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Smart meters have been rolled out across the country over the course of many years, gradually taking the place of conventional electricity meters for certain areas. So, what do they do, and how will you benefit from them?

We’re here to shed some light on the whole affair.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are power-monitoring devices that replace traditional electricity meters and provide you (and your energy retailer) with near real-time insight into your energy usage. You may find some subtle differences, but at their core smart meters all perform the same function: record and send energy usage information data to your electricity provider, in order to measure the amount of electricity you use.

Energy smart meter installed on wall displaying usage rates and options

This real-time processing eliminates the outdated model of estimated readings (i.e. basing your bill and energy usage on what it was for the same period last year), providing you with more accuracy and certainty about your bills.

This also opens up a whole world of possibilities in terms of power usage management and electricity pricing – perhaps leading to cheaper bills!

There a few different types of electricity meters, and the exact model you have in your home will depend on your energy provider, state regulations and other factors.

How do you get a smart meter?

There are certain rules regarding electricity meters for customers in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.

The rules state that your electricity retailer or distributor has the responsibility of providing you with a smart meter when you need one, i.e. if your existing meter stops working or is at the end of its life, or if you’re building a new home. If you’re transferring to a different product or service that requires a smart meter (i.e. time-of-use price), your energy retailer may provide and install a smart meter at your home. However, retailers will somehow try and recoup the costs of installing, servicing and maintenance costs for the devices; you may find the costs incorporated into your bill in some way (i.e. monthly device charges or built in to the cost of your electricity).

N.B. These rules don’t apply to Victorian customers, who should already have smart meters installed. They also don’t apply in either the Northern Territory or Western Australia, as these states have different rules for the electricity market.

If you’re not sure if you already have a smart meter (or you want one), talk to your energy retailer.

How does a smart meter work?

According to the Victoria government’s Switch On initiative, smart meters work through a three-step process:

  1. Every 30 minutes your smart meter measures how much electricity your household is using.
  2. It sends this information to your energy supplier or distributor, providing them with up-to-the-minute snapshots of their customers’ electricity usage.
  3. Your energy provider gives you access to this data as well, via in-home displays or web portals linked to your smart meters.

This information allows you to gain a better understanding of your energy usage patterns, helps you work out ways you can reduce electricity usage, and consequently save on your power bill.

How can smart meters save me money?

Smart meters give you more options for saving money; chiefly, through electricity tariffs.

Essentially, when electricity demand is high (i.e. weeknights), it can be most expensive to ‘buy’ from the retailer. When demand is low, it costs less.

With traditional meters that are only read once per quarter, your retailer won’t have any idea what time of day you used energy throughout the billing period. As such, you can only access single rate tariffs: a standard rate for electricity, no matter when you use it.

Spend less time spending more on energy to enjoy high energy perks around the home with a smart meter

With smart meters, you’ll have access to time of use tariffs, as your provider will have the ability to monitor your usage throughout the day – and charge accordingly.

You can take advantage of this by:

  • Avoiding heavy usage in peak periods (e.g. Monday to Friday evenings) by not turning on heavy power appliances (e.g. clothes dryers, washing machines, ironing, dishwashers, hot water heaters and pool pumps).
  • Utilising lower off-peak prices (e.g. overnight on Saturday and Sunday, or before 2pm weekdays) by doing washing or ironing at these times.
  • Using shoulder periods whenever possible, measured in between peak and off-peak periods, which costs a bit less than peak charges.
  • Opting for demand tariffs, which measure how intensely you use electricity when you have a lot of appliances running at the same time; providers will base the charges on either:
    • the highest point of demand your home reached for a certain period;
    • an average of your peak demand over a period of time; or
    • varying demand rates for different seasons (i.e. higher in summer or winter).

How do smart meters work with solar panels?

Smart meters can also compare the percentage of solar energy you’re using at different times of the day. This can be enormously helpful if you ever want to determine exactly which time of the day would be better to directly use your solar energy for your home and high-usage appliances, and which part of the day would you’d be better off storing energy into a battery and feeding it into the grid.

What are the benefits of using a smart meter?

There are many advantages and benefits to utilising smart meters in Australia, both for electricity retailers and customers.

Not only do smart meters have the potential to save you money on your power bill, but they are also one of the more effective ways to keep track of your energy usage, improve the level of service your energy retailer can provide and help with a smooth transition to an off-peak electricity pricing plan.

Person checking electricity consumption through smart meter on mobile phone app

Other than being able to access time of use tariffs to possibly save money, there are six major benefits that you can get from using smart meters, including:

  1. Removing the need for manual meter readings

The core function of a smart meter is to transmit your household’s energy usage levels to your electricity provider. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science noted that households with smart meters no longer have to pay for periodic manual readings, which, according to the Victoria State Government, typically cost around $25. On the other hand, a remote smart meter reading costs approximately $5.

  1. Communicating important updates to customers

It might surprise you to learn that your smart meter is also capable of acting as a simple communications device. Energy providers can send out public warnings about major power outages in your area and the estimated restoration time.

  1. Identifying outages and faults in the service

Thanks to your smart meter’s continuous two-way dialogue between your household and your energy retailer, it can also help your distributor quickly identify if there are any faults in the service. 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.

  1. Performing connections and disconnections when moving

Smart meters can remotely perform some key tasks on behalf of your energy provider, such as connecting and disconnecting your energy when moving house. This makes moving house quicker, easier and cheaper, as your meter is read daily (which means you don’t need to wait weeks or months to change to a new retailer) and disconnection and reconnection fees have dropped from around $25 to between $5 and $8 due to smart meters, according to the Victorian Government.

  1. Monitoring your energy

You can monitor your energy usage in real time with web portals and in-home displays, which gives you more control over your usage, for example by helping 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.

Also, if you have solar, you can monitor what percentage of solar you’re using in comparison to mains energy, and change your usage patterns to take advantage of your solar panels.

  1. Timing your smart appliances

With smart meters, you can time when your appliances will start, or you can turn them on remotely to manage energy usage.

Are there any dangers with using smart meters?

Smart meter safety

There are some reports about smart meters emitting radiation (low level radiofrequency electromagnetic energy), interfering with pace makers, or causing a range of potential health problems and symptoms (e.g. headaches, dizziness, insomnia).

However, there is no conclusive evidence that suggests smart meters affect your health, according to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Smart meter radiation distance

Smart meters work by using wireless radiofrequency radiation to intermittently transfer information about your energy usage to a WiMax station, or from your meter to another meter (MESH), until the information reaches your provider.

According to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), the radiation distances of a typical smart meter are set below harmful levels; they are the same limits that apply to mobile and cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors.

Still concerned? You may be able to block smart meter radiation with shielding paint on the wall the device is hung on, or by hanging shielding fabric in front of the smart meter.

Smart meter privacy

Customers may also have concerns about smart meters causing a breach of privacy or compromising data security when the device sends your energy usage and customer information wirelessly to your provider. However, according to the AER, smart meter data is kept private; customers’ energy data and personal information are protected by the National Electricity Law and the Privacy Act 1988.

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.

Are you ready to try and find a more affordable electricity and gas plan for your home? You can compare a range of energy plans at great prices from a number of reliable providers in minutes on Compare the Market.

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