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Debate rages as NSW mulls approaches to smart meter rollout

The New South Wales state government is moving towards the introduction of smart meters, but has ruled out a mandated approach, seeking to avoid the problems facing Victoria’s smart meter roll-out.

NSW Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher released a discussion paper from the Smart Meter Task Force, which examined various market-led approaches to the deployment of smart meters in the state.

According to Hartcher, customers need to be informed about smart meters, and be able to choose the smart meter services to be implemented at their homes, based on benefits for them.

The discussion paper cited the high cost to the state and to customers caused by Victoria’s mandated introduction of smart meters – thus far, the cost has blown up to more than $2.3 billion.

There are reservations about any introduction of smart meters, with some in doubt about whether smart meters pose much, if any, benefit to consumers.

Some of the more cynical claim that smart meters and their associated peak-pricing schemes are another way for utilities to tighten their control and charge more for electricity.

In addition to the non-mandated rollout approach, the discussion paper laid out a number of other key principles regarding smart meters.

These include a principle that consumers should not pay higher charges for smart meters, the role of the government in promoting smart meter knowledge.

The Smart Meter Task Force also said that the rollout of smart meters and time of use prices are not in themselves sufficient to drive significant demand reductions.

“Deeper, long-term cuts in demand require more active cooperation and partnering between retailers, networks and consumers,” the discussion paper stated.

Core debate

According to smart meter manufacturer Landis + Gyr CTO Dr Keith Torpy, while the company is an active proponent of smart meters, the debates thus far have failed to address the single most important question of what smart meters are.

“No one has really gone into the deep detail on what is a smart meter. Some people think it is just about time of use tariffs – but that is already available in existing units,” Dr Torpy told PACE.

“If the right functionality is used, the smart meter will become a very important part of the entire smart grid. It will not only be useful from a consumer angle for better control and interaction, but also allows for home energy management systems to be used efficiently,” he explained.

“It also gives utilities a chance to get more control over what they spend on infrastructure, and their dynamic OPEX spend, controlling costs and creating better visibility into investment and return.”

According to Dr Torpy, a real smart meter goes beyond time of use tariffs, into things like quality of supply monitoring, looking at harmonics, and is a small piece in the puzzle to better distribute the load across the entire grid.

“If they just dilute everything and just put an electronic meter that does time of use tariffs because of some political considerations, and call it a smart meter, then they are just losing the plot,” Dr Torpy said.

“The question needs to be asked: What does the smart meter really need to be to give these positives to the community, to the infrastructure, government and to us as a society to get predictable outcomes and good quality of life?”

A copy of the Smart Meter Task Force discussion paper can be downloaded here.

For an in-depth perspective on the smart grid issue, read the Electronics News feature on smart meters and smart grids. 

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