Smart meter opportunity in New Zealand lost, commissioner finds


Dr Jan Wright,
for the Environment
Wellington, New Zealand — (METERING.COM) — July 1, 2013 – The opportunity for smart electronic meters to provide a wider range of benefits at little extra cost has been lost in New Zealand, according to the country’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, in a new report.

The report, Smart electricity meters: How households and the environment can benefit, is intended as an update to a June 2009 report, which focused on concerns that the new electronic meters being installed by electricity retailers were not as ‘smart’ as they should be, and thus not able to provide benefits for householders or the environment.

At that time the large scale installation of electronic meters to the 1.3 million households in New Zealand was just beginning, with completion due by 2013.

The new report comes as the rollout is nearly complete, with Commissioner Wright saying that in the same way in which the retail companies rolling out the smart meters have failed to put in the functionality that would benefit householders and the environment, they have also not put in the functionality that would benefit the lines companies – who are also beneficiaries with peak power reduction avoiding or delaying the need for line capacity upgrades.

“This is clearly illustrated in Waikato where the lines company WEL Networks is currently installing ‘smart boxes’ in 45,000 homes and businesses in order to gain the ability to manage the network better. The smart boxes include the capacity for consumers to better control their electricity use in the future. In effect, thousands of Waikato households will soon have two digital electricity meters – one installed by the retailer, Genesis Energy, and another installed by the lines company WEL Networks.”

Commissioner Wright notes that some electricity retailers are experimenting with providing niche products that could give householders more control of their energy consumption. But inconsistency across retailers and across the country does not provide a basis for the development and marketing of smart appliances.
Commissioner Wright says that with the rollout now nearly complete, some of the recommendations in the earlier report have been superseded by events. Also, the focus should now be broader – on the host of ways in which New Zealand’s electricity grid can be made smarter. The development of a much smarter grid will be a fundamental requirement for reaching the government’s target for 90% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2025.

It’s good news that a research team at the University of Canterbury’s Electric Power Engineering Centre has been awarded a NZ$6.3 million grant to find ways of making New Zealand’s national grid smarter. However, “technology alone will not address the problem of our fragmented electricity system in which the investment decisions of different companies are driven by such different incentives.”