Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Post # 11 - Smart Meter Problems Down Under

I meant to blog on this earlier, but the consumer resistance to smart meters that has arisen in the United States (see Post ## 6, 8) also is cropping up in other countries. A notable example recently occurred in Australia, where the government of Victoria – the nation’s second most populous state – has scrapped an ambitious plan to install smart meters in all 2.5 million Victorian homes and small businesses over the next four years.

Late last month, the state’s Energy Minister, in response to concerns that low income groups would be hit hard by higher electricity prices, announced an indefinite moratorium on the rollout. Critics had argued that by facilitating “time of use” pricing, smart meter installation would disproportionately affect the unemployed and the elderly (people who spend a lot of time in their homes). Moreover, some Australian critics have argued that smart meters let local power company shift the cost of overcompensating for peak demand to their less informed and less affluent users. See here and here.

These concerns go considerably beyond the issues raised in Texas and California about smart meter accuracy and privacy, but they clearly are part of the broader question of “consumer versus utility” smart meter benefits. Again, the utility company’s benefit is immediate: once a smart meter is installed at any home or facility, the utility enjoys from day one the benefits of reduced labor costs (no more meter readers going to the facility) and real-time access to that smart meter’s data feed. Conversely, and even putting aside the problem of “bugs” and “gremlins” that can be expected during the initial “shake-down” process for any new and sophisticated technology, the consumers’ benefits appear largely potential and dependent on consumer access to technologies such as smart appliances and the ability of individual consumer to become (in effect) professional energy traders on a small scale.

Given the necessarily intrusive nature of a smart meter at someone’s home, consumer resistance, as reflected in the Victoria moratorium, will likely remain a major feature of the landscape – and not just in Australia.

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