Your Ultimate Guide to Smart Meters – Powering Australia’s Energy Future

Discover Smart Meters: Advanced devices that track energy usage in real-time, enabling better control and efficiency. A glimpse into the future of energy management.

Understanding Smart Meters

Published on 20/12/2023

By William Walton

Energy Comparison

Not so long ago, energy metering was still stuck in an analogue age. Taking a reading for your energy consumption involved a visit from the technician, who would need to find the old dial-based meter tucked into a corner of the property near the side fence somewhere. Thankfully, that’s not the age that we live in anymore. Metering technology has improved by leaps and bounds, fully transitioning into the digital age with the development of smart meters.

Smart Meter technology has the capacity to change the way we consume energy, potentially leading to legitimate savings for Australian consumers. Unlike its analogue predecessors, which required manual readings and often resulted in estimated bills, the smart meter brings real-time energy tracking, detailed consumption insights, and a host of other benefits that align with our modern, connected lifestyles.

Unfortunately, it appears as though many Australians don’t know how to use a smart meter to its full capabilities (or even know that they have one installed on their property in the first place). They don’t realise the ability that they now have to monitor usage and adjust according to off-peak or on-peak periods of the day. So, let’s explore this innovative smart metering technology and the positive impact that it could have on your household.

What are Smart Meters?

Smart meters are digital energy-reading devices. They measure and record energy consumption for consumers and businesses alike, providing accurate usage data and avoiding the need for estimates when calculating your energy bill. If you have one installed, your smart meter will typically record your latest consumption reading every 30-minute interval. This information is then communicated to your selected retailer via the meter, allowing them to track usage accurately without sending a technician to the property.

In contrast, previous analogue energy ‘accumulation meters’ had no capacity to transmit any information directly to the energy retailer, only the ability to record consumption on-site (and even then, not always accurately). This led to higher incidences of misread data, inaccurate billing, and consumer dissatisfaction. No longer with the implementation of smart meters, which can even allow retailers remote access to provide services such as remote connection or disconnection. It’s commensurate with a broader shift towards digital, data-driven infrastructure to improve outcomes throughout the Australian economy.

Rise of Smart Meters in Australia

Until the turn of the millennium, Australia had an unhealthy reliance on analogue energy infrastructure. However, that changed meaningfully in 2006 with the mandated rollout of smart meters across Victoria. This initiative was driven by the potential benefits smart meters promised in terms of operational efficiency for retailers and consumer empowerment to take charge of their energy. Meanwhile, other states observed, learned, and gradually began introducing their own rollouts. For instance, smart meters in NSW and smart meters in QLD have seen a steady increase in installations, though at a slower pace tailored to their specific needs and challenges.

The shift towards smart meters was predicated on reducing costs for retailers and consumers. The energy retailers no longer had to pay technicians to visit every property independently, and consumers could adjust their energy usage and behaviour to optimise their expenditure. In reality, the consumer benefits have been slower to realise. Mostly, this is due to a lack of education and cut-through messaging to inform consumers about the new technology’s benefits. Many consumers, including those in Victoria, are still completely unaware that they even have a smart meter installed in the first place. Further, some remain sceptical regarding any infringements upon their privacy or security.

What are the Advantages of Smart Meters?

In short, electric smart meters provide a level of detail and accuracy regarding consumer energy usage that was previously impossible to achieve. The old metering infrastructure left too much possibility for inaccurate readings, incorrect billing, and a host of other human errors. Let’s break some of the advantages of this innovative tech down a bit further:

  1. A detailed picture of energy consumption. Gone are the days when we received a quarterly bill with a lump sum amount and no breakdown whatsoever of our energy usage. With smart meters, consumers and retailers can now access detailed data on their electricity consumption, often broken down into 30-minute intervals. This fine detail allows households to pinpoint their peak usage times, identify potential energy-draining appliances, and make informed decisions on optimising their consumption (if they know how to). 
  2. Cost savings for consumers and retailers. One of the immediately apparent benefits of transitioning to smart meters is the potential for cost savings. Retailers cut their costs practically overnight by eliminating the need for manual meter readings. Moreover, the accuracy of smart meters ensures that estimated bills become a thing of the past. You pay precisely for what you use, ensuring transparency and fairness in billing. 
  3. The capacity to act remotely. Imagine the convenience of moving to a new house and having your electricity connection activated remotely without waiting for a technician. Smart meters make this possible. For energy retailers, this means reduced operational costs and the ability to provide quicker, more efficient customer services. 
  4. Integration with solar infrastructure. As Australia continues its journey towards more sustainable energy solutions, many households are turning to solar panels. Smart meters play a pivotal role in this transition. In fact, if you do not have a smart meter installed on your property, you cannot install a new solar system. They not only measure the energy you consume but also the energy your solar panels feed back into the grid. This means that if you're generating excess solar energy on a sunny day, you can earn credits by supplying it back to the grid, leading to further savings on your energy bills

Common Concerns Regarding Smart Meters in Australia

While smart meter technology is generally regarded as a positive these days, many Australian consumers still hold concerns. Some of the commonly raised issues pertaining to smart meters include: 

