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Smart meters are advanced digital meters that can record your electricity use every 30 minutes, which means you can see both how much electricity you are using and when you are using it.
Smart meters can also measure the quality of the power at your property, and let the electricity distributor know if there is a power outage.
If you want a smart meter, contact an energy retailer – visit the Australian Government’s Energy Made Easy website to compare offers, including with smart meters, from energy retailers in South Australia.
Are smart meters compulsory?
Since 1 December 2017, new and replacement meters installed in homes and small business are smart meters.
You will get a smart meter if:
- your existing electricity meter is old or faulty and needs replacing
- there isn’t a meter at your property or the new meter is part of a new connection to the electricity network - eg if you are installing a solar photovoltaic system or building a new house.
If your existing meter is working and hasn’t reached the end of its functional life but your energy retailer wants to replace it anyway, you can say no to getting a new smart meter.
If you don't want a smart meter, the energy retailer can install one that doesn't have any communications functions so it can’t transmit data. Your retailer will send someone to your property to read the meter manually. However, as smart meters become more common, you may have to pay for manual meter readings.
Energy retailers may install your smart meter for free or as part of an energy offer. In some cases there may be a cost. Contact your energy retailer for information about your specific circumstances and to find the best deal for your needs.
- The improved technology offered by smart meters means you can track and manage your electricity use – the less electricity you use, the less you pay for.
- Having access to more accurate information about how you consume electricity will make it easier to shop around for the best electricity deal for your needs.
- Smart meters send your meter readings directly to your energy retailer, which means no one enters your property to read the meter.
- Remote readings mean your energy retailer can bill you on your actual electricity use rather than estimating your bills, which means you won’t have to worry about over-estimated bills or catch-up bills because of an under-estimated reading.
- Remotely connect the electricity supply when you move into a home, and disconnect it if you move out.
- Your retailer may be able to bill you more frequently but in smaller amounts (for example, monthly instead of quarterly), which may make it easier for you to manage your payments.
- Energy retailers may offer flexible pricing deals for people with smart meters, where you are charged different rates for using electricity at different times of the day. Shifting some of your electricity use to off-peak periods could help reduce your bills
- Smart meters can tell the electricity distributor if there is a problem with your electricity supply, for example, an outage or a quality issue that does things like make your lights flicker. Getting this information from your meter can help shorten the length of any outages.
How to read your smart meter
Your smart meter records the amount of electricity used in your property every 30 minutes and temporarily stores the information in its internal hard drive.
The meter has a display screen and a button you can press to see the information your meter collects. Your meter may also have a hot water boost button if you have an electric storage water heater, and a service port.
The type of information your smart meter will display when you press the button includes:
- time, displayed in 24-hour format
- date, displayed in a day/month/year format
- amount of energy used, displayed in kilowatt-hours (kWh)
- amount of energy sent to the grid, displayed in kWh, if you have a solar photovoltaic system
- amount of energy used in the 30-minute block by off-peak or controlled load appliances, displayed in kWh. This only applies if you have:
- a storage water heater of more than 125 litres
- underfloor heating
- a swimming pool or spa heater
- electric car charger
- battery storage.
- a test pattern to show all available characters on the screen are working.
There are different brands of smart meters and most will have a label on them explaining what each screen of information means. Ask your energy retailer to explain how to read your specific meter if you are unsure.
Using smart meters to manage your electricity use and costs
You can use the data collected by your smart meter to track how much electricity you are using and when you are using it. You can then calculate roughly how much your bill will be, to help you budget.
Knowing how you use electricity can help you make energy-saving changes, like adjusting your heating thermostat or turning off lights, to lower the amount of electricity you’re using, which will help save money.
If you are on a contract where you are charged different rates for using electricity at different times of day, you can change the way you use electricity to take advantage of cheaper pricing. For example, if your prices are higher in the evening but lower in the morning, you can do things like changing the time of day you run your washing machine or dishwasher.
You might be able to get an in-home display from your energy retailer to make it easier to see the information your meter collects.
Meter ownership and switching retailers
Smart meters are the responsibility of your energy retailer.
If you want to switch energy retailers, your new retailer will arrange to take responsibility for your meter from your old retailer, and it is unlikely they will change the meter. In some cases, a retailer might offer you a service that your existing smart meter can’t support, so may need to install a new one. They may not charge you anything for the new meter, but make sure you understand if there are any costs involved before you agree.
Before you switch retailers, make sure you understand the terms and conditions of your current energy contract, in case there are any fees - see Comparing retailers and contracts, and choosing an energy deal.
If you think there's a problem with your smart meter contact your current energy retailer.
The data your smart meter collects includes how much electricity your property has used in a certain amount of time, and your meter identification number. It encrypts this data and sends it to your energy retailer and electricity distributor over secure and private networks.
The meter doesn't know your name or address. Your energy retailer uses the meter identification number to match the data to your account details in their system.
The information collected by smart meters, energy retailers and distributors is considered personal information and is protected by the Australian Government’s Privacy Act 1988.
Energy Safe Victoria did a significant review of smart meter safety in 2012 and found that smart meters are safe and do not pose any greater safety risk than the meters they replace. There was no evidence to suggest that smart meters were exploding or causing fires. More information is available in their EnergySafe Magazine - Issue 28.
Smart meters and your health
There is no established scientific evidence that smart meters cause adverse health effects.
A smart meter transmits a similar amount of radiofrequency electromagnetic energy in a single pulse as a car key remote, and much less than sending an SMS from a mobile phone. In 24 hours, a smart meter’s total transmission time is about one minute.
The combination of the low power of smart meter transmitters, their location on the outside of buildings, and the very short time spent transmitting means that the overall exposure to these emissions is well below safe exposure limits, even when several wireless devices are transmitting at the same time.
The radiofrequency electromagnetic energy emissions from smart meters and other wireless devices used for communication are regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. According to their regulations, wireless devices must comply with the exposure limits in the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) radiofrequency standard.
Health authorities around the world, including ARPANSA and the World Health Organisation, review the research into potential health effects of smart meters and other sources to provide accurate, up-to-date advice and to make sure people and the environment are kept safe.
On this site
- Smart meters, displays and appliances - Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment
- Energy and Water Ombudsman SA - for unresolved energy retailer complaints
- Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - answers to frequently asked questions about sources that emit radio waves
- Rule changes to open competition in metering services - Australian Energy Market Commission