Smart verus Wise Meters
How many Cents and what's the Affinity
and how much Liberty will the new metering bring you?
Thank you NGC for your SEF posting. This information is most timely with the Electricity Commission making decisions on main switchboard ownership in New Zealand by Christmas. These decisions will have profound economic, social and environmental impacts in the Post Cheap Oil Age that most people cannot even begin to contemplate.
The announcement of the Liberty Meter coincides with announcement of eSmart Affinity terminals and the Centameter.
“The small, easy to use Liberty meter
replaces the customer's existing meter. If the
Meridian Energy announced:
to trial online power meters
This headline of “online” electricity metering is misleading. The system does not communicate via the lines but via Vodaphones GPRS cellular network. It is not an advance in the use of “electricity” networks for communication.
“Arc Innovations, a Christchurch-based business unit of the state-owned enterprise, has begun trialling 200 of the eSmart Affinity terminals, which are designed to be wired to a standard electricity meter and send information to and from retailers via Vodafone's GPRS cellular network.
A display, a little larger than a cellphone's lcd screen, flashes up messages sent by the retailer, while the GPRS modem can also send back meter readings, doing away with the need for manual readings”.
King Country Energy, Genesis Energy, Bay of Plenty Electricity and TrustPower are all promoting the Centameter. I have only been able to view TrustPower’s promotion. This links to http://www.centameter.co.nz/index.php
“The CENTAMETER comprises a clip on sensor, a transmitter and a wireless monitor. The sensor simply clips over the main power feed into your home or office and transmits to your wireless monitor up to 30 metres away. The monitors LCD screen displays your households total electricity cost in real time as well as temperature and humidity.”
Prevent Blackouts in your area
The CENTAMETER displays total household electricity cost, power consumption, greenhouse gas, temperature and humidity. It also has a user settable peak load alarm and can be set to display kilowatts or amps.
The Centameter claim of being able to prevent blackouts in the local region is extravagant. Unless the local grid can communicate with the Centameter or the building operator, the only peak load the device enables the user to respond to is the dwelling’s peak load.
The Centameter statement should be treated with caution. Traditionally, when demand for grid-sourced electricity threatens to exceed its supply capacity, 'blackouts' are threatened. The Government's response is to appeal to consumers to voluntarily reduce demand. This appeal is couched in national and social terms. These generate different responses in individual consumers.
Some consumer’s do not alter their consumption. They may even increase it if they perceive they can use increased additional consumption as a political weapon.
Other consumers are highly responsive to appeals for patriotic endeavour and personal sacrifice to “protect the public good.” These consumers tend to be those who least can afford to reduce consumption. They place the health and basic comfort of themselves and their families at risk. In this respect the “electricity market” is very inefficient and inequitable.
“Home comfort levels - the CENTAMETER also measures humidity and temperature wherever the portable monitor is used.”
Both humidity and temperature have wide implications on health and wealth levels and general uses of energy. This data can be very valuable if used in informed way. If it results, for instance, in improved venting of washing and cooking water vapour then efficiencies may be achieved. Bonus Joules are generated. If it results in increased use of dehumidifiers, then efficiencies may be lost. Junk Joules are generated.
Personally the main reason I find my thermometer useful is that it tells me the temperature is 10C in my draughty, sun-deprived house and that is probably the reason I feel cold.
“Environmental information - the device also measures the amount of greenhouse gases generated by personal electricity use, an added educational aspect for environmentally conscious users.”
There is widespread ignorance of the nature of the Warmer Trace Gases and the impact of the symbols commonly used to communicate their impact on the atmosphere. There are a number of reasons why it would be more helpful if the statement were in terms of the specific gas (es) being emitted per kilowatt. Most probably carbon dioxide is the emission referred to.
It is pleasing to see the statement is in terms of “personal electricity use” rather than the usual misleading PR spin of “energy use”.
Linking images of electricity use and carbon emissions is valuable as long as it done in an intelligent context. This includes empowering consumers with knowledge and access to a range of energy forms, including solar- based technologies. It is not helpful if it works to limit perception of options to a single technology such as high-risk, nuclear-based electricity generators or the indiscriminate use of wind turbines.
“The CENTAMETER also provides peace of mind by allowing you to check from a single location if any appliances, such as an oven or heater, have been left on.”
This statement is not true at all times if electric hot-water heating is in the loop. The storage tank thermostat can operate at any time.
The consumer owns the meter. However they still have to rent an extra meter from a company such NGC, TrustPower etc. If they wish to netmeter, they may have to rent two extra meters.
“Ms Bremner believes the industry has now reached the point where retailers are prepared to invest.
