• 15 MAR 16
    • 0

    A rapid smart meter rollout in NSW and the Greens support it!

    I was forwarded a letter recently from New South Wales energy provider AGL announcing a digital meter (smart) roll-out to all its customers. AGL has given less than two weeks notice for people to respond if they do not want a smart meter upgrade.
    Quoting from the AGL brochure:

    “The technology in your electricity meter is over 100 years old. So it’s time for an upgrade. That’s why we’re replacing your old meter with a new digital electricity meter.”

    “AGL is upgrading your electricity meter free of charge. Then, you will no longer need to worry about manual meter reads or estimated bills.”

    “If you would prefer not to be upgraded, simply call us on 1300 669 245 any time before 21 March or visit agl.com.au/upgrade”

    Interestingly the website mentioned on the brochure is incorrect. The proper link is:https://refer.agl.com.au/forms/digital-metering/

    On that link it is stated: “If you’ve received a letter from us offering you a free digital electricity meter and you’d prefer to opt out or reschedule your installation, please click the appropriate button below.”

    For anyone on this list in NSW and who use AGL as their provider you only have to March 21 to opt out. After that date it is too late and if a smart meter ends up on the external by your bedroom you may need to stock up on sleeping pills for insomnia may result.This issue is examined in detail below. See some Victorian examples here.

    For anyone thinking of complaining to the NSW Greens party about smart meter issues don’t waste your time for here is their policy:

    Support the widespread roll-out of ‘smart’ metering, which measures electricity use and price by demand and time of day, along with new tariff arrangements to encourage energy conservation and strategic demand reductions with mechanisms to protect low-income households from avoidable increases in energy bills;

    The Tasmanian Greens also support a roll-out of smart meter for Tasmania. To quote:

    Smart meters are an important component of a smarter grid. They give real time information about power demand and supply in the total grid. They allow for more flexible pricing, with price signals providing an effective mechanism to
    influence how much power we use in peak periods

    A pro-smart meter policy is also followed by South Australian Greens:

    Investigate ‘smart meter’ technology to help reduce demand for power during peak times.

    The Australian Greens overall policy in support of the introduction of smart meter technology (also called advanced metering infrastructure) was developed under the leadership of former Greens Senator Christine Milne who was a Keynote speaker at the 2014 Smart Grid Australia conference. An industry meeting with the aim to “concentrate on our smart grid future and what is needed to make it happen”. At the meeting the term EcoGrid was coined in one of the presentations, which sounds more green and sustainable than “smart grid”. This is known as “Greenwashing“defined as the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.

    It is this writer’s understanding that the Greens’ energy policy supporting the introduction of smart meters was largely drafted by just one person who did not consider possible unintended consequences of a widespread rapid introduction of this new technology. It is necessary to point out here that this is not a critique of the overall Greens energy policy, which as many good points. This criticism is aimed at the policy’s support of smart meters.

    A central part of the Greens’ smart meter energy policy is the claim that Time of Use (TOU) tariffs (more flexible pricing) will result in consumers changing their energy habits resulting in less energy usage. Unfortunately the evidence falsifies this claim. Consider:

    Excerpts from my March 18, 2015 submission to the Australian Energy Market Commission:

    An investigation by Ontario’s auditor-general Bonnie Lysyk , published in December 2014, found that Ontario’s $2 billion smart meter program has failed to meet electricity conservation or cost-reduction goals and delivered few benefits at a hefty cost. She specifically criticised the province’s energy bureaucrats for plunging into the system without proper planning, and making it impossible for consumers to understand their rising hydro bills. Her findings included:
    • Smart meters were supposed to cost $1 billion. In fact, the total cost will be double that amount.
    • The energy ministry grossly over-estimated the benefits of the smart meter program.
    • Energy bureaucrats have bamboozled consumers for years by hiding the true costs of energy in a catch-all fee called the “global adjustment” that now makes up the majority of the cost of energy.
    • The initial cost-benefit estimate — which proved wildly inaccurate — was performed only after the energy board had approved its implementation plan.
    • Costs continued to rise after the initial $1 billion estimate. They stood at $1.4 billion by the end of 2013, Lysyk reported.
    • In addition, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) — which operates the Ontario power grid minute by minute — spent $249 million on a provincial data centre to collect the torrent of information that flows out of smart meters. That cost is billed to ratepayers.

