Smart meter consumer protection and safety in Australia


Canberra, Australia — (METERING.COM) — December 11, 2012 – In a new paper Australia’s Energy Market Reform Working Group (EMRWG) has made recommendations on the appropriate consumer protection arrangements for products and services enabled by smart meters.

Overall the recommendations are intended to create a framework that allows consumers to understand and benefit from the services enabled by smart meters, while enabling them to make informed choices and better manage their energy use. It is also intended to ensure that the needs of vulnerable consumers are sufficiently protected, and that the development of new services is not unduly constrained by inappropriate and unnecessary regulation.

The report covers several topics, including new pricing arrangements, third party service providers, supply capacity control, demand management, customer billing, customer engagement, customer access to data and the home area network (HAN), privacy, independent dispute resolution, metering installations, radio frequency emissions, and remote energization/re-energization.

In addition the national minimum functionality for smart meters is reviewed but no changes are recommended from that previously determined.

Among the more than 90 recommendations:

  • Small consumers should be given an effective choice of retail tariffs, with existing customers remaining on a flat standing offer tariff unless they choose to move to a time-of-use or other tariff.
  • Only retailers may offer load control directly to consumers where it is part of or a condition of a tariff for the sale of electricity, but distributors, retailers or third parties may offer DLC products and services to consumers where it is a standalone product.
  • Retailers should provide customers with consumption data for each tariff segment on their bill to assist them to reconcile their bill charges, and where a customer requests a copy of their historical billing data in relation to a bill, retailers must be able to provide the full set as well as a summary of the metering data on which the bill was based.
  • National and/or state or territory governments should have a coordinating role in consumer engagement programs for the widespread installation of smart meters.
  • Customers should be able to register a device on the utility home area network (HAN) without the device being part of a contract for the supply and/or sale of electricity.
  • Consumers should be adequately informed about the standards which apply to radio frequency emissions from smart meters, the obligations on distribution businesses/metering providers to comply with these standards, the outcomes of any relevant trials, and how compliance with these standards is monitored.

EMRWG also recommends that the regulation of smart meter enabled services should be as flexible as possible as many of the services being developed are relatively new to Australia. Effective and robust consumer protections should not come at the expense of constraining the development of new products and services through inappropriate regulation.

Recommendations should be implemented through a combination of changes to national instruments, changes to jurisdictional instruments, guidelines developed by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) and changes to National Energy Market (NEM) procedures as appropriate.