"We see ourselves going down into the mass market. This is a space many people have been watching for many years. People are now prepared to look at replacement technology."
She expects electricity retailers will justify the investment based on savings in doing away with meter readers and the need to physically connect and reconnect electricity supplies.”
The statement reveals Meridian Energy has no vision of allowing the consumer to own the technology. It is going to insist its customers continue renting one or two extra meters. For Christchurch consumers this will be off NGC.
Ms Bremner’s statement is pure spin and misrepresents the truth. Certainly this is a space many people have been watching for many years. However as I have outlined elsewhere, the Electricity Reforms and a few large electricity retailers have worked to ensure that most people can now only watch this space. Communities are excluded from investment by the rules of the new totalitarian “electricity market”.
Cheap, equally effective replacement technology and systems existed over a decade ago and its use was suppressed.
There is nothing in the NGC statement to indicate consumers will be able to own the technology. Genesis Energy does not permit its customers to own meters.
Non TrustPower customer price is $169 plus postage. ($99.95 for TrustPower customers till 20 Sept 2004)
The customer has to pay for or, more likely, rent a second/third meter.
“Mr Figgitt says prices for the eSmart terminals will be highly dependent on the volume of sales. The units built for the trial were contract manufactured in Christchurch.”
Price not known. Their customers have to rent a second/third meter.
Price not known. As the meter replaces the existing meter, consumers need rent only one meter unless they are netmetering.
General Note: If the books were opened on the meter industry and on the billion dollars that consumer have paid in “rentals” since the Electricity Reforms, then it would be very apparent that the funds exist to distribute such devices free. Many dwellings can be wired very simply as main switchboards are close to living areas. The history of the Centameter indicates that creation of the technology has not been the issue.
“In creating the product, inventor Ross Halliwell was inspired by international energy crises, particularly the power shortages experienced in California in 2000. Ross realised that in order to encourage nationwide power savings, consumers needed to be able to manage their own power use in real time.
To create the electricity monitor, Ross
enlisted Christchurch-based Geoff Kennedy. Geoff's company, 4D
Electronics, has an international reputation for specialising in the
"too hard" projects, boasting Hewlett Packard and others as
The NGC media release headline makes considerable claims:
“Smart Meter Puts Power into Consumers' Hands”
“Knowledge is Power.”
“Meridian Energy hopes to revolutionise electricity metering by installing intelligent online terminals that can read and control electricity meters in homes.”
This prompts the following questions:
What is a “Smart Meter”?
Q1 What is a “Smart Meter”?
As with the technology itself, the definition of “smart” is changing. Two decades ago solid-state technology was seen as “smart.” The advent of the chip altered that definition, as did the advent of the modems and the Internet.
“Smart” must now be seen in the context of the advent or the near advent of the following:
In this context it is perhaps more useful to ask what is a “Wise Meter”? This is a meter that optimises benefits for the consumer and the environment. Any prototype would include provision for two-way flow of electricity and enable “smart” appliances to interact with the local grid in an intelligent way. It will contain security features that protect the integrity of the billing system such as seals and wiring interruption monitors. The latter feature will eliminate any arguments against consumer ownership of the technology.
Q2 What Power does it put into Consumers' Hands?
“Intelligent energy management ¡V the Cent-a-meter changes the way consumers think about their personal power use, by giving them real time information and the power to assess the cost of every electrical appliance they use.”
TrustPower promotion of the Centameter states:
“You constantly know how many cents per hour you are spending on power.”
Meridian Energy (such a daft name) states:
“..the devices could be used to alert people to cheap deals on electricity during times of low demand. They could also be used to offer consumers discounts if they manage to cut usage when spot prices surge above the retail price of electricity - common during recent "dry winters".”
“..the Liberty technology gives
customers high quality usage
It is one thing to give consumers high quality usage information. It is quite another thing to work to ensure consumers have the ability to use the information in a sustainable way. All the companies promoting and employing the technology are driven by narrow defined “profit principles”. Their prime interest is bulks sales of gas and electricity.
No one makes reference to working with local communities, consumer groups, education groups and those in the best position to ensure consumers can make optimal use of the knowledge.
The Centameter statement talks of “intelligent energy management” and the NGC directly statement links “high quality usage information” with a “strong energy management capability”. These are bold claims as consumers have potential access to a wide range of energy forms. Electricity is just one of those forms.
Until NGC clarifies this, it is advisable to assume the statement reads “a strong capability to manage Main-grid sourced electricity”.