  1. Health and safety concerns. As with mobile network technology, some consumers harbour scepticism regarding the impact of smart meter radiofrequency (RF) emissions. Understandably, the mention of RF might initially raise eyebrows, but it's important to note that these signals are actually a part of everyday Australian life. They're used in everything from mobile phones to Wi-Fi routers. Further, The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has stated that the RF exposures from smart meters are much lower than the limits set in the national radiation protection standard, and, therefore, they consider the technology safe. 
  2. Data privacy concerns. The security of personal information is paramount at the moment. Consumers are wary of technology such as smart meters that could potentially transmit their private data to external entities, including energy retailers. Again, this is understandable, as there have been numerous data security breaches over the past decade. However, the data collected and transmitted by smart meters is primarily used for billing purposes and is encrypted for security (as with online banking). It provides a detailed account of your energy usage, ensuring that you're billed accurately for the electricity you consume—not a kilowatt more, not a kilowatt less.  Furthermore, Australian energy providers are bound by strict privacy laws that govern the handling of personal data. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) enforces guidelines that ensure your data is protected and cannot be shared or sold to third parties without your explicit consent. 
  3. Adaptation difficulties. Some Australian consumers, especially older adults, find it hard to adapt their behaviour as new technology enters their lives. It can appear complicated, and that’s enough to ward some people away. To ease this transition, smart meter technology is designed today with a user-friendly interface, allowing the less tech-savvy members of society to understand what’s happening. Further, there are guides and other resources available from energy providers that may assist your comprehension. Remember, the primary goal of smart meters is not to complicate but to simplify - to give you more control and a better understanding of your energy consumption. With time, what seems new and complex today will become second nature, much like any advancement we've adapted to in the past. 

How to Get a Smart Meter Installed?

Many Australians aren’t aware that they may already have a smart meter installed on their property, especially consumers in Victoria. Before you proceed down the path of requesting the installation of a new smart meter, double-check what’s currently in place. If you’re still unsure, contact your current energy provider, who should be able to notify you. However, for those still on the old analogue metering technology, consider the following steps:

  • Step 1: Contact your energy provider. Reach out to your current energy provider to express your interest in getting a smart meter. You should also Inquire about any costs involved or if incentives or programs are available to offset installation fees.
  • Step 2: Confirm your eligibility and schedule the installation. Confirm with your energy provider whether your property is currently eligible for smart meter installation. If the property is suitable, schedule an installation appointment that is convenient for you. Your provider will inform you about the process and how to prepare.
  • Step 3: Prepare for smart meter installation. Before the installation date, ensure easy access to your current meter for any technician. It would be best if you also planned for a brief power outage. Usually, the power will be off for about 30 minutes to an hour. It's wise to charge mobile devices, save any work on computers, and inform all household members of the outage before it commences.
  • Step 4: It’s installation day! The technician should arrive within the scheduled time frame on the installation day. They will then replace your old meter with the new smart meter, which typically takes less than an hour.
  • Step 5: Restore power and check the meter. Once the smart meter is installed, the technician will restore power to your property. They may also provide a quick overview of the smart meter and confirm that it transmits data as expected.
  • Step 6: Learn about your smart meter. After the installation has been completed, take some time to learn about your new smart meter. Your provider may offer resources such as user manuals, online tutorials, or direct customer support.

If you encounter any issues or have questions after the installation, contact your energy provider’s customer support. Any technical faults or concerns should also be reported to the provider immediately for assistance.

How do Smart Meters work?

Smart Meters track your energy consumption use and share this information with you via an in-home display or app. It sends a regular reading to your energy supplier wireless.

Each supplier’s Smart Meter might be slightly different in the feature but it commonly shows:

  • The time and date displayed
  • Electricity and gas you consumed in kilowatt hours in the last hour, week, month
  • The amount of energy you’ve spent is visible and updated every half an hour, every day.
  • Energy is sent to the grid which displays in kWh if you have a solar system.
  • Some Smart Meters allow you to set energy goals for reducing energy consumption.

How can a smart meter save me money?

Once your smart meter is installed, there are some practical ways that you can make use of it to save on your energy bills. Many smart meters come with app integration, allowing you to log in on your mobile device, computer or tablet and check your energy usage. This may allow you to determine which appliances are using excess electricity and provide the ability to adjust the use of household electronics to correspond to off-peak periods (if you have that type of energy plan).  

Your smart meter could also allow you to set realistic energy-saving goals based on your historical data. You could, for example, aim to reduce your peak consumption by 10%. You can use your smart meter data to track your progress and stay motivated. As time progresses and your household changes, you should adjust your goals as you learn what works best for your setup. 

The Future of Energy Management with Smart Meters

As we turn an eye towards the future, there is little doubt that smart meters will continue to play a role in our energy management. There’s expected to be even greater integration with household appliances as smart home technology becomes more mainstream. In the future, you might be able to use your smart meter to dim your lights or communicate with your thermostat to deliver greater energy efficiency.

Smart meters will also have a significant role to play as the uptake of solar continues throughout Australian society. They are necessary for any new solar system, allowing for two-way communication and energy transmission between the grid and your household. As solar technology improves, a smart meter will be an even more essential feature of any business or residence.

Save on your Energy Bills with Econnex

While smart meters provide some capabilities to reduce energy costs, there is a more immediate way you might be able to realise some savings. Use Econnex Comparison’s intuitive platform to compare energy plans available in your area from various retailers. If you find a plan that suits your needs, you can apply online from Econnex in a matter of minutes. It’s comparison technology that puts the power of choice in your hands, allowing you to find a potentially better plan from our panel and start saving.

Let’s get started.

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