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Energy companies in New Zealand have delayed the introduction of smart technology that could cut power bills despite a widespread penetration of smart meter units, an electricity market observer has told local media.

Geoff Bertram of Victoria University said because of a lack of competition, the major energy retailers have been able to keep smart meters dumb, and prices high, by not fitting them with technology that would give people more data and better control over what they spend on electricity.

Smart meters in New Zealand

Smart meter penetration is estimated at about 50 per cent of households but according to new power company Flick Electric only a small proportion of customers have access to data and tariff information to help them save money on bills.

Flick chief executive Steve O’Connor said his company spent 12 months developing smart technology which allows customers to purchase power when it is at its cheapest.

He said of the 55 customers in a trial earlier this year, 90 percent shaved at least 10 percent off their bills while, he claims, some customers were 30 percent better off.

Mr Bertram said time-of-day pricing is a step forward in a market largely starved of innovation.

Ewan Gebbie, chief executive of the Energy Management Association, said the main benefit of smart metering technology in New Zealand has been allowing electricity retailers to cut their own costs by reading meters remotely.

Sale of smart meter business

In other smart meter news in New Zealand, state-owned electricity generator and retailer Meridian Energy plans to sells its metering asset and services business Arc Innovations to energy services company Vector in a move to concentrate on customer service delivery.

Meridian, which generates about a third of New Zealand’s electricity, said the sale followed a strategic review of the company’s Meridian’s wider metering services requirements. The review concluded that the subsidiary would be better served by an owner that has a core business focus on smart meter ownership and services, including pursuing new opportunities for growth.

Mark Binns, chief executive of Meridian, said: “We are clear about Meridian’s future direction as a retailer. We want to focus on improving customer experience and owning electricity meters and providing metering services to the wider market is not integral to that.”

Meter coverage

Vector, a supplier of electricity and gas metering installations and data management services, natural gas and LPG and fibre optic networks, was this week named as the preferred buyer.

The sales transaction, which is subject to finalising contractual agreements, would include the transfer of ownership of Arc’s employees, metering assets at 135,000 customer connections predominantly in Canterbury and Hawke’s Bay, and contracts to provide smart metering services to all major retailers.

Vector already works with a number of New Zealand energy retailers to provide advanced GPRS metering services and estimates its smart metering business provides electricity and gas metering technology to approximately 1 million homes and businesses throughout New Zealand.