The Centameter statement should read, “Enhanced Management of Main-grid sourced electricity”. There is not indication of how the technology links to the local grid in an intelligent way. Only Meridian’s technology seems geared to provide intelligent conversations between small consumers and their local grid.
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“NGC has developed the meters to meet the specific needs of the New Zealand market.”
What does NGC mean by the “New Zealand Market”. Since the Electricity Reforms of 1990s, the Electricity Market has been redefined to exclude the bulk of New Zealanders and it is now dominated by the activities and needs of a small group of people representing the interests of Bulk-generators and Large Users.
The NGC statement does not make it clear what Power it puts in the hands of 99% of the Main- grid electricity consumers i.e. small business and domestic consumers. Where consumers have a sense of options, the knowledge of consumption rates of appliances can be helpful. Without that sense of options, disempowerment and distorted behaviour occurs.
Meridian Energy states
“It has also recently introduced pre-pay meters which can be charged up using chip-based smart cards.”
Its focus on prepaid billing seems secondary to the implementation of the eSmart Affinity terminals. By comparison the thrust of the NGC technology seems to be billing rather than intelligent load management. If so, the most fundamental power the pre-payment technology gives consumers is the ability to disconnect themselves from the grid without their loss of access becoming a national statistic. There is a bonus in that they do not incur disconnect –reconnect charges.
The Centameter and the eSmart Affinity terminal mean some form of national accounting of grid accessibility is possible. Theoretically the latter technology should reduce disconnection and reconnection costs. In practice the cost of physical disconnection and reconnection can be less than 20% of the total charge.
Before the Electricity Reforms, the act of physically disconnecting a consumer was seen by some supply authorities as an opportunity to educate and facilitate access to the grid.
Q3 How does it put “Power into Consumers' Hands”?
This question is closely linked to the Q2 question of “What Power?” No statement really makes this clear.
Will the technology empower individuals and
communities to communicate directly with their local grid or will they
have do use the technology on the terms of a national Bulk-generator
Clearly the NGC technology provides more streamlined methods of payment. From a consumer point of view, it is little advance on existing Internet and touch phone technology. How much extra will we be paying for this dedicated bill-paying technology?
Do consumers using Meridian Energy’s pre-pay meters have to pay a premium for the technology?
I have some difficulty believing benefits from reduced monitoring and billing costs will be passed on to small consumers.
(I have just checked out charges from my retailer. All my main appliances, with the exception of glazing-based appliances, in the house are driven by Grid-sourced electricity.
In Aug 2001 my rate was 9.99 cents per unit with a Fixed Charge of 67.49
500 units cost $88.08
=17.00 cents per unit in 2001
During this period the service levels of my retailer have declined to near the levels of alternative retailers.)
“Genesis Energy is excited by the opportunities this technology provides.”
Apart from any reduction in billing and credit maintenance costs it is hard to see why else Genesis Energy (Such a daft name.) would be excited by the opportunities unless it maintains electricity sales medium term.
Genesis Energy (Such an inane name) has a strict mandate to operate as a private corporation and return a narrowly defined profit to its principal shareholder, the Government. This profit is driven by bulk electricity sales. To the extent that the Liberty technology enables more effective load shifting it can facilitate short term planning. However if the technology is truly sustaining it will enable a raft of consumer initiatives, all of which will reduce demand for bulk-generated electricity and Genesis Energy profits. This will cause the company to breach its mandate. This in turn will generate a political backlash against its activities.
There are a number of scenarios why Genesis Energy
(Such an ignorant name.) might be excited. The interests of
small-consumption customers have low status in most of these. Scenarios
include focusing sales on high-consumption industry or the knowledge that
the introduction of this technology will work to pre-empt and suppress
investment in technologies that enable considerable energy efficiency
practice. The only positive scenario is that the Government has signaled
to Genesis Energy that it intends to broaden its mandate to include
investment in energy efficiency in the community.
The NGC and Meridian Energy (Such a daft name) statements do not make it clear who will have access to the extended knowledge of individual consumption patterns. This factor can have a dramatic impact on power distribution, especially corporate power.
Q4 How does this technology impact on the innovation of sustainable technology and practice in general?
The Electricity Reforms were designed to exclude community-sourced innovation. It is no longer possible to develop technology within a strategy that includes local geographic, climate, industrial, energy efficiency potential and local grid potential. As I have outlined in previous postings. Companies like NGC-Vector operate in a risky environment, have considerable gas interests to protect, their ownership is in a profound state of flux and they must negotiate with national retailers and grid owners with conflicting interests.
Already we have seen innovation delayed a decade by the threat and advent of the confusion associated with the Electricity Reforms. The Electricity Industry is at present in an unsustainable state.
