On 26 May 2013, an inaugural public information meeting was held in Hobart about the proposed Tasmanian Government’s introduction of a smart electricity grid throughout the state.
Central to the government’s proposal is the replacement of the existing analogue power meters with so called “smart meters” that wirelessly transmit energy usage back to the utility and give the consumer ‘real-time’ data on their energy usage. No longer will the energy provider need to employ meter readers to physically go from house to house to record electricity use – it will all be done wirelessly.
The organizers of the May 26 public meeting were concerned that the people of Tasmania were not receiving balanced information on the extent of claimed benefits and the pitfalls of introducing a smart grid in the state. This imbalance is illustrated in the Tasmanian government’s November 2012 information paper, Electricity Smart Networks which paints a glowing future for a rollout of an integrated smart grid throughout Tasmania.
While the government’s report focused on supposed benefits of a Tasmania smart grid, no mention was made of the many problems encountered with a similar rollout in Victoria.
One of a number of problems seen in the Victorian smart meter rollout is the importance of where the smart meter is placed. The Victorian experience shows that when a smart meter is placed externally on a bedroom wall, the frequent radiofrequency transmissions (up to 190,000 times daily) can affect sleep patterns resulting in insomnia, tinnitus and other health problems.
Therefore, at the very least, the location of a smart meter needs to be taken into account in any proposed rollout of the technology in Tasmania. This currently is not being done, with any possible problems with the rollout of a smart grid in Tasmania being ignored by those promoting the technology in the state.
On May 24, 2013, on the eve of the Hobart public meeting on a possible smart meter rollout in Tasmania, this writer received a letter from Bryan Green the Deputy Premier and Minister of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources for Tasmania.
In that letter Mr. Green claimed that “Aurora does not currently have any plans for a large-scale smart meter infrastructure roll-out across Tasmania” and that according to the latest Federal Govt. report, The Power of Choice review by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AMEC), the future smart meter roll-out would likely become market driven, meaning that “a residential customer would only receive a smart meter if that customer explicitly requests a smart meter”.
However, read the fine print
It would be understandable if the reader at this point thought that there was no issue for the concerned public. If you have concerns over possible problems with having a smart meter installed on your home (or business premises) just don’t request one and you will not get one!
However, reading through AMEC’s Power of Choice review, which is the master blueprint for the future roll-out of a smart grid nationally, there are defined exceptions to Mr. Green’s claim. These exceptions are defined as:
“The rules provide that more advanced technology be used and installed in defined situations (ie new connections, refurbishments and replacements.) These would also be as per the SCER minimum functionally specification for smart meters.”
What this means is that all new buildings will get a smart meter. If you are planning renovations to your existing home that require changes to the wiring, which will need an Aurora safety inspection, Aurora will install a new electronic meter which meets “the minimum functionally specification for smart meters”. You will not be given the option of an analogue (non-smart) meter, which Aurora will no longer have in stock. In addition there is also the planned replacement of all analogue meters statewide. The new electricity meter will be a smart meter or an electronic meter capable of being upgraded to a fully functioning smart meter by simply inserting a chip. Just like the Tasmanian Devil, the analogue electricity meter now is looking like an endangered species!
Where does this put Mr. Green’s claim of having to explicitly request a smart meter if you want one?
However, if you do not want your existing electricity meter being replaced with a smart meter, better advice would be to securely lock up your meter box with a window in the meter box door to allow the reading of the meters without having to unlock the meter box. If your electricity provider requests access to the meter, make sure that they do not install a new smart meter without your permission. If you are building a new home, ensure that the new electricity smart meter is located well away from bedroom areas, preferably on an outbuilding, such as a detached garage.
As for Mr. Green’s claim that Aurora does not have any plans for a large-scale rollout across Tasmania, this does not ring true when comparing this claim to the government’s November 2012 report Electricity Smart Networks. To excerpt from that report:
The Tasmanian Government is working towards a major reform of the Tasmanian electricity industry, which will provide all Tasmanians electricity customers with a choice of the retailer for their electricity. The reforms will put downward pressure on prices and will also open up the market to longer term non-price benefits such as greater choices in products tailored to suit customer needs and improved service standards… A smart network would be a platform technology that supports customer engagement in the electricity market, moving the entire philosophy of the industry from a supply-side model to a model where customers can actively participate by making informed decisions about their electricity use…Continuing to move to a smart networking approach will build on the Governments’ electricity business’ work to date… the government’s intention to merge the transmission and distribution businesses provides the opportunity in Tasmania for end-to-end smart network solutions, which will further enhance the benefits of smart networking in Tasmania.
Plans for a rollout of a smart grid and smart meters in Tasmania is also seen in the state government’s report, Tasmanian Infrastructure Strategy Implementation Report (February 2013), where it is stated on page 5:
Help consumers to better manage their energy consumption, eg. through the availability of smart meters and smart grid technology.
If it is currently the case that the Government’s plans for a smart grid, using wireless smart meters, is unfunded, before rushing ahead it would be advisable to consider the Queensland just released discussion paper for a 30-year strategic plan for its own electricity policy.
This paper, which is open to feedback until 6 December 2013, acknowledges the problems encountered in Victoria, such as cost blowouts and concerns over the type of wireless communication used. As a result of these concerns the Qld. government is considering the use of different smart meters other than the wireless communications ones being used in Victoria. On page 21 of its supporting materials paper, it states:
Other consumers oppose smart metering on the assumption that the communication technologies used in Victoria will be adopted here. This is not necessarily the case. Alternative technologies using existing electricity infrastructure and broadband internet are showing excellent potential to deliver the same results.
So, what is the future for a smart grid in Tasmania? Will our state govt. repeat some of the mistakes encountered by Victoria or will it take advantage of hard lessons learned and make truly smart decisions for Tasmania’s energy future?
Time will tell……….
Don Maisch been directly involved in telecommunications standard setting since the early 1990s, initially with the Australian Democrats and later as a member of a Standards Australia Committee setting human exposure standards for telecommunications electromagnetic fields. From 2004 to 2009 he was enrolled in a PhD research program at the University of Wollongong with his of area of research examining industry influence and bias in telecommunications health risk assessment as used for setting human exposure standards. He has written a wide range of of papers examining both the health impacts and industry influence in this area. HIs thesis is available at: http://www.emfacts.com/download/The_Procrustean_Approach.pdf He maintains an extensive website: http://www.emfacts.com/papers/ and blog: http://www.emfacts.com/
Don Maisch PhD