Smarter meter beater | Geelong, VIC, Australia

IT’S hardly surprising energy users might be a little suspicious of a government mandate for them to install smart meters in their homes.

Everyone’s been told electricity charges will rise as new measures, new taxes, are brought in to combat fossil fuel use and climate change.

Everyone’s heard there won’t be a carbon tax, there will be a carbon tax; it’s going to hit households, it’s not going to hit households; that power bills will rise dramatically, that families will be compensated.

In the latest round of energy angst, the idea of household power being deliberately blacked out by power companies during times of peak use stinking hot days, for instance, when air-conditioners are running flat out understandably has people grinding their teeth, clenching their fists and cursing the nanny state for another incursion into their already over-regulated lives.

So when I find the advocates of electricity smart meters banging on this newspaper’s doors, looking to brief anyone who smells like a reporter on the multitude of benefits offered by these new hi-tech replacements for meter-readers, you could forgive me for looking at them askance.

Referring quickly to the consumer watchdog CHOICE’s website, I discovered these smart meters were decidedly suss. New metering charges for Victorians would jump between $70 and $135 a year.

Trials of the things interstate showed at best a 5 per cent reduction in bills for consumers who could shift their usage from peak to off-peak times. But many people who were at home during the day such as pensioners and work-from-home parents may not be able to shift usage or reduce consumption, it said.

But there was a fairly powerful caveat: “The smart meters tell you your usage but they don’t tell you what to do to reduce your bills. Shifting your usage by clock-watching is not going to do so. Being energy efficient and choosing the right plan with the right provider will.”

Yesterday I spoke with CHOICE’S campaigns head, Matt Levey, who ramped up the arguments in their favour. In a nutshell:

“There’s nothing wrong with the technology but there’s a lot wrong in the way it’s been rolled out,” he said.

“People have been scared but they shouldn’t be but they should be wary of anything they’re paying for without being told how it will benefit them.”

I don’t want to sound like a cynical curmudgeon going all marshmallow on you but a certain integrity comes with the CHOICE brand which makes the smart meters sound a little less menacing.

“The very fact people are worried about shutdowns being undertaken remotely shows how little they understand about smart meters,” Levey insists.

“There are very sensible things that they can assist, like on hot days cycle off compressors in certain regions. The difference to each householder may be quite minimal you won’t notice the difference but aggregate them all and it can be the difference between not spending billions building new infrastructure.”

I don’t like the way he also said that here in Australia we have enjoyed very low electricity prices for a long time, and that we’ve never really paid a cost that truly reflects what it costs to produce that electricity. I can assure you I’ve paid plenty. I’m sure you’ve done likewise.

But Levey says smart meters, by enabling you to use different rates of electricity at different times of the day, enables you to pay a fairer price. Whether that’s cheaper than what I’m coughing up now is unclear. He says smart meters, in the end, help electricity companies save money on their meter reading.

“We’re running a horse and buggy system that’s decades old … certainly advanced meters are a part of improving that,” he said.

“We say put the consumer first, show them how to control the technology, to control how much they spend on electricity.”

Levey said if you can take information a smart meter offers and turn it into a monthly package that tells you how to save on your bills, if you can turn it to something insightful and meaningful, then you can see the value.

“The crucial thing is changing behaviour but we’ve seen hardly any effort to change that behavioural change,” he said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the technology but there’s a lot wrong in the way it’s been rolled out.

“People have been scared but they shouldn’t be but they should be wary of anything they’re paying for without being told how it will benefit them.”

Hear, hear, I’ll go along with that but, like you, I still want to know will it be cheaper?

via NOEL MURPHY: Smarter meter beater | Geelong, VIC, Australia.

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