The very real risk for New Zealand is that investment at this point will leave us stuck with a generation of unsustainable technology and a knowledge base designed to serve the short-term interests of the principle shareholders of narrow sectors.
It would be helpful if companies could elaborate on how robust their technology is in terms of the wider parameters I outlined earlier. Will it allow two-way flow of electricity? How can it link in with smart “ripple” systems?
All these questions lead us to the final question.
Q5 Who is going to protect and advise the Small Consumer?
This question can be rephrased: “Who is going to ensure we get the most robust sustainable technology?” I am confident such technology will work to support the empowerment of Small Consumers and their communities.
In order to address this question I will summarise earlier commentary on SEF.
Much of the language employed by the Consumer Institute is designed to serve the interest of the principal shareholders of the Bulk-electricity and gas companies.
Since its inception, supply-side investment has continued to escalate compared to demand-side investment. Most public engagements I am aware of have been with large corporations who can afford the large entry fees. Public statements employ language designed to serve the interest of principal shareholders of Bulk-electricity and gas companies. Its website history of the electricity industry reveals a very restricted vision of sustainable uses of electricity.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
Unfortunately the organization, as revealed in its name, is profoundly compromised by its use as an agency to promote the interests of the Fossil Fuel, Bulk-electricity generators and large consumers of electricity.
A school child visiting their website or browsing their magazine Energy Wise News will instantly see their dominant association with BP, Genesis Energy, Contact Energy, Pink Batts, Energy Management Association, Transpower, Industry New Zealand, Rockgas, Booz Allen (Advisors to 1991 sale of NZ Rail) etc.
EECA literature contains some of the most intense uses possible of imagery designed to serve the interests of the principal shareholders of Bulk-electricity and gas companies.
Its ethos and operations are very subservient to the objectives of the Electricity Reforms. This is revealed in a number of ways:
They are the agency that provides the best alternative to an EECA based testing centre. As suggested earlier, innovators need to be able to have their technology assessed and accredited, independent of private operators with vested interests.
Unfortunately BRANZ, like the Consumer Institute, is seriously compromised by its unsustainable “user pays” restrictions. These favour large multi-national corporations introducing mass scale standard technology and work against small innovative companies and local development.
Meridian Energy states:
“It has also recently introduced pre-pay meters which can be charged up using chip-based smart cards”.
NGC states of the Liberty technology:
“It is already widely used in Europe..”
These statements give little insight into the implications of the potential use of the technology.
In Europe, many Small Consumers have rights and protections that were stripped away by the Electricity Reforms here. Those who read my recent posting comparing the community-owned, service-driven integrated electricity grid retail system with the private-owned, profit-driven fragmented electricity grid retail system will realise that the former has a raft of safeguard potentials built into it that do not exist in the latter. The dangers of pre-paid metering can be seen in photos of slum tenements in the US where every third window has a candle in it and others are in dark.
There is also another danger in the unconsidered introduction of this technology. If it is not accompanied by monitoring capacity and empowering education programmes, its use can promote very unsustainable behaviour.
Obsession disorders already have a significant impact on the quality of New Zealand life. This will worsen if society becomes more stressed for any reason. My experience in the 1980 –1990s was that already a large portion (30%?) of New Zealanders put inordinate focus on electricity accounts.
Certainly the bill for electricity sourced from the grid can be a high portion of disposable income (My own winter-spring bills average 750 units or about $160 per month. This represents my total income for one week of each month i.e. is 25% of my income.
More potent factors are at work. Electricity is now an integral element of the family psyche. Perceived inability to provide the family with electricity can lead to suicide and worse. I have witnessed the distraught reaction of depressed people to even moderate bills. Witnessing the aftermath of bloodied, smashed walls after a severe obsessive reaction in which all the children are hacked to death has left me mindful of this issue.
When I state New Zealanders place an inordinate focus on electricity accounts I mean they are far more aware of details and costs of electricity usage than other commodities. My experience is they will know their own and their neighbour’s costs for electricity whereas they will not know the running costs of their motor vehicles, their food/drink/tobacco costs, their sport/entertainment costs or even the costs of running a ‘wood’ burner.
I use the term ‘wood’ advised as people will burn all manner of polluting materials on them to get “free heating” and “free hot water”. So care is needed when making statements such as the NGC statement:
"By taking advantage of the energy
use information provided by the meter, households
TrustPower states the new Centameter means
“You constantly know how many cents per hour you are spending on power.”
This should read, “You can constantly know how many cents per hour you are spending on Main-Grid sourced electricity. The device does not measure forms of power from other energy sources such as solar power.
