I am writing in response to your article (8 July 2009) regarding my report, Smart electricity meters: How households and the environment can benefit.
It is certainly true to say that three years ago, when the roll-out of smart meters started in New Zealand, there was no commonly agreed technology standards. However, as with most technology, things change quickly. Internationally, the technology does now appear to be converging to a common industry standard – a wireless network with open access protocol, ZigBee. Victoria (Australia) is investing in this technology as are the big utilities in California, for example.
I would also note that technology based on open access standards does not necessarily become obsolete. A good example is the internet where the underlying standards developed in the early 1980s are still used today. Another example is wi-fi, which is an open access standard for wireless internet. Although the wi-fi standards have changed over time, the new standards are “backwards compatible” meaning newer devices can still talk to older ones.
The issue that remains of considerable concern to me is that in three years more than half of New Zealand's houses will have these ‘dumb’ meters installed, based on current plans. Ten percent already do. But consumers are out of the loop in terms of how they could benefit if these meters are fully functional at time of installation. If householders can reduce their consumption, especially at peak times, this will benefit the environment.
HAN technology currently available does allow a smart meter to communicate with an in-home display. Overseas results suggest at least a 5 percent reduction in electricity consumption can be made by householders through the reminder of an in-home display; even greater savings are likely once smart appliances and "smart pricing" come online. You can download our report at www.pce.parliament.nz.
Dr Jan Wright
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment