Explained: How Smart Meters Work - Is a Smart Meter Worth It?

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Smart Meter

The smart meter rollout is happening all across Australia, but what is a smart meter? These intelligent energy monitoring devices help you keep an eye on your energy usage and better understand your energy bills. They also provide real-time readings to your energy supplier to keep your bills accurate. So is a smart meter for you? Read on to learn more.

What is a Smart Meter?

Smart Electricity Meter

Smart meters, also known as digital meters or advanced meters, are a type of intelligent electricity meter that automatically measures your home energy usage every 30 minutes.

Smart meters send your energy usage directly to your supplier which means you no longer have to manually read your meter and allows you to have more accurate bills.

Unlike traditional an electricity meter which must be read by hand, smart electricity meters make it easier to manage your energy usage in the following ways:

  1. They help you avoid estimated bills by automatically sending meter readings to your energy company
  2. They allow you to see your energy consumption in real-time & adjust your usage accordingly
  3. They help you save money by alerting you when your usage is higher than normal
  4. When moving house, they allow your supplier to connect & disconnect your energy for you remotely
  5. They help you accurately compare energy plans vs. the reference price by showing you your exact consumption.
  6. They allow you to monitor your energy online and on the go - great for when you are away from home.
  7. They can track the amount of solar energy you generate and export (for solar panels)

Why Should I Get a Smart Meter?

You should get a smart meter because they give you more insight, control, and understanding of your energy usage and energy bills. This means you will be able to save money, by understanding how and when you use your energy and implementing ways to reduce your consumption.

The benefits of a smart meter include:

 More accurate meter readings: Smart meters send the information about your energy usage to your distributor digitally. These remote readings mean your energy bills will no longer be based on estimated readings which can be inaccurate. Instead, you’ll be charged for your exact monthly energy consumption.

 Monthly billing: Thanks to more frequent, and more accurate, energy readings, you can choose to get your electricity invoice every month rather than quarterly. Now, your energy payments will be smaller, and more frequent, allowing you to better plan and budget your monthly expenses while avoiding quarterly bill shock.

 Remote readings: With traditional analogue energy meters, if you need a special reading or a disconnection/reconnection, your energy distributor can charge you upwards of $100 in fees. With a smart meter, however, these readings, connections and disconnections can be done remotely for a lower fee (usually around $12).

 Choice of tariff: Smart meters allow you to access more tariffs such as time-of-use tariffs. With a time-of-use tariff, you’ll be charged more for your energy usage during peak times when there is more pressure on the electricity grid, and charged less when there is less demand on the energy grid. Using energy at off-peak hours allows you to save on your energy bills.

 Solar panels: If you’re interested in solar energy in QLD, a smart meter is necessary to monitor your solar energy generation, usage, and what you send back to the grid. This means you can see exactly how much you get from your solar feed-in-tariff, allowing you to manage your own energy consumption to earn more with your solar energy. You can read more about solar rebates in our energy rebates guide.

 Energy monitoring: You can use your smart meter as a smart electricity monitor to keep track of your usage. Some devices such as Powerpal can be added to your meter to track your energy usage and give you smart advice on how to change your habits to reduce your bills. Especially important for LPG gas users to keep track of when you will need to order a replacement LPG gas bottle.

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Are Smart Meters Compulsory?

Technically, smart meters are not compulsory in Australia unless you live in Victoria. If you have a working analogue electricity meter that doesn’t need to be replaced, you don’t need to get a smart electricity meter yet.

However, if you need a new meter installed it will have to be a smart meter as suppliers are no longer installing traditional meters.

Reasons you may have to install a smart meter include:

  • Connecting a new build to the energy grid
  • Your old meter is faulty and needs to be replaced
  • You purchased a solar PV system or other electricity product that requires a smart meter per the DERR
  • You’ve agreed to your energy provider replacing your analogue energy meter as part of their digital meter rollout

You will receive a notice by email or in the post notifying you if your energy provider is rolling out digital meters to customers. If you’re not ready to install a smart meter, you can contact your energy provider and request them not to replace it.

You can also take a look at AER's fact sheet called Smart Meters & You for more information about regulations and requirements in your area.

Are Smart Meters Safe?

Yes, smart meters are safe.

There is no established evidence that smart meters can cause health issues.

All smart meters must adhere to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency's (ARPANSA) electromagnetic exposure guidelines.

Other household devices such as baby monitors, mobile phones, cordless landlines, and internet routers are also subject to the same guidelines and restrictions. Therefore, smart meters are quite safe.

According to ARPANSA, the low power of smart meters, their location outside of the home and their short transmission periods mean that overall electromagnetic and radiofrequency exposure is too low to cause adverse side-effects to health.

It’s important to remember that the technology behind smart meters is not new and many wireless devices, including mobile phones, use the same technology.

How to Get a Smart Meter

Smart meter installation is managed and organised by your energy retailer.

You will need to contact your energy supplier (the company you pay your electricity bill to), who will then coordinate and organise the installation of your new meter with a licensed and qualified electrician.

How Do I Know If I Have a Smart Meter?You can tell if you have a smart meter usually by looking at the meter display. It should have a digital display. However, you can also log in to your online energy account and view your usage history. If your usage fluctuates day by day, this means you have a smart meter automatically tracking your energy usage for you.

Installing a Smart Meter

Getting your smart meter installed on your property is a relatively simple process.

  1. Contact your energy provider to set up the smart meter installation date.
  2. The electrician will come to your property on the agreed-upon date,
  3. The electrician will remove your old analogue energy meter and replace it with your new intelligent meter

The smart meter installation should only take about one hour.

