METERING THE MARKET
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.