Sunday, July 18, 2010

Post # 30 - More Smart Meter Problems Down Under

As discussed in Post # 11, in response to concerns that low income residents would suffer economically, the Australian state of Victoria last Spring declared a moratorium on its ambitious four-year plan to install smart meters in all 2.5 million Victorian homes and small businesses – or, more precisely, a moratorium on employing those meters in conjunction with “time of use” or dynamic pricing.

As with many smart meter critics in the United States, consumer groups in Australia argue that dynamic pricing – under which customers pay higher rates during peak demand periods and lower rates during low demand periods – will disproportionately affect the unemployed, the poor, and the elderly, who may be less able to reorder their energy usage or purchase expensive smart appliances that could facilitate more use of off-peak power.

Beyond those general concerns, the state’s opposition Liberal Party now says that Freedom of Information documents show that state Premier John Brumby (Labor Party) misled Victoria’s Auditor-General, who last November recommended delaying the project so the government could check whether electricity distributors had technology required to meet service specifications "prior to the further installation" of meters.

The Brumby administration accepted the recommendation and said work was "already under way." But last October, before the Auditor-General's report was released, Jemena, the large Australian energy infrastructure corporation, apparently wrote the Brumby administration that it could not meet the technology standards required for smart grid installation. Jemena told the state government that "there are no technologies available in the world today that can meet the current performance levels."

Liberal Party spokesman Michael O'Brien now says that the Brumby administration “persisted with the rollout, in clear breach of the commitment given to the Auditor-General and the people of Victoria." But Emma Tyner, a spokeswoman for Victoria’s Energy Minister Peter Batchelor, said Victoria's guidelines for smart meters had been carefully set "to meet the national standards, which were developed in consultation with market bodies and industry."

This new disclosure, involving technological concerns (and government response) rather than pricing policy, doesn’t directly address the debate over the pros and cons of dynamic pricing.
But it does show the potential for smart meters to propel themselves into the political arena in a highly visible (and contentious) manner as smart meters move from the drawing board to actual installation in voters’ homes. And, of course, not just in Australia.

For additional information on these latest “down under” developments, see here and here.

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