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Smart Meters in Australia: The Benefits and Costs

Smart Meter Australia

Across the Australian National Energy Market, old analogue meters are being replaced with digital smart meters, giving energy consumers better and easier access to their electricity usage. But what, exactly, is a smart meter and how can you benefit from having one? Find out everything you need to know about smart meters, including how to get a smart meter, by reading more below.


What is a smart meter?

Smart meters, also known as digital meters, are electricity meters that can measure and record your electricity usage every 30 minutes while transmitting this data electronically to your electricity distributor. Unlike traditional, analogue, meters, which only show the cumulative total energy usage for your current billing period, smart meters allow you to not only get more accurate electricity bills but also allow you to better understand your energy habits.

How do smart meters work?

There are two types of smart meters used to measure electricity consumption; analogue meters, and smart meters. Traditional, analogue meters only measure the cumulative total energy consumption of your household so when the meter reader comes to read your electricity usage for billing, they only see this total amount used.

Smart meters, on the other hand, measure and record your electricity consumption every 30 minutes and transmit this data electronically to your electricity distributor. As a result, both you and your energy provider have more accurate and detailed information about your electricity usage and energy habits.

These days, most energy providers have some sort of online platform that allows smart meter users to see the most accurate and up-to-date information about their energy usage. With this data available to you, you can better monitor your household’s energy consumption and reduce your energy bills, compare energy plans for a better deal, and even check your solar energy exports.

What does a smart meter look like?

Smart meter

Your smart meter is a small, grey, box located on the exterior of your house. While they have a digital display, you usually can’t get much information directly from the box itself. The most important piece of information located on your smart meter is the National Metering Identifier or NMI. This unique 10 or 11-digit number is assigned to your electricity meter and allows your energy provider to make sure the correct meter data is attached to the correct bill. Your NMI can also be used when comparing energy providers, as it offers a more accurate estimated usage and annual cost based on the historic data for the property the meter is located on, than compared to simply using your postal code or address.

How to read a smart meter

Your actual smart meter itself isn’t very user friendly, but will often show things like the date, usage and consumption information, any controlled load you might have, and solar PV export if applicable. If you want to read your smart meter, however, you’re probably better off using your energy provider’s online account management platform or a digital in-home display. Most energy providers offer some sort of phone app, or online website, for account management and if you have a smart meter you can often find your usage information within 24-72 hours after it’s sent to your distributor.

Are smart meters compulsory in Australia?

In short, smart meters are not compulsory in Australia, unless you live in Victoria. However, there are a number of stipulations where you will end up getting a smart meter if you don’t already have one. These include:

  1. Any new house, with a new electricity connection, will require a smart meter
  2. If you old analogue meter is faulty, it will be replaced with a new smart meter
  3. To support a new electricity product such as a different tariff, or a solar PV system
  4. Replacing old, but functioning meters, as part of your electricity provider’s digital meter rollout

If your energy provider is replacing existing analogue meters with digital ones, you should receive a notice through the post or by email letting you know. If you don’t want to give up on your analogue meter just yet, and it’s still functioning, you can usually contact your energy provider and choose to opt out of the digital meter rollout for the moment.

The Victorian Government, so far, is the only Australian state to mandate smart meters. Between 2006 and 2014, smart meters were installed on all Victorian homes and businesses.

How do I get a smart meter?

Smart meters are managed and installed through your energy provider. If you don’t yet have a smart meter, and want to get one, your first step is to call your energy provider. From there, your energy provider will organise the date and time of the installation between you and the licensed electrician.

On the day of the smart meter installation, the electrician will come to your home to replace your old meter. The entire process, start to finish, shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half but you will probably be without power for that time. When the electrician comes to your property, your main job will be to ensure safe and unencumbered access to your house and the meter.

Smart meter installation costs

Most of the time, getting a smart meter will cost you nothing but it is always important to check directly with your energy provider to be sure. It should be noted that if the electrician finds any sort of hazard, such as asbestos or dangerous wiring, blocking their access to the meter, you will get charged to have the problem fixed.

