New Zealand’s smart meters not smart enough?


Jan Wright,
for the Environment,
New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand — (METERING.COM) — June 29, 2009 – In New Zealand at present, the electricity generator-retailers are deploying the majority of smart meters and so decide on their functionality, but most are planning to omit the functionality that is key to delivering the environmental and consumer benefits, according to a new report from the country’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE).

This is not surprising given that encouraging more efficient electricity use appears to offer little financial benefit to retailers, continues the report, adding that this suggests that regulatory intervention is needed to ensure the environmental and consumer benefits can be delivered.

“I heard mutterings that the smart meters being installed in New Zealand are actually ‘dumb meters’. The concern was that the smart meters being installed would deliver benefits to retailers, but would not be able to deliver benefits to the environment or to electricity consumers,” says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright. “This report substantiates that concern.”

Approximately 1.3 million smart meters are due to be rolled out to New Zealand households by 2012. However, the country appears to be unusual in the developed world in that the rollout is being undertaken by the market, with no government control, the report says, going on to recommend that the government takes a more hands-on approach.

To deliver consumer and environmental benefits the report highlights the two key smart meter functions as home area network (HAN) communication capability and real time in-home displays. It recommends that meters be deployed with a home area network (HAN) capability in order to avoid costly retrofitting, and that a pilot study to quantify the benefits of in-home displays be undertaken and if justified by the results, that these be promoted.

In order to enable switching between retailers the protocols used in all smart meters and smart appliances should be either the same or “open access”, and if micro generation is contracted between a retailer and its customer the smart meter should have both export and import functionality.

An investigation is also recommended on the merits of intervening to ensure that retailers offer householders tariffs that better reflect the costs of generation and transmission at different times. However, retailers should be required to continue to offer a low user fixed charge tariff to householders, as well as an average cost tariff to mitigate fuel poverty in poorer households if, and when, cost reflective tariffs are made generally available.

Finally a public information campaign should be considered to inform consumers about smart metering and the opportunities it will bring, provided the meters have HAN communication capability.

“Smart meters have the potential to create a step change in curbing the growth in the demand for electricity and giving real benefits to consumers,” says Wright. “The competitive challenges of our electricity market go beyond the supply-side oligopoly. One of the requirements for a well functioning market is that consumers are empowered to make fully informed decisions, and smart meters will greatly assist this.”