Over the past few years, smart meters have gained significant media attention throughout Australia, and not all of positive. Now that almost all of us have these devices installed at our homes, what do you need to know?
This energy monitoring technology was initially rolled out in Victoria and has since been implemented in other states including New South Wales. Smart meters utilise the type of intuitive technology we use each day through smartphones and other mobile devices to help energy customers monitor usage and, in theory, reduce their monthly bills.
As is often the case with new technology, many consumers are still unclear on what these meters are, how they function and what potential benefits these new devices offer.
What are smart meters?
Smart meters are modern electricity meters. More specifically, smart meters are two-way, digital communication systems that record electricity usage. Smart meters are replacing the older electricity meters, known as accumulation meters.
What makes these meters smart?
Smart meters measure and record how much electricity a household or business is using at 30-minute intervals. That data is then relayed to (1) customers via a smart meter app or on the digital, in-home display on the meter itself, and (2) the customer’s energy distributor. Since smart meters communicate meter readings directly to electricity distributors, they essentially eliminate the need for physical meter readings.
If these meters are so smart, can they come up with solutions to the world’s energy problems?
Unfortunately not! But this technology does have some advantages; smart meters provide electricity customers with the ability to monitor their energy usage in real time and adjust their consumption for more efficiency and cost-savings. Consumers can also use the data provided to them via their smart meter app to shift their usage to off-peak times in order to benefit from further cost savings. (Please note smart meter data comes via your retailer – more information here http://www.smartmeters.vic.gov.au/interactive-devices/web-portals.)
Smart meters also take the guesswork out of budgeting, virtually eliminating estimated bills. The new meters can also provide customers with added flexibility in choosing when to receive and pay their bills.
Smart meters have also made manual meter readings a thing of the past thanks to their real time monitoring capabilities and reporting via a smart meter app or other web portal.
So why are some people upset about smart meters?
Smart meters have drawn criticism from some groups that cite concerns with issues related to privacy, health and the cost of the technology.
- Privacy – Opponents of smart meter technology claim that the devices’ continual monitoring of one’s energy usage is too revealing and provides a window into a person’s daily life and activities.
- Health – Those who object to smart meters point to the devices’ use of radio frequency communication as a health risk that could result in adverse effects among those who may come in contact with a meter.
- Cost – Cost is a frequent concern related to new technology and smart meters are no exception. Though spread out over numerous billing cycles, the cost to implement smart meters is often passed on to the consumer.
Is there cause for concern?
New technology and systems always require an adjustment period to allow for education and process improvement, both on the part of the consumer and the company leading the innovation. While it is up to you as the informed consumer to decide, here is what we know:
- Privacy – While technology does provide more access to data and subsequently trends and patterns, in order to properly serve their clients energy companies must continue to maintain standards and systems for customer privacy and confidentiality.
- Health – Smart meters emit the same kinds of radio frequency (RF) waves as cell phones and Wi-Fi devices. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies RF waves as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on finding a possible link in at least one study between cell phone use and a specific type of brain tumour. As RF radiation is a possible carcinogen and smart meters emit RF radiation, it is possible that smart meters could increase cancer risk. However, the amount of RF radiation exposure from a smart meter is much less than that of a cell phone so it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases one’s risk of cancer.
- Cost – While innovation and new technology come with a price tag, most energy companies are working to minimise the burden on customers by spreading out any increases over multiple billing cycles, even years. In addition, the potential cost savings to consumers will help to offset added costs.
Smart meters seem to be here to stay, and we recommend you utilise this technology to help you take control of your energy consumption and save money – speak to your electricity retailer, or speak to us at Bulk Energy to find out more.