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As I write, it’s about a month since I launched our report Smart electricity meters: How households and the environment can benefit. A lot of debate about smart meters has been spurred by the release of my report, and for this I am grateful. For example, Marlborough Grey Power wants the ‘so-called smart electricity meters to be just that before they are introduced’ (Marlborough Express, 21 July 2009).
It would be fair to say that until now most New Zealanders had no idea that these new electricity meters were likely to be installed in their homes within three years. And they certainly would not have understood the range of benefits the meters could provide; to themselves, the environment and power companies.
Some in the sector have commented that I am asking them to be ahead of the game – and that the technology is not yet ready to adopt. This was probably true for the ten percent of customers, who have already had a ‘dumb’ smart meter, but the technology has changed since those initial meters were installed and the current roll-out should recognise this.
My real concern is not with what has already happened – but what lies ahead. In three years more than half of New Zealand houses will have these ‘dumb’ meters installed, based on current plans. Consumers are out of the loop in terms of how they could benefit, should these meters be fully functional at time of installation, and will pay the price for retrofitting. If householders can reduce their consumption, especially at peak times, this will benefit the environment.
I have just returned from a very worthwhile trip to Southland, learning about some of the region’s environmental issues (see photo: Jan chatting with Environment Southland and DOC staff at the Awarua wetlands). It proved to me that a greater sharing of ideas between regions on how to deal with environmental problems would help boost New Zealand’s environmental performance. I was particularly interested in learning more about the challenge presented by wilding pines. One of the recommendations from my report on tenure review was to boost spending on controlling these trees. The visit confirmed for me just how important that it is for the future for the region.
My thanks to the Environment Southland team for hosting me for such a rewarding experience.