    There were also concerns expressed in the Victorian Auditor General’s 2009 report on the rollout of smart meters in that state. To quote:

    “There has been insufficient analysis to fully understand potential perverse outcomes, risks, and unintended consequences for consumers. This means that there is no clarity whether the distribution of costs and benefits between electricity businesses and consumers will be consistent with the intended outcomes of the program, and equitably allocated through the mandated cost recovery regime.”

    Time-of-Use (TOU) pricing

    Time-of-Use pricing is a move away from a fixed price per kilowatt/hour to real-time pricing whereby the price of power changes on an hour-to-hour basis, depending on overall power demand. In other words during those hot summer days when people have the air conditioner on, it will cost more. According to the theory, higher prices will encourage consumers to change their daily energy use habits to use their appliances during lower pricing times, thereby saving money. This is a problem as research indicates that most consumers are unlikely to be able to shift their energy usage times and do their washing, cooking, watching TV or using their air-conditioner at 2am! Therefore for most consumers their electricity bills will increase unless they are insomniacs.

    One of the unstated reasons for the push for real-time pricing is the only way to really take advantage of it is to get rid of many of your old appliances, such as washing machines, dryers, air conditioners, etc. and purchase new smart appliances that can be programmed to automatically operate at low power pricing times. This is acknowledged by Zealand Network Tasman Ltd where they have stated that the purported benefits of smart meters is so that “Consumers can set energy efficient appliances to interact with their advanced meter to alter usage to suit their lifestyle and manage electricity costs”.

    The problem here, especially for low-income consumers is that this would require an investment of several thousands of dollars to upgrade their home appliances if they want to reduce their power bill – a fact not mentioned in the sales promotion for the advantages of TOU pricing. It’s worth noting that all the major appliance manufacturers are now promoting the smart grid and TOU pricing as it is creating a global market for their new range of smart appliances.

    (A pdf of this paper, with references, is available upon request)

    Another major issue with the introduction of household smart meters is the possibility of adverse health effects when the meters are positioned externally on bedroom walls. Unlike the existing analogue electricity meters which do not use radiofrequency (RF) emissions, smart meters work on a 900 mHz range which, rather than being a continuous wave, pulse thousands of times over a 24-hour period of time.

    As for the reason for all this activity, a 2013 report by Richard Tell Associates, states the following:

    Smart meters emit short duration pulses of RF energy in their communication with other meters and data collection points. These emissions generally happen all through the day. Besides the normal three (in the case of BED) or four (in the case of GMP) times a day that electric energy consumption data are reported back to a data collection point for subsequent transmission to the company, smart meters must maintain their organization within the RF LAN to which they belong and this
    necessitates the transmission of beacon signals from time to time. Additionally, each meter can, when required by the mesh network, assist neighboring smart meters by transmitting the neighbor’s data on to another meter or data collection point. Further, the HAN radio can produce pulsed fields in its search for and communication with IHDs. All of this means that most smart meters remain relatively active in terms of brief signals being transmitted.

    The frequency used may also be an issue

    Besides the constant pulsing of smart meter emissions there is the issue of the frequency range used. In 1976, Lin concluded that 918 MHz energy constitutes a greater health hazard to the human brain than does 2450 MHz energy for a similar incident power density. In addition studies of diathermy applications consistently show that electromagnetic energy at frequencies near and below 900 MHz is best suited for deep penetration into brain tissue.12 So a possibility exists that in situations where people are sleeping in close proximity to an active smart meter, the combination of the frequent transmission bursts at around 900 Mhz constitutes is a new and unique human exposure situation that may have unintended biological effects, especially on sleep.

    Possible implications to ponder

    In Australia many homes are constructed with the old analogue electricity meter placed on an easily accessible external wall for the meter reader. This frequently turns out to be on a bedroom wall. There are now a significant number of reported adverse health effects from people in Victoria (and other areas where smart meters have been rolled out). A common occurrence is that the affected person had his or her bed in close proximity to a smart meter placed externally on the bedroom wall. In many cases the person was not aware that their old meter had been replaced, with symptoms, primarily insomnia, preceding awareness of the smart meter installation.

    See: An incomplete Benefit-Cost analysis and the urgent need for research

    The Tasmanian Greens have been previously been given all this information, both in writing and in face-to-face meetings. They cannot say that they are unaware of the controversy with smart meters. The problem for the political party structure is that once a policy is published in glossy brochures and widely circulated it is difficult to later say “Oops, looks like we got it wrong here”.

    And in my opinion they do have it wrong.

    Don Maisch PhD
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