It seems like the Australian electricity industry is about to go crazy over smart meters. So far, only the Victorian have it in any great numbers, but the big retailers are making a big push for smart meters to be installed across the country.
It’s a rollout that will likely cost billions of dollars. And some say it is a risky investment because the like he massive investment in poles and wires that has preceded it, and pushed up consumer prices, it could be made quickly redundant by competing technologies.
The utilities – network providers and retailers – are keen for smart meters, with the industry lobby group ESAA being particularly supportive? Why would that be? For some, it is about locking in customers in an industry that is facing increasing competition from new technologies and service providers that are finding ways around, and through, decades-old business models.
Smart meters have been hailed as one of the paths to the new energy economy – providing a critical link in the new smart grids” that will enable electricity to flow in different directions, and match and pair supply and demand, allow for new tariffs, and to co-ordinate the use of efficient appliances.
The problem is, however, that they are expensive. And can be even more so.
The Victoria rollout has been costly to network operators such as SP Ausnet. The cost of installation has more than doubled to $686 million (they used different technology than the others), and they are trying to get permission to pass on these costs to consume. Laughably, one third of their smart meters cannot be read remotely.
Worse, the smart meters are already being undercut by new technology which comes at a fraction of the cost, and does not need the utility company – be it a retailer or a network provider – to install it.
Ironically, this move is being driven by the tariff structures that are encouraging customers to consume as much of the output of their rooftop solar systems as they can. The more they try to consume, the more they find they can.
When you are being asked to pay 53c/kWh to consumer electricity from the grid in the afternoon, and getting paid between 2c and 8c/kWh for exports, it’s a bit of a no brainer to put the electricity in a box and store it for use at night – or direct it to other gadgets and appliances through the day.
And this is one way of how they are doing it.
It is an example of the simple electronic devices that can be bought for next to nothing, and which can communicate with an inverter, and other appliances, and can act as a glorified time switch. In other words, it can do much of what a smart meter can do, without locking in consumers to the commercial infrastructure of the utilities.
The incumbents are aghast, and is yet another example of how it will be software and gadgets that deliver the final blow to inflexible business models already weakened by the prospect of rooftop solar and battery storage.
That means it can be used to drive a pool pump, air conditioning or a second fridge. It can do that with “rogue” systems that are not tied to the grid, or it can time them to be used when a connected system is producing electricity.
It can switch off when tariffs from the grid get too high – so rather than running an air conditioning systems at peak time it will turn them on at other times.
The USB ports allow them to talk to the air-conditioning without a centralized control. And it can talk to the solar system. It knows how much sun it is getting, it is aware of the tariffs on offer for imports and exports. I can time energy intensive appliances such as pool pumps to suit
What’s more, through the cloud, it can even find out predictions for sunshine and tariffs and demand management.
And of this from a $50 piece of equipment that can be installed by an electrician and has nothing to do with network operators, retailers or even regulators and policy makers. That is the challenge for the incumbents right now, and why they might be risking another few hundred million investing in smart meters which have already been made redundant by rapidly evolving technology.
“The smart meter boat has sailed – we thought it was going to be the centre of our customer universe,” noted one utility executive. Not any more.
(Note: The original article was lost, as were the comments. This is the best way we could retrieve them).
Arduino is a rocking good platform for all this magic, though there is a fair bit of other stuff needed to make it all roll.
This is something I’ve been working on for over 6 years now withsmartenergygroups.com, which uses Arduino at the heart of an open source hardware energy management platform.
This may be of some interest to people reading this!
8:21 p.m., Thursday Oct. 9