by David Feeney, Executive General Manager, Transmission and Distribution Networks, Australian Energy Market Commission
Smart meters offer so many benefits, but yet the penetration of these devices in Australia – outside of Victoria – is nowhere near as high as it needs to be for these benefits to be realised. In response to this, the Australian Energy Market Commission has commenced a project which will look at what needs to happen to accelerate the take-up of smart meters in Australia.
Imagine accurate energy bills that allow consumers to respond to market price signals in real time and estimated meter reads a thing of the past. Consider the impact of clear visibility on how distributed energy resources are operating so their potential can be better harnessed – not only to manage grid operations, but to get better value from the distribution networks that we already have, rather than expensive new investments that we might not need.
And for vulnerable customers, consider the benefits of remote meter reading, enabling more convenient billing cycles, and reducing the scope for bill shock.
Knowledge and understanding of real-time energy use, disaster monitoring, managing the increasing levels of distributed energy in the system and giving consumers more transparency on what they are actually paying – all of these things and much more will be available to us if we can get the right systems and structures in place to allow smart meters to do their “thinking”.
All of this will open the door to faster decarbonisation and metering is a key enabler. But there are barriers. The penetration of smart meters in the market is sitting at levels that many believe are way too low to capitalise on their potential benefits.
At the AEMC we have embarked on a project to forensically examine what needs to happen to accelerate the take-up of smart meters in Australia. We will conduct our metering review over the course of this year, consulting with consumers, industry and governments on challenges and solutions, starting off with a series of workshops to drive the conversation.
The review is timely, as the penetration of solar continues apace. Nearly three million households and small businesses now have solar panels and the rate of increase is speeding up. Between 2014 and 2017 for example, just under 450,000 small-scale properties installed solar panels.
Between 2017 and 2020 this had nearly doubled to almost 850,000 properties. Given that the power system transition has moved into the express lane, our metering review will need to go beyond just looking at the impact of the specific reforms of three years ago.
In 2017 the AEMC introduced new rules around competition in metering, including transferring responsibilities for metering away from distribution network service providers. The reforms were designed to increase competition, encourage new products, services and pricing to benefit consumers, and give them better information about their energy use.
Metering is important to making the energy transition smoother – and can help us get to where we’re going even faster. So, in this review, we will go wider and consider the entire framework governing metering. And we’re approaching this with a fresh perspective.
We’ll be exploring in depth the barriers to smart meter use, the level of benefits consumers are experiencing from smart meters, what sort of services smart meters might be expected to deliver in future – and of course what expectations different groups had around smart meter use and whether those expectations have been met.
We’ll also look at what data should be captured by smart meters and why? Who should be able to access such data and how? And what protections should be in place? We want to gather as many perspectives as possible in this process, which is why we have planned extensive consultation, starting with, but not limited to, a reference group and public workshops.
The Commission’s close involvement with the Energy Security Board’s two-sided market and data strategy work is also very much connected to the metering question. A two-sided market, where consumers are active in the market (either themselves or through third parties) and data and energy flows two ways, will need much more granular information to be successful.
The amount of data potentially available to help manage the system and help customers save on energy bills has increased. The Consumer Data Right introduced last year will allow consumers better access to their data from networks and retailers and the ability to share it will be an important addition to the knowledge base. It should commence in energy by the second half of 2022.
But beyond this, as the Energy Security Board points out in its Data Strategy report, there is big promise in big data. Using data science for the purpose of public good research has “endless potential” to give insights previously unavailable. Insights like predicting demand patterns, monitoring retail competition and informing consumer protections to improve affordability.
Only a fraction of this data is currently accessible. The scale of work that needs to be done is immense. It will need constructive and creative thinking, patience and enthusiastic collaboration. At the same time – what an opportunity we all have to make real and lasting change. We hope you’ll join us on the journey.