The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) today released a directions paper with recommendations and options aimed at accelerating the rollout of smart meters for households and small businesses and setting a vital tool in place for the smarter grid of the future.

Smart meters are digital devices that replace older accumulation meters. They accurately measure electricity usage and power quality and can share information wirelessly and more quickly to energy consumers, retailers and distributors. 

“Consumer awareness of smart meters remains low and research we commissioned has found it likely that one-third of people who have a smart meter are unaware it exists, let alone getting any benefits from the data,” AEMC Chair Anna Collyer said.

“At a community level, smart meters are a crucial enabling tool for the reforms we all need to decarbonise the grid. They are a gateway to enabling a more dynamic and flexible market – where energy is traded both ways and consumers – and the grid – can harness the power of distributed energy resources like rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles.

"We need the aggregated data that sufficient numbers of smart meters could provide on usage and power quality before we can really rely fully on these resources to power the grid.

This paper we’re releasing today is designed to kickstart discussion on what could be achieved for consumers and the community if smart meter installation reached, for instance, 50% of all premises, and how the regulatory framework can enable that growth.”

The directions paper contains a number of recommendations to make the smart meter installation process more efficient, improve the customer experience, and improve smart meter takeup. These include requiring retailers to give consumers information before smart meters are installed, requiring them to install smart meters when consumers request them and reducing delays in replacing meters.  

Smart meters aren’t a new technology, but their potential benefits remain largely unrealised for homes, businesses and the grid because the rollout so far had been slower than expected. Victoria made smart meters mandatory in 2011 but in NSW, ACT, Queensland and South Australia only 25% of premises has a smart meter while Tasmania is slightly higher at 35%.

Consumers with a smart meter and retailer phone app can see their actual power use in 30-minute increments and with that knowledge it’s far easier to make power-saving decisions or to choose a retailer with time-of-use tariffs that suit their family or business usage patterns. 

Other potential benefits of more consumers having smart meter access include:

  • eliminating estimated bills and greater understanding and control of home and business power use
  • developing more innovative and user-friendly portals and apps to allow, for instance, remote control of individual appliances or instant access to more flexible time-of-use electricity plans as family or business needs change
  • creating virtual power plants where neighbourhoods could trade rooftop solar power and other stored energy
  • remotely identifying outages or impending power supply problems like risk of electric shock that can be repaired faster and without needing consumers to  discover and report the issue. 

Potential benefits for the future electricity grid include:

  • sharing power quality data with distributors to help manage supply and reduce spending needed on expensive poles and wires
  • instant notification of outages leading to faster responses and identification of system issues
  • capacity to ‘read’ electricity demand in real time and instantly match it to supply across the ever-widening range of energy generation types powering our decarbonised electricity grid

The directions paper will be open to submissions and discussion for the next six weeks, with a draft report later this year and a final report early in 2022.