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Modern technology allows consumers to save money on power bills, but NZ is lagging on the uptake


“It’s not only about the meter”, says the lead article in Smart Grid News. The current lead article in the online magazine reports on a national survey to determine what American consumers think about household energy management.

Here are some of the results:

  • Over 80% of respondents were very interested in learning how to cut their energy costs.

  • The same percentage were willing to pay $80-100 (US) one-off for cost-saving equipment if they were guaranteed to save 10-30% of their electricity bills

  • Half were very interested in light-dimming systems if that could also save money

  • 15-20% of respondents were likely to sign up for time-of-use or demand-response programmes

These results reflect the promotion of smart homes and smart electricity grids in the US. ‘Smart’ technology helps people save on their power bills by adjusting their time of use to avoid peak times, because generation to meet highest peak demand is very expensive at around $1/kWh. Generation at peak demand also emits lots of carbon dioxide, and if peak demand gets too high companies have to cut off some consumers. Smart technology therefore not only lowers the cost to consumers, but also improves the security of electricity supply and reduces greenhouse emissions.

Until smart meters were developed, there was no way for consumers to know when flicking a switch cost a dollar per kWh because of high demand, or when it cost nothing at all. Now the technology exists, but it needs to be supported by smart tariffs, and by education on how to use the tariffs to save money while still meeting all household energy needs.

Australia began to introduce smart appliances over five years ago, initially in the state of Victoria. Victoria and New South Wales are now promoting demand-response tariffs and smart response tariffs, both to improve security of supply and to reduce climate-change impacts. Smart appliance developers promise lower energy costs with smart home automation.

New Zealand is seriously lagging. Meridian Energy’s metering business, Arc Innovation, told the Christchurch Press yesterday that “consumers may have to wait for years to get all the benefits of smart meter technology.”

One of their reasons was that there were no “smart appliances” for smart meters to “talk to”. A poor excuse – they have been available in Australia since at least 2002,  and some imported appliances actually have smart chips in them already.

The other reason given was that consumers may not want in-home displays of their power consumption. Simon Clarke, CEO of Arc Innovation already has a response, saying
“The HAN chip could easily be added to the units later at no cost to the customer, like the original units”.

“May not want” says more about the industry and government policy than about consumers. New Zealand’s electricity policies ignore environmental sustainability. Retailers have no incentive to help consumers gain more control over their energy costs.

Modern technology allows consumers to save money, makes supply more secure, and reduces greenhouse emissions. USA and Australia are moving forward and making this happen, but NZ is lagging behind. Surveys have shown that when consumers are educated, they are interested, and more likely to take action. Here in NZ, consumers are not in the driver’s seat because they know little about the issue, and therefore do not take action, to the detriment of our household electricity costs. Proposed changes to the Electricity Act would keep control more firmly in industry hands, but it has the potential to be in our hands as voters, if we take action.

Above: Examples of smart meters in Canada and Australia

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