During this hour you’ll be without power, but it shouldn’t take very long until you’re back up and running with your new smart meter. Your energy supplier must always give you 4 days notice of any planned power cuts, which will give you ample time to make preparations and alternate arrangements during your installation.

When the electrician comes to your home to replace your analogue energy meter, make sure they have complete access to where the meter is located. Otherwise, you could face an extra charge if they are unable to access your meter and need to return another day.

How Much Do Smart Meters Cost?

Most energy providers are replacing and installing smart meters for free, at no cost to the energy consumer.

However, It’s best to read the fine print and make sure there are no hidden costs used to offset the installation price.

If you do have to pay, some retailers may charge an upfront fee, a lump sum, or spread out the cost of installing a smart meter over several billing periods. However, all energy suppliers are required to inform you of any upfront costs associated with your smart meter installation.

Reasons you may be charged for a smart meter installation include:

  • Removal of hazards such as asbestos
  • Having to move your meter location
  • Installing a new meter box if the new meter will not fit

You can resolve any disputes vĂ­a the Ombudsman.

What Does a Smart Meter Look Like?

Picture of a Smart Meter

Here is a picture of what a smart meter looks like.

Smart meters are small, grey boxes located on the outside of your home or unit.

They tend to be smaller than traditional meters and have a digital LCD display instead of analogue dials, which show you information such as total kWh usage and today's date.

Some smart meters may have buttons on them that allow you to click through different screens displaying different information.

The most important piece of information found on your smart meter is your National Metering Identifier (NMI).

The NMI is a unique 10 or 11-digit number that identifies your electricity meter and is used by your supplier and energy distributor to identify your electricity connection within the grid within the national energy market. Your NMI can be found directly on your smart electricity meter or by reading your energy bill.

How to Read a Smart Meter

It can be difficult to read your smart meter if you are looking at the device itself. Instead, try logging into your energy supplier's online portal where you can track your energy usage in almost real-time.

Most energy suppliers upload your smart meter data to your online account where you can view and track your energy usage with a 1-3 day turnaround.

We know that the following suppliers all have online energy monitoring available:

  • AGL Energy
  • AusNet Services
  • CitiPower
  • Jemena
  • Lumo Energy
  • Origin Energy
  • Powershop
  • Red Energy
  • United Energy

Thanks to the National Electricity Law and the Privacy Act 1988, the data regarding your personal energy usage is secure and protected by your supplier and is not shared with others.

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Smart Meter Information by State

See more information about smart meters in your state by selecting your region from the drop-down list below.

Smart Meter QLD

As of December 1, 2017, in accordance with the Electricity Act 1994 and the Electricity Regulation 2006, all new and replacement electricity meters installed in residential properties in Australia must be smart meters.

This mandate includes all of Queensland, except for off-grid locations and rural communities in regional Queensland.

Exceptions for rural areas include:

  • The Mt. Isa–Cloncurry network
  • Weipa
  • Rural communities supplied by Ergon Energy

Electricity suppliers must also now be in charge of installing QLD smart meters as well as maintaining, operating and reading your smart meter.

If you have a traditional analogue energy meter in Queensland, you can continue to use it until:

  • You agree to a proposal from your supplier to have a smart meter installed
  • You sign up for an energy plan that requires a smart meter
  • Your current analogue energy meter needs replacing due to a fault or old age

You can see all the requirements for meters in Queensland in the Energex Metering Manual.

Smart Meter NSW

In NSW, smart meters are not compulsory. However, new regulations as of December 1, 2017, require that all new and replacement meters must be smart meters.

This includes mandatory smart meter installations for new builds and replacement meters for broken or failing analogue energy meters.

If you live in New South Wales and do not want a smart meter, you can request to keep your current meter until it stops working. However, after your current analogue meter fails, you will have to have a new intelligent meter installed.

Some energy plans in NSW come combined with a smart meter installation. So, if you arent interested in having one installed, we recommend speaking to your supplier about your options.

If you would like to have a NSW smart meter installed you can contact your energy supplier to request one. Depending on the supplier and plan, the smart meter could be free of charge.

Alternatively, you may receive a notice from your supplier about them installing smart meters in your area. If so, you will receive 2 notifications with information about their smart meter rollout.

Smart Meter Victoria

Since 2006, VIC smart meters have been compulsory in every home & business.

In fact, Victoria has already rolled out smart meters to all existing properties within the state.

This means that if you live in a residential property in Victoria, you already have a smart meter installed. If you are building a new home in Victoria, you must have a smart meter installed at the property to receive electricity. This is the same for businesses in Victoria.

If you need to install a meter at your property you can get a free smart meter in Victoria thanks to an organisation called Powerpal Victoria.

Smart meters in Victoria were installed starting in 2009 by the 5 regional distributors:

  • CitiPower
  • United Energy
  • Jemena
  • AusNet Services
  • Powercor

If you have questions about your smart meter, you can contact the Victoria energy ombudsman.

What is Powerpal Victoria?

Powerpal is the name of a grant from the Government Energy Upgrades Scheme in Victoria to provide free Powerpal energy monitors (aka smart meters) to households all across Victoria state.

The Powerpal energy monitor is a smart electricity monitoring device that connects to your electricity meter. It acts as a digital monitor allowing you to sync up with your smartphone to see your live energy use.

Powerpal energy monitors learn from the way that you use your energy and then provides tailored guidance on how to reduce your bills and conserve energy. It can give you advice on things like adding insulation to your roof, changing your thermostat, etc.

If you don't live in Victoria, but would like to have a Powerpal monitor, you can purchase one for your home for $129.

Did you like this piece? - Learn why your energy bills are so high in this other explainer!

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