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Australia’s Smart Meters: Answering Your Questions about Safety, Accuracy, Cost and More

In a world where we are constantly connected, it is little surprise that there is an increasing demand for smart meters. Smart meters (also known as an advanced meter or ‘type 4’ meter), do what the name implies, they use smart technology to measure and record how much electricity a household or business is using at 30-minute intervals. But how does this technology work? Do these devices pose any risks to our health or safety? And should Australians have them installed in their homes?

How do smart meters work in comparison to analog meters?

A traditional analog meter can only capture the amount of electricity that has passed through it since someone last read the meter. In contrast, smart meters provide two key services: they enable you to track your energy use in more detail than before (specifically when and how much electricity is used at your premises), and they provide a range of information to electricity distribution businesses to help them manage the distribution network. Unlike analog meters, smart meters send information remotely, meaning no one will need to come to your property to manually read your meter.

Are smart meters a ‘good’ thing?

While there are certainly pros and cons to every new technology, the benefits of having a smart meter installed are pretty compelling. While a smart meter itself can’t lower your energy bills, having access to more real-time data can help you take greater control of your consumption habits. A smart meter can:

  • Provide a graphical representation of your energy usage throughout the day and allow you to adjust your usage patterns for better efficiency.
  • Allow electricity retailers to offer improved products and services, like home energy management apps and online access to information about your electricity usage. You can also opt for a flexible pricing plan, which allows you to access different rates for using electricity during peak, shoulder and off peak time slots.
  • Allow electricity distributors to detect and control power outages and issues with electricity supply quality more quickly.
  • Give you access to a wider range of services, including battery storage.

With all this recording and monitoring of household activity, some Australians are concerned about who can access this personal data, whether by nefarious methods or through information-sharing deals with third-parties. While highly unlikely due to preventative safeguards, privacy and security breaches aren’t impossible.

Are smart meters safe?

Yes. Smart meters are manufactured and installed according to Australian Standards. All smart meters must comply with the electromagnetic exposure limits developed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). The devices themselves transmit information about power use over a wireless network via radio frequency (RF) signals. These RF signals are the same kind of waves that mobile phones, Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors transmit.

According to ARPANSA, there is no established scientific evidence that the low level RF EME exposure from smart meters causes any health effects.

Are smart meter readings accurate?

Some tests have shown that power controllers, such as light dimmers, might prevent smart meters from recording accurately. On the whole, however, smart meters seem to be as accurate if not more so than traditional meters as they are not subject to human error or accessibility issues. Prior to the rollout of smart meters, inaccurate or “estimated” billing was commonplace because meter readers would have trouble accessing properties.

What is the law on smart meter installation in Australia? Are they compulsory?

Currently in Australia different states and energy providers have different policies for installing smart meters. For instance, Victoria has completed the mandatory rollout of over two million digital meters across their state while NSW is giving residents a choice to whether they want one or not. Some companies are replacing traditional ones with new “smart” models, but others simply focus on updating older ones when necessary.

It’s recommended that you check with your state government or energy provider for the most accurate and current information for your local area.

Are smart meters free? How do I get one?

Just as you are paying the cost of your traditional meter, you need to pay a fee for the installation and maintenance of your smart meter through your electricity bill either in a lump sum or over time. Your distribution company (who owns the meter) will recover costs through payment from your retailer.

Your retailer may offer you a product that needs a smart meter installed. Remember, you can always shop around for a retailer who is offering a lower price. You will also get a smart meter if your current meter is faulty or at the end of its life and needs replacing.

Can I switch my electricity provider if I have a smart meter?

Yes, you can switch your energy provider if you have a smart meter. In fact, switching becomes easier and faster because with real-time data on the digital meter, there’s no need to wait for a manual reading before changing providers.

You can contact your electricity retailer and any other retailers to compare what offers are available in your location. Energy Matters’ fast and free price comparator, can help you compare the available electricity offers in your local area.

So, are smart meters worth it?

Whether or not you want one, smart meters are here to stay. Overall, smart meters can save money in homes that intend to monitor their usage and adjust their consumption habits accordingly. They are arguably more accurate than analog meters and you won’t have to worry about  “estimated” readings. Our position is that, yes, the benefits of smart meters outweigh the minor risks associated with privacy and security. Remember, a smart meter is only going to save if you are energy conscious, so monitor your consumption and switch to save!

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