Who owns my smart meter?

Your smart meter is owned by your current energy provider. If you want to switch energy providers, your new retailer will simply take over the responsibility of your current meter. In rare instances, your new provider might offer something that your current smart meter cannot support and as a result might need to switch it out for a different one, but more often than not this is not the case and you will continue to use the same smart meter no matter your energy provider.

What are the benefits of owning a smart meter?

There are numerous benefits to having a smart meter, rather than an analogue one. The benefits of owning a smart meter include:

  • Better tracking and management of your electricity usage, allowing you to reduce consumption and save on electricity bills or have more accurate information when comparing electricity plans and switching providers.
  • Digital meter readings means you don’t need to give a meter reader access to your property, and you no longer need to worry about estimated energy bills.
  • Remote connections and disconnections usually cost less than on-site connections, saving you money if you move house or need to disconnect your property for whatever reason.
  • The possibility of more frequent billing (such as monthly, fortnightly, or even weekly), so you can avoid billshock when a large quarterly bill comes up and instead pay smaller amounts more frequently.
  • Faster response from your energy distributor if there's a problem with your supply, such as a power outage. Your electricity distributor can find exactly where the problem is, and fix it more quickly.
  • Better understanding your solar PV energy generation and export (if applicable) so you can see exactly how much electricity you are exporting to the grid and how much you’re earning from your solar feed-in-tariff.

Smart meters and time of use tariffs

One of the biggest benefits to having a smart meter is the option of different electricity tariffs. Since traditional, analogue meters only measure the cumulative total amount of energy consumed, you can only really be billed at a flat rate. However, with smart meters, you have the option of a time of use tariff.

A time of use (ToU) tariff charges you different rates depending on when you use electricity. If you use electricity during a time when there is generally a lot of demand (peak), you will be charged more per kWh. Likewise, if you use energy when there isn’t a lot of demand on the grid (off-peak) you will be charged less. These peak and off-peak times can vary depending on the time of day, day of the week, or even certain holidays or seasons, and are usually divided into three rates (peak, off-peak, and shoulder). Your energy provider and distributor will decide the exact hours you will be charged peak and off-peak rates so it’s best to check with them directly before switching to this electricity tariff.

Example of a Time of Use Tariff
Rate name Cents per kWh Time of use
Peak 40c / kWh Weekdays: 14:00 to 22:00
Off-peak 12c / kWh Weekdays: 22:00 to 6:00
Weekends: 22:00 to 7:00
Shoulder 18c / kWh Weekdays: 6:00 to 14:00
Weekends: 7:00 to 22:00

There are a number of things to consider before switching to a Time of Use tariff, most notably is when you expect to use the majority of your electricity. If you’re someone who is out of the house most of the day, and really only use your electricity in the evenings, a Time of Use tariff might not be best for you. However, if you use most of your electricity during shoulder and off-peak hours, you might end up saving more by switching from a flat rate to a Time of Use tariff.

Are smart meters safe?

Like with every new technology, when smart meters first rolled out there was concern that they might have adverse health effects on people, specifically that the electromagnetic radiation that smart meters use to transmit data to your energy distributor might harm people.

Smart meters rely on low-level radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) to send data to your energy distributor in short bursts. While this may seem scary, it’s the same technology being used in all sorts of wireless devices, including smart phones.

RF EME has been subject to controversy over the years, with people claiming it can cause both short and long-term health issues, such as mood swings, insomnia, memory loss, or nausea. Despite these claims, there is little scientific evidence to support the idea that smart meters are dangerous.

The Victorian Government and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) both released information about the safety of smart meters. The general conclusion is that the low power and infrequent transmission of smart meters, along with their exterior location, means that overall RF EME exposure from smart meters is too low to cause any health problems, and that there is currently no established evidence to the contrary.

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