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Smart meters 101 - Everything you need to know

Have you been wondering what a smart energy meter is and how it can impact your electricity bills? While it may seem a bit confusing at first, smart meter technology is quite useful and can help you manage your energy account better. In this digital meter guide, we've got answers for some of the most frequently asked questions about the technology so you can understand exactly what to expect from a digital billing cycle.

What is a smart meter?

In simple words, a smart or digital meter is a device that uses the latest technology to measure and record your electricity usage in regular intervals of at least half an hour. One of the best features of a smart meter is that it automatically sends electronic meter readings to your energy provider. This means that there’s no need for someone to physically visit your property’s meter, thereby eliminating the risk of erroneous or estimated readings.

If you can manage your energy account online, you should also be able to access real-time data on your energy consumption and the related cost. Or, you could get an in-home display installed in your house to view your electricity usage information over a wireless connection.

How is a smart meter different from a traditional electricity meter?

Unlike a smart meter, which can give both you and your electricity provider up-to-date information about your energy usage and costs, a traditional electricity meter only records the amount of electricity that has passed through it. So, with a traditional meter, all you can tell about your electricity consumption is how much energy you have used since someone last read the meter.

What are the advantages of having a smart meter?

Smart meters have multiple advantages including:

  • Your meter reading is not subject to human error or accessibility issues. For example, you won’t end up overpaying based on ‘estimated’ bills just because meter readers were unable to access your property.
  • It’s easier to disconnect the energy supply if you move out of your home and reconnect when someone else moves in.
  • Smart meters can directly alert your electricity distributor if a property has power issues. Such outage notifications can speed up power reconnection as the cause and source of the problem can be detected instantly.
  • You will have more control over real-time information about your electricity consumption patterns and you can accordingly adjust your usage if necessary.
  • Can take advantage of a flexible pricing plan, which charges you different rates for different times of the day. This means you can have the option of reducing your electricity cost by using appliances that use a lot of energy during off-peak hours.

Are there any disadvantages to smart meters?

Smart meters use short bursts of radio waves or low level radio-frequency electromagnetic energy (EME) to communicate your meter reading to your provider. One of the main concerns around smart meters has be regarding the health issues related to these EMEs. According to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), there is no established scientific evidence that the low level RF EME exposure from digital meters causes any health effects. Head to ARPANSA website to read in more detail about the health effects of digital meters.

Another concern with regard to the use of smart meters in Australia has been based on the breach of privacy. Smart meters have access to real time data about a household’s energy usage, which means they can capture information about the activity inside the home including which appliances are used at what time and for how long on a regular basis. This detailed data can generate a lot of information about the lives and habits of the residents. If the distributors share this information with a third party without the customer’s knowledge, it could lead to a breach of privacy. While the government generally requires distributors and retailers to obtain the customer’s consent before sharing any personal information, there are certain exceptions to this rule that you should make yourself aware of.

Will my electricity bills be lower with a smart meter?

While a smart meter itself can’t lower your energy bills, having access to more real-time data can help you manage your account better. You can actively track how much energy you are spending at different times of the day and through the year, which can then help you plan your energy usage patterns more efficiently. In general, digital meters should also lead to more flexible billing and pricing options in the future.

What is a flexible pricing plan?

One of the benefits of having a smart meter installed is that you can opt for a flexible pricing plan. A flexible pricing plan or time of use tariff means that you will be charged different rates for using electricity during peak, shoulder and off peak time slots. According to this plan, you will have to pay higher rates for using electricity at peak times, lower rates during the shoulder period and the lowest rate at off-peak times. This plan works best for people who regularly use electricity in non-peak times, or have the option to change their energy usage behaviour to non-peak periods.

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

Yes, you can switch your energy provider if you have a digital meter. In fact, switching becomes easier and faster because with a digital meter since you’ll have access to real-time data, you won’t need to wait for your next meter reading before the switch can be finalised. 

When will my property get a smart meter?

Currently, in Australia, different states and energy providers have different policies for installing smart meters. For example, while Victoria has completed the mandatory rollout of over two million digital meters across the state, NSW and other states are giving residents the choice of whether they want a smart meter installed at their property or not. Some energy retailers are working to replace traditional meters with smart meters, while others are currently only focusing on installing digital meters in new buildings or when old meters need replacement.

Who pays for the digital meter?

Just the way you are paying for the maintenance of your traditional meter, you will also have to pay for your digital meter. The electricity meter is owned by your electricity distributor who recovers the cost over time through your retailer. In short, the charges for installing and maintaining the digital meter is recovered through your electricity bill over time.

Do smart meters work with solar energy?

Your smart meter should be compatible with rooftop solar panels as well. Digital meters can calculate the electricity you send to the grid to ensure you are reimbursed for any applicable feed-in tariffs.

Not sure what all this energy terminology means? Then learn the lingo with Mozo's energy jargon buster.

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Cooper Langby
Cooper Langby
Money writer

Cooper writes across all aspects of personal finance here at Mozo. With a double degree in Journalism and Communications & Media from the University of Wollongong, Cooper has previously written sports content for the Fansided network. He is now turning his focus to finances and is always looking for new ways to educate himself and our readers on the best ways to save money, and budget effectively.