What are smart meters?
An electricity meter will help you keep track of what power you are using. There are now various models of electricity meters that can be installed at your house. If you are confused as to what type of meter you already have, check with your retailer.
An analogue meter (sometimes referred to as a legacy meter), is the traditional meter that requires a meter reader to come to your house to record the amount of electricity you have used since the last time it was read.
Smart meters go the extra step in helping you keep track of how much electricity your household is actually using. Unlike an analogue meter, a smart meter records your electricity use at half hourly intervals, and sends the data daily to your retailer using similar technology to text messages or a radio network.
This page contains answers to some of the commonly asked questions about smart meters.
Smart meters are typically installed in the same place as the old analogue meter and are usually located on an exterior wall of your house.
Some retailers provide online services that tell you instantly if you have a smart meter. You just need to type in your address on their website.
Your connection data (which tells you the type of meter you have at your property among other things) is available at My meter.
1,516,327 smart meters have been installed into residential homes, which is 83 % of all NZ residential connections.
The first benefit of having a smart meter is an accurate electricity bill. With older analogue meters, your retailer would frequently read your meter every three or four months, and estimate your bill rather than sending a meter reader to your house every month.
Some retailers offer online forecasts of what your electricity bill will look like, based on the data your smart meter records. This means that when it comes to paying your bill, you know how much it is likely to be.
For example, if your hot water cylinder has been turned off to reduce peak loads on the network, your smart meter will ensure you are charged the correct amount and given the appropriate discount for allowing your hot water cylinder to be controlled.
Retailers are also introducing an increasing range of time-of-use tariffs, where the cost of electricity varies depending on the time of day. If you have a smart meter you will be able to choose to schedule things like your dishwasher and washing machine for times when you pay less for your electricity, knowing the meter will accurately record your consumption during these low cost periods. You may also benefit from ‘daily free hour of power’ deals which some retailers are now offering.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says: Smart meters are a technological solution that could lead to more efficient use of electricity in New Zealand households. By using electricity more efficiently, reducing consumption and peak demand, carbon dioxide emissions and other environmental impacts will be reduced.
There are two different ways a smart meter can transfer your data back to your retailer.
- A smart meter can communicate with your retailer by using the same network as cellphones (called GPRS). It does this by sending ‘handshakes’ throughout the day and usually an end of day meter reading. They are called handshake signals because they send their signals back intermittently and very briefly to confirm they are still functioning. The total time of the handshake and meter reading connectivity adds up to less than one minute per day.
- Smart meters can also communicate by using radio (called radio mesh) to bounce your data from meter to meter and then to an aggregation point, which is typically mounted on a power pole. Once the data reaches the aggregation point, it’s relayed back to the retailer. Sometimes these radio waves are referred to as “point to many”, as your data transfers through different connection points on its way to your retailer.
Your data is always encrypted and undecipherable when it’s in transit on both the cellphone and the radio networks.
How smart meters work
All electricity participants are bound by the Privacy Act 1993 and will keep your personal information securely. The Privacy Act applies to all personal information and companies should only use that information for the purpose for which it was collected.
Companies can only match up the smart meter data with the name on the account during their back office processes. Data in your smart meter does not contain your name or address, and data that is travelling to your electricity retailer is encrypted so that your consumption information is secure.
The data transmitted from your smart meter back to your retailer is typically delivered via the metering equipment provider (MEP). An MEP is like a middle person and they only transfer your usage statistics and your Installation Control Point (ICP) identifier. Your ICP identifier is like a barcode that identifies your connection point. The ICP identifier does not contain your name or personal details; it just acts as reference to your location on the network to which your premises is connected.
MEPs can only disclose meter data to the account holder or persons authorised by the account holder. Once your retailer has received your data, they match your ICP identifier to your account details and record your electricity usage on your account.
Your data is protected in three ways.
- Data travelling from your smart meter to your retailer is encrypted to ensure the security of your information.
- All electricity industry participants are bound by the Privacy Act 1993.
- The Electricity Industry Participation Code 2010 requires the metering equipment provider to protect your consumption information, ensuring only you or persons authorised by you have access to your meter data.
No, retailers are required to provide an accurate meter in your home, but aren’t required to install smart meters. They may choose to offer you a smart meter.
Many retailers do prefer their customers to have smart meters installed as it enables them to provide regular power consumption information, offer time of use plans, and provide accurate billing for their customers.
Your electricity retailer uses your meter to tell them how much they should be charging you for your electricity bill. With a smart meter, your retailer can calculate the exact amount you use, rather than having to estimate your usage or sending a meter reader regularly to your property.
Data from your meter can also help retailers offer you electricity plans that are more suited to your needs. Your personal electricity usage data is available to you and anyone you have asked to help you decide which electricity plan is best for your household. Your smart meter records your consumption data and will show you what time of the day you are using your electricity the most.
Most retailers prefer you have a smart meter installed on your property, as it improves the accuracy of customer invoices, reduces the need for meter reading, and provides the customer with access to different electricity plans that they offer.
Smart meters won’t cost you more than your old analogue meter and retailers usually combine this charge into a tiny portion of your overall electricity bill.
If you have any questions, talk to your retailer first.
Smart meters use networks similar to a cellphone, and a smart meter transmits data a lot less frequently than a cellphone.
There are two types of networks that smart meters can use. One is the standard mobile phone network, which means these types of smart meters send metering data once daily.
The other type of network is a radio mesh network, which uses smart meters to bounce data from one meter to the other until it reaches a control point. These types of meters still only operate intermittently.
- Your smart meter emits a signal for very short periods of time. Normally it only transmits for a few minutes each day.
- The smart meter operates at low power, similar to that of a mobile phone or WiFi router.
- Usually your smart meter is on the outside of your house which means the radio signal levels tend to be low inside the house.
The maximum exposure from radio frequency radiation from a smart meter has been measured at one five hundredth of the allowed limit for New Zealand. These standards are set by the Ministry of Health in the Interagency Ministerial report on radio frequency fields. The Ministry also has information on smart meters on their website.
The amount of exposure to radiation from a smart meter would still be extremely low compared to the New Zealand limits, even if the meter is installed inside the house. This means that smart meter radio frequency radiation is much lower than the limit set in the New Zealand Standard, which is more than 50 times lower than the recognised threshold for effects.
Smart meters also use very little power when they transmit your electricity data because their transmission times are intermittent and only add up to about one minute per day.
The Ministry of Health says: The rules in NZ for public exposures are set at levels more than 50 times lower than the recognised threshold for established effects. Exposures to radio frequency radiation from a smart meter are very low in comparison to the limits set out in the New Zealand radio frequency exposure standard.
- Sometimes smart meters are called Advanced Metering Infrastructure or AMI— they are essentially the same thing. Your retailer is required to provide a working, accurate and certified meter for your property.
- If you are moving house; your meter stays at your old property and you take over the meter at your new property.
- Smart meters make switching retailers easier as you don’t have to wait for a meter reader to come to your property in order for your retailer to provide a final bill.
The Authority regulates the standards, installation, testing, accuracy, reading and data security requirements for meters. There are strict requirements set out by the Authority to ensure meters remain accurate during their life cycle and the more granular data from smart meters remains confidential.