02 July 2009

Smart meters on the table for debate, says Commissioner

"I welcome the debate that my report into smart meters has generated," said Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

The Commissioner was commenting on the reaction to the release of her report last week, Smart electricity meters: How households and the environment can benefit. The report includes nine recommendations to Ministers, with the most important being the inclusion of technology in meters being rolled out around the country that will make them really smart meters.

Dr Wright's interest in smart meters is due to their potential for curbing growth in electricity consumption, especially at peak times, thus reducing carbon dioxide emissions and avoiding other environmental impacts from new power plants.

Since Dr Wright's report has been released, there has been much public comment, especially from a variety of organisations within the industry, including electricity retailers (Contact, Genesis, Mercury and Trustpower), lines companies (WEL Networks and Orion), and the Major Electricity Users Group.

"I note with interest that the Green Party is intending to draft a Private Members Bill on the issue. This will surely generate further discussion," commented Dr Wright.

"I was also very pleased to read the WEL Network announcement of the Smart Homes pilot project in Hamilton this week. The meters being put in the homes will include ZigBee computer chips and so will be truly smart."

Some commentators on the Commissioner's report have said that putting ZigBee chips in meters now is putting the cart before the horse because there are no smart appliances for sale yet in New Zealand.  But correspondence from Fisher & Paykel Appliances Ltd received by the Commissioner this week said:

"Had the technology been sorted out ten years ago, over 50 percent of the appliances in New Zealand homes would now be smart-grid compatible. Had it been in place even five years ago, virtually all domestic heat pumps would now be smart-grid compatible. We share the Commissioner's concern that the longer nothing happens the worse the situation will be."

"My concern is that many thousands of new meters are currently being installed in New Zealand households, and for a very small additional cost now, could be made really smart," concluded the Commissioner.