by Steven Neave, General Manager Electricity Networks, CitiPower and Powercor

Ten years ago, the State Government made a decision to rollout a piece of technology into every Victorian home. It was controversial and unpopular, but is now proving to be one of the biggest drivers of innovation across the state’s network businesses. CitiPower and Powercor’s General Manager Electricity Networks Steven Neave reflects on some of the changes the technology has delivered.

When we talk about disruption or innovation in the energy sector, it’s always solar, batteries, electric vehicles or mini-grids that come to mind.

And while these technologies will disrupt how our society generates and distributes energy, it was a decision by the Victorian Government that has created some of the biggest change on our networks.

This technology has provided our industry with a taste of what we can do differently – it has driven innovation and change. And it’s found in most Victorian homes.

What I’m talking about is the smart meter.

While the technology itself couldn’t be described as disruptive, it’s provided the foundation for future disruption and innovation on the grid that will benefit customers and the sector.

Importantly, it’s disrupted how we, as an industry, manage and operate our networks. And we are continually discovering new ways it can deliver benefits.

The Victorian Government-mandated mass rollout was controversial. There were claims about potential health impacts, cost blow outs and questions about whether consumers would even benefit from this change. There were protests outside Victorian MP offices, people moved out of their homes, and meter installers were threatened.

There was a push for the program to be scrapped, but it kept going – and I’m pleased it did.

Across the CitiPower and Powercor networks, we have now installed more than one million smart meters as part of the mandated rollout.

Many consumers still wonder what benefits the smart meters have delivered. For those in the sector, we see these benefits every day – and we know customers do too. The meters and associated network have allowed us to drive a smarter, increasingly cost-effective network. They have allowed us to better manage load through price signalling which ultimately drives down network costs over the long term – this is a competitive advantage unique to Victoria.

The mass rollout didn’t just give consumers the ability to monitor their own energy use – it’s delivered Victorian networks valuable data. This data is giving our engineers the ability to innovate our sector and others around us.

The meters and the associated network has allowed us to incorporate a Meter Outage Notification service, access to timely, accurate consumption and generation to grid data, and the ability for customer side outages to be identified without the need to dispatch fault crews.

This has driven a reduction in fault restoration times.

We are using them to improve the safety of our network. For example, we are now able to use these meters to detect neutral faults in a customers’ home before they become a safety problem and we are acting on these.

They give us the ability to identify and maintain critical supply points, such as life support customers, during outages and load shedding emergencies.

They allow us to detect potential issues on our other electrical assets, allowing us to fix them before they fail.

We are also testing how we can harness the smart meter network to monitor air quality and enable innovation in public lighting.

This summer, the mass smart meter rollout allowed us to contribute to AEMO’s Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader program, which is about helping reduce demand during high-peak demand days and keeping the lights on for industry and households.

Known as the Smart Meter Voltage Management system, it involved lowering voltages quickly and at scale to reduce the pressure on networks. While this process has been used in the past to help ease demand, smart meters are allowing us the ability to drop voltage lower than we have been able to previously by monitoring voltage at every customer premise.

While we are now seeing smart meters rollout in other states, this is being done on a small scale and in a contestable manner.

What this means is that any company, whether it’s a retailer, network or dedicated metering business, is able to sell a customer meter. They then own the data.

What sets Victoria’s smart meter program apart is that networks are able to leverage the technology in a way that provides wide insights across the network and allows us to deliver better reliability and safety for the customer.

It’s also allowed Victoria to get ahead of other states when it comes to network innovation and, in time, disruption.

Due to the unique visibility of the low voltage network provided by smart meters, Victoria is now in the privileged position of being able to install more solar and batteries, without the need to build more network to support this growth, setting us apart from other states.

What’s exciting is that a decision to rollout an innovative technology a decade ago has changed networks in a way that we are still uncovering.

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