Make smart meters compulsory to bring bills down: new report
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Make smart meters compulsory to bring bills down: new report

Smart meters should be rolled out across the country by 2023 a new report has said, and its author has called for the ACT to play a leadership role in the push.

Smart electricity meters are only installed in about 30 per cent of Australian households, a figure that is labelled "embarrassing" by managing director of Canberra-based consulting group Delos Delta, Brook Dixon.

It's time to get on board with smart meters, and fast, a new discussion paper says.

It's time to get on board with smart meters, and fast, a new discussion paper says.Credit:Kenneth Cheung

"We've got a government at the moment that is determined to reduce electricity prices and we have before us the technology that can not only help us reduce electricity prices and reduce electricity consumption but it can also make our resource consumption decisions more informed," Mr Dixon said.

Unlike current meters, smart electricity meters can send information back to suppliers remotely, taking away the need for manual meter readings, and can also give householders information about how much energy they are using at specific times. The same technology exists for water and gas meters but is much less widely used or measured.

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Smart meter uptake in Australia has slowed significantly after Victoria's rollout was beset with problems, where an auditor-general's report found there was no overall benefit to consumers, but instead a likely cost of $319 million. Some Victorians who refused to take part in the rollout had concerns about their privacy, but Mr Dixon believes the technology has moved to the point where these concerns can be mitigated.

"There's no doubt about it that these systems and standards have only been strengthened over the last 10 to 15 years," he said.

"I would argue that some of those concerns about security and privacy have been overwhelmed and addressed with more sophisticated and serious security and privacy measures, so these concerns to my mind are low risks and are certainly outweighed by the broader benefits."

Installing smart meters would give people more control over their use and reduce the effect of bill shock, where utility bills arrive that are much higher than expected, the report from the smart cities experts said.

The report found that New Zealand had 73.1 per cent penetration of smart meters, while in the United States 51.8 per cent of households had smart electricity meters. China and Italy had some of the highest rates of smart meter use, at 96.5 per cent and 100 per cent respectively.

Australia's rollout of smart meters is uneven, with almost all of them concentrated in Victoria, where a compulsory rollout began in 2009.

"Australia is lagging significantly behind our peers around the world, our friends in New Zealand are a full 43 [percentage points] ahead of us on smart utility meter penetration," Mr Dixon said.

In the ACT in April last year there were just 3225 smart meters. The number is set to increase, under the federal government's power of choice reforms that came into effect on December 1 last year, all new and replacement electricity meters must be smart meters.

These reforms are too slow, Mr Dixon said, and while offering people incentives to change their meters was an option, it didn't go far enough.

"Ad hoc fragmented deployment of smart meters actually leads to a host of problems in terms of the efficiency of the rollout and policy certainty. Also a lot of the benefits of smart meters come from full penetration, where it's much easier to do the remote reading, you've got easier ability to collect that information and use it in beneficial ways," Mr Dixon said.

Mr Dixon, the former director of smart city and smart regulation for the ACT government, believes the territory government is in a unique position to push for change, even though much of the regulation is controlled at a federal level.

"They don't control the entire ecosystem, but they can take a leadership role to take the ecosystem along with you," he said.

"Having travelled the world as a Churchill Fellow I still believe that the ACT and Canberra is one of the smartest cities in the world and in that respect it is anomalous for us as a smart city and a smart territory and a smart government not to be pursuing a smart metering policy more aggressively from a leadership position rather than a reactive and passive position."