What about smart meters?

A smart meter (also known as an advanced meter or 'type 4' meter) measures both when and how much electricity is used at your premises. Most households in Victoria already have a smart meter, and they are being progressively rolled out across other parts of Australia. In general, whenever an old meter needs to be replaced, it will be replaced with a smart meter.

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What can a smart meter actually do?

Smart meters record your consumption data by time, and send this information back to your energy distributor and retailer wirelessly in the form of kWh consumption per 30 minute time block. It's also possible to use a device with your smart meter to provide yourself with more detailed time based consumption information using data collected directly from your local meter device.

Smart meters can also do other things remotely, like allow the electricity supply to be remotely switched on and off without the need for a field technician, measure the power quality at your premises and automatically notify your electricity distributor when there's a power outage at your location.

What are the benefits of getting a smart meter?

The key benefits to having a smart meter are:

  • Smart meters are required for key new energy products and services, including solar and battery storage systems
  • A smart meter can be read remotely via a wireless network, which means you can move to monthly billing rather than quarterly. Many of the most competitively priced plans require monthly billing, which is understandable since monthly billing improves cash flow for the retailer. Better cash flow is one of the things that makes it possible for them to offer the very best available prices.
  • A smart meter gives you more freedom to switch to a better priced plan whenever you like. A meter reading must be performed every time you switch so your old retailer can close off your account, and your new retailer can start. With a smart meter, this can occur right away. With a manual meter, you need to wait for the next meter read before your switch can be activated, which could be as long as three months. 
  • A smart meter supports time-of-use tariffs, so there's potential to take advantage of plans that offer cheaper pricing during off-peak times, and there's also opportunity to explore 'demand shifting' where its possible to gain benefit by moving your consumption into off-peak hours where possible - eg by running washing machine at night etc.
  • A smart meter is a source of detailed information about your energy use. This information can help you understand and adjust your usage or find the best deal for you.
  • A smart meter allows electricity distributors to detect outages more quickly and monitor the quality of your electricity supply. This will help to minimise the number and length of electricity supply outages.

How do I get a smart meter?

Some retailers offer energy plans that require a smart meter to be installed. Some of these retailers include a free smart meter upgrade when you take up their plans. 

If your current meter is faulty or at the end of its life and needs replacing, then the replacement meter will be a smart meter, even if the original meter was a manual meter.

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 same limits apply to things like mobile and cordless phones, Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors.

Smart meters use a low-power networking system called Zigbee - they are considerable lower power than a mobile phone.

For more information, see ARPANSA's webpage on smart meters and health.

Will I have to pay for a smart meter?

Different retailers may take different approaches to how they charge you for a new meter. They may charge you a lump sum which could appear in your next bill or they may choose to charge you a monthly fee. This fee should appear on your bill as well. Retailers may also decide to absorb the cost of providing new meters to customers as part of the electricity usage charges.

In general, where the retailer is paying for the installation costs, this usually applies only to standard install costs - if you require additional works such as rewiring, or asbestos removal from your meter enclosure, those additional works would be charged for.

The retailer must disclose any upfront costs to you before they install the new meter.

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