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Smart meters: You may already have one installed in your home

Smart meters provide a more detailed breakdown of your electricity usage. Here's how they work.

What is a smart meter? Learn more
Will a smart meter save me money? Learn more

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Smart meters have become the default for new meters being installed Australia-wide, and you may already have one in your home.

This guide will take you through all you need to know about smart meters, including:

What is a smart meter?

You're probably already familiar with a normal or analogue electricity meter: a device that measures the flow of power in and out of your house.

A smart meter is simply a more advanced digital meter, which takes power readings every 30 minutes and sends that information on to your energy provider.

This communication with your provider is the biggest difference between "smart" and other "digital" meters since it removes the need for anyone to visit your property to read it manually.

As of December 2017, all meters being installed in new houses or to replace existing ones are smart meters.

What are the benefits of smart meters?

Smart meters offer a few additional advantages over older versions, though they fulfill all the old functions, too.

  • Extra detail. Smart meters offer more detailed information on energy consumption and solar export data, which can aid your home's power efficiency.
  • Remote access. They can be disconnected and connected without a technician on site, making it easier to switch providers.
  • Additional plans/options. Certain energy tariffs (like time of use) or special pricing from energy companies will require a smart meter for you to take advantage of them.
  • Battery/solar design. The usage data from a smart meter can potentially help you if you're designing a solar power system for your house or working out a battery-storage array.
  • Future uses. A smart meter may let you take part in an energy-trading scheme if these are implemented in Australia in the future.

Will a smart meter save me money?

In short, yes. There are two main ways you could benefit from the extra information that a smart meter provides.

Monitor your energy use before the bill period ends

A smart meter lets you analyse how much power you use, and when. This can help you see if you are using energy efficiently or if you are using too much energy.

You can get access to a "time-of-use" plan

A time of use tariff is where energy is more expensive during peak periods (for example, in the evening when most people are at home) but cheaper otherwise. You'll need a smart meter to access this plan.

Time of use tariffs may be best for those who:

  • Are frequently out in the evening during weekdays
  • Are at home during the day or on weekends
  • Mostly use appliances on weekends
Note: Time of use tariffs can be more expensive

Finder's own analysis has found that time of use tariffs only start to win out over single rate plans when less than 20% of your energy usage is during peak periods. Keep in mind that this study was an estimate, and that your actual usage could be favourable for a time-of-use plan (for example, if the hot water is heated during off-peak periods).

Solar and battery analysis

Picking the right solar system and battery storage unit for your house is a difficult process. Usage charts from a smart meter lets you size up your consumption and see how much solar power you may require.

Smart meters aren't enough by themselves though as they only show net flow of power, not how much solar energy you've generated. It may be more effective if you pair it with data from a solar inverter or other sources.

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How do I read a smart meter?

Unlike traditional meters, you can't get a reading by looking at the meter itself. Instead, you have a couple of options:

  • Visit your retailer's site. You can log in to your energy retailer's website and see the detailed data from your smart meter.
  • Invest in an in-home display. In-home displays pair up with your smart meter to offer up all the same information you'd get from your retailer's website, but in a more accessible form. Some in-home displays have extra features, like alerts and usage warnings, which can help drive down energy use.

Getting a smart meter

It's much harder not to get a smart meter than it is to get one. Since December 2017, they are the default to be installed in the following situations:

  • You take out a plan with a retailer that requires a smart meter.
  • Your current meter needs replacing.
  • You have a new home with a similarly new connection point.
  • You specifically request a smart meter from your retailer.

What if I don't want a smart meter?

You can only refuse a smart meter if your current meter is functioning properly. If it's faulty or at the end of its functioning lifespan, you will have to accept a smart meter. Your retailer is required to notify you of your ability to opt out at least a couple of times.

Costs of a smart meter

Although you may not have to pay straight up for your smart meter to be installed, you're likely to end up paying something extra. Smart meters cost your retailer a certain amount of money to install and maintain, and the majority will pass the cost on to you in some form. This may either come as a one-off charge in your next bill or be incorporated into your electricity supply charge.

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