Element - - Finance -

Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy is us­ing Ad­vanced Me­ter­ing Ser­vices (AMS), a sub­sidiary of lines com­pany Vec­tor, to roll out more 500,000 smart me­ters to all its cus­tomer prop­er­ties. Other gen­er­a­tors own their own me­ter­ing com­pa­nies. Ge­n­e­sis spokesper­son Richard Gor­don says the AMS me­ters mea­sure the elec­tric­ity used ev­ery half hour, and send it as a packet of data once a day over the Voda­fone net­work.

Cus­tomers can go on­line to see how much they have been us­ing on a half hourly, hourly or monthly ba­sis, or down­load it into a graph or spread­sheet to do fur­ther anal­y­sis.

Gor­don says as the re­tailer with the largest num­ber of cus­tomers, Ge­n­e­sis wanted to cut down on the num­ber of man­ual reads.

Its pre­vi­ous prac­tice of billing on es­ti­mated use ev­ery sec­ond month was un­pop­u­lar with cus­tomers and deal­ing with com­plaints through the call cen­tre costs it money. “Hav­ing an ac­cu­rate bill ev­ery month has been very much ap­pre­ci­ated by cus­tomers,” he says.

The me­ters al­low Ge­n­e­sis to do re­mote con­nec­tion and dis­con­nec­tion, sav­ing on call outs. The data col­lected also helps with plan­ning. “The more data lines com­pa­nies have about their net­works, the bet­ter they are to fore­cast fu­ture load, cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture and so on,” Gor­don says.

He says the modems use the ZigBee wire­less data pro­to­col, so they can be up­graded to talk to a home area net­work.

“We are tri­al­ing a new home en­ergy man­age­ment sys­tem, HomeIQ, that con­nects to the me­ter so peo­ple can see the in­di­vid­ual ap­pli­ances against to­tal home us­age.

“The fu­ture is what you can do with the in­for­ma­tion you are get­ting and what tools you can give cus­tomers to use that in­for­ma­tion and make those sav­ings.”

The sys­tem is part of To­mor­row Street, a low en­ergy neigh­bour­hood on Auck­land’s North Shore, where typ­i­cal New Zealand vil­las were as­sessed through the Right­house sys­tem, for their en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. Ge­n­e­sis is work­ing with Pana­sonic, Ecospring and So­lar City to see how the smart me­ters can be used with its new fridges, hot wa­ter heat pumps and so­lar pan­els re­spec­tively to lower en­ergy con­sump­tion.

Gor­don says all ana­logue me­ters must be re­cer­ti­fied by 2015, which is cre­at­ing an in­cen­tive for re­place­ment with smart me­ters.

The prob­lem the par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sioner has pointed out is that many of these me­ters aren’t so smart.

Jan Wright says a monthly ‘post-con­sump­tion’ power bill is deeply un­in­for­ma­tive. “If my elec­tric­ity bill is lower this month, I do not know if this is be­cause I bought a more ef­fi­cient re­frig­er­a­tor, be­cause the weather was warmer, or be­cause the price had fallen.”

It has also been left to the com­pa­nies to choose the me­ters, and there are in­com­pat­i­ble sys­tems go­ing in which could lock cus­tomers in to par­tic­u­lar re­tail­ers.

The me­ters also only go one way, as op­posed to the op­por­tu­nity taken in other coun­tries to use smart me­ters to en­cour­age small scale gen­er­a­tion.

Ge­off Ber­tram from Vic­to­ria Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute for Gov­er­nance

and Pol­icy Stud­ies says there is no re­quire­ment on dis­trib­u­tors here to take power.

“In Tas­ma­nia you have power me­ters that let you go back­wards, so you get a credit on your power bill if you feed power into the grid,” he says.

While most power com­pa­nies will buy power back from mi­cro gen­er­a­tors, the price varies and of­ten change. Merid­ian will put in a sec­ond me­ter to al­low peo­ple who pro­duce power through sys­tems such as so­lar pho­to­voltaic cells to feed back in, and Contact En­ergy are also proac­tive on that score. En­ergy re­searcher Molly Mel­huish says that smart me­ters are of more use to con­sumers if they come with smart tar­iffs to re­ward the do­mes­tic con­sumer for mak­ing an ef­fort to use power more ef­fi­ciently.

“It’s also im­por­tant for do­mes­tic con­sumers is that smart me­ters should be read­able by any com­pany so they can switch power com­pa­nies,” Mel­huish says.

Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy is cur­rently run­ning two tri­als with West Auck­land and Christchurch cus­tomers of peak, off peak and shoul­der tar­iffs based on ad­vanced me­ter data.

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