, many states still rely on three-monthly actual or estimated readings (where your energy usage is calculated based on previous usage patterns). In fact, only a quarter of all homes outside of Victoria currently have a smart meter, with full deployment not expected until after 2040.8
However, it works differently depending on your state or the type of meter you have.
According to the Victorian State Government, Advanced interval meters (which are most common across Victoria) work through a four-step process:1
However, Type 4 meters operate slightly different and are more common in NSW and QLD. While they still record half-hourly information about your energy usage, the fastest they currently send data to distributors is every 24 hours. Once this information is available, your provider will share it with you.
The core function of some smart meters is to transmit your household’s energy usage levels to your electricity provider. According to the Government of South Australia, you may incur costs for manual meter readings as smart meters become more common.5 Of course, some smart readers will still require a manual read, so check your smart meter’s capability with your provider.
It might surprise you to learn that your smart meter can also act as a simple communications device if you have an in-home display, have registered for SMS or have an online account or app that can view your energy information. Energy providers can send public warnings about major power outages in your area and the estimated restoration time.
Thanks to your smart meter’s continuous two-way dialogue between your household and your energy provider, it can also help your distributor quickly identify any faults in the service or on the smart grid. This minimises downtime and helps streamline the reconnection process in the event of a blackout, ensuring your provider can get your power up and running again as quickly as possible.
Smart meters can remotely perform some key tasks on behalf of your energy provider, such as connecting and disconnecting your energy when moving. This makes moving to a new home quicker, easier and cheaper, as your meter is read daily.
According to the Victorian Government, smart meters can also slash disconnection and reconnection fees, as companies don’t physically need to come to a property to turn power on or off.1 However, this can only occur if it’s safe, otherwise a meter reader will still need to physically attend the property. Distributors can still set their own fees for this service, which can also vary between states.
You can monitor your energy usage in real-time with web portals, smart meter apps and in-home displays, which gives you more control over your usage. For example, they can help you figure out the best and worst times to use appliances with high-energy usage. You can also set up your system to receive warning messages for excessive energy usage.
What’s more, if you have solar, you can monitor what percentage of solar you’re using and change your usage patterns to take advantage of your solar panels’ electricity generation.
With smart meters, you can time when your appliances will start or turn them on remotely to manage energy usage if you have smart devices and a Wi-Fi connection.
There’s always a chance that you could pay more for electricity when you move from a traditional meter to a smart one. For example, you may move to a new tariff structure that doesn’t suit your energy usage habits or you may not understand how to get the most from your new tariff structure.
Always speak to your electricity provider about the requirements for different tariff structures and read the terms and conditions of your electricity plan carefully. Read more about electricity tariffs here.
Since December 2017, your electricity provider has been responsible for installing and replacing new smart meters. Your provider is also responsible for your meter, so always contact them in the first instance if you need assistance.
Smart meters can also compare the percentage or volume of solar energy you’re using at different times of the day. This can be helpful if you ever want to determine the best time to directly use your solar energy for your home and high-usage appliances.
Whether you receive a percentage or volume will depend on the type of data your provider supplies you with through their online account.
It can also help you figure out which part of the day you’d be better off storing energy into a battery and feeding it into the grid or using the stored energy instead of buying it from the grid. You’ll then have access to this information through your electricity provider’s website or smart meter apps. Your provider will engage the distributor and the meter provider to organise installation and/or replacement of your meter.
Read on for more information about smart grids.
Yes, smart meters are typically safe to use. There’s no verified scientific evidence that the low levels of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy (RF EME) exposure from meters cause health problems.6
All smart meters must meet the electromagnetic exposure limits set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). The agency aims to protect Australians of all ages and health statuses against all known adverse health effects that RF EME exposure can cause.6 They also need to be installed and manufactured in accordance with Australian Standards.3
Yes, your personal information and smart meter data remains private. Energy data and personal information are protected by the National Electricity Law and the Privacy Act 1988. 3
With the introduction of the Australian Government’s Consumer Data Rights (CDR) in 2018, businesses must give customers better access to their transaction, usage and product data in a digital format (i.e. available through smart meters). The legislation also allows customers to have more control over the data that other businesses (i.e. energy providers) hold on their usage of products and services, with strong privacy safeguards and standards in place.
Smart meters look similar to the older electricity meters you’re probably used to. While they’re similar in size, you’ll notice that most smart meters don’t have a dial and have a digital display. Of course, the exact appearance can vary between models and providers.
Smart meters are becoming increasingly common across Australia and there are some cases where they will be your only option. For example, they’re automatically installed for new buildings and are often used to replace old or broken meters.
However, if you have an existing meter that still works, you aren’t required to replace it with a smart meter – even if that’s what a provider is requesting. 3 You can opt for communication functions to be disabled and for a provider to continue manual readers, but this can come at an additional cost.
If you have any concerns, your provider should be your first point of contact. However, the meter can’t control power outages or issues. In these cases, the electricity distributor should be contacted.
If your home or property has a manual reader that still works, your provider doesn’t have to install a smart meter at your request.7 In these cases, you can switch to a different provider that offers smart meters. Compare your options before deciding on a new provider.
Generally, no. Providing your plan doesn’t require a new meter, your distributor or meter data provider will continue to transmit electricity usage and data to the new provider. However, some providers may request that a new meter be installed e.g. to accommodate a solar PV installation or allow monthly billing.
Check with a provider directly to understand their protocols.