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My experience in Christchurch is that a focus on electricity consumption can result in increased energy consumption in many households. Families may drive up to 100ks to retrieve “free firewood” for “free heating”. In Wellington and areas with reticulated gas they may respond by installing inefficient hot water heaters on their exterior of the houses. To quote Nigel Isaacs of BRANZ in the HEEPS study
“Over the past 20 years, the increase in use of unflued, portable LPG heaters has been matched by a fall off in the use of portable kerosene and electric heaters. According to Statistics NZ’s Household Economic Survey more than one third of houses now have LPG heaters. The HEEP data shows that the majority of the LPG
heaters monitored are used at low settings for less than five hours per week. HEEP also found that about one-fifth of houses without an LPG heater had a dehumidifier, while two-fifths of those houses with an LPG heater also had a dehumidifier.”
The impact of billing can have a major impact on relative uses of energy and these will vary with the region, the climate and the range of useful energy forms available. My own response to my Christchurch experience was to write to the Minister responsible, Bob Tizard, arguing that monthly billing would lead to more rational behaviour, especially in areas with serious smog problems. He expressed great interest and responded by encouraging the Electricity Supply industry to adopt monthly billing. This certainly eased the sense of crisis that was common with winter payments.
It has been pointed out to me that Germany, for instance, bills only once a year and this may work to make people more aware of the relative value of alternative investments such as quality double-glazing, sustainable insulation practice and materials, etc.
Investment in research on this topic could be valuable.
This new technology is being introduced into a vacuum in New Zealand. No Government Agency seems able to effectively provide an overview and ensure we are able to make optimal sustainable choices. In The Climate Change Office provides the best theoretical model but is very limited in practice.
The vacuum is particularly noticeable as I write. This morning, the merger of NGC with Vector and the associated float of the latter community owned resource was announced. There has been no informed commentary from any sector of the Government on the implications of this profound act. The general public have little knowledge of the huge transfer of capital and corporate power that is being enacted. Even less knowledge exists about the impact on sustainable uses of energy.
How this technology is introduced into our lives will work to shape our visions of energy and of electricity in particular. This will have a significant impact on the atmospheric balances.
I have detailed elsewhere NGC’s role in the demise of the school-community education programme, Energy Action. Both Genesis Energy and Meridian Energy made business decisions to not support the programme. Meridian Energy could easily have sustained the programme in 2001 but elected to pour very large amounts of money into promoting the launch of Lord of the Rings instead.
For its part, the Government has promoted the development of this vacuum and made a deliberate decision not to continue with the community supported education programmes they inherited through the Electricity Reforms. There are a number of agencies it could have used, including the Sustainable Management Fund, The Ministry for the Environment, EECA, the Climate Change Office and, of course, the State Owned Enterprises.
In fairness, the latter are only operating as mandated and are making business decisions that reflect intentions underlying Government policy.
In Meridian Energy’s case, its Minister wore the hats of the Minister of Energy, of Science and Technology, of Climate Change and of State Owned Enterprises. He also wore the hat of Minister of Hobbits. This may have affected his vision somewhat.
These technologies reflect the state of the industry - fragmented, not very intelligent and driven by narrow short-term imperatives. They will make a far less than optimum contribution to the development of the Knowledge Economy.
Ms Bremner’s was making a massive understatement when she said “We had a vision metering was going to be important in the electricity market and that there was a change in paradigm”.
The owners of the main switchboards in dwellings can dictate much of the future of New Zealand in the Post Cheap Oil Age. This is something that is poorly understood by all the Parliamentary parties, Government Agencies, the media and the general public. Witness the transfer of Vector’s switchboards out of Aucklanders’ control.
She is wrong that there is a change of paradigm. It is business as usual as per the Electricity Reforms.
The language of the statements reflects the reality that the technology is being implemented to serve the interests of the Bulk-electricity & gas sector and is served into a public vacuum.
The Centameter' mobility gives it potential as an educational tool. It does not pre-empt too many of the important decisions NZ must make if we are to develop a Knowledge Economy
The prime objective of the Liberty technology seems to be to make bill paying easier.
Of the three proposals, Meridian Energy’s eSmart Affinity terminals seem the most intelligent. This intelligence will be enhanced if they can be linked to ‘smart’ appliances. Meridian is the dominant retailer in Christchurch. This city still owns its electricity grid and has made it a very efficient operation. If Meridian can link in to the intelligence of this city, then we may be privileged to witness the most advanced and intelligent use of electricity in the world.
Reflections on the impact of the Power Wizard are separate as I learned of it after this article was published.
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6 October 2004