What are smart meters and how can they save you money?

Knowledge is power – and a little knowledge about how you use your power can go a long way. As smart meters become increasingly common, here’s how you can use them to adjust your consumption and save money on your energy bill. 

What are smart meters? 

Also known as an advanced meter or a Type 4 meter, a smart meter is a device that digitally measures when and how much electricity your residence or business uses and sends that information to your energy retailer for billing. 

This is in contrast to traditional meters, which require someone to physically attend your property to take a reading and can only tell you how much electricity you’ve consumed since someone last read the meter. 

With smart meters sending accurate figures to your retailer remotely, the days of receiving an estimated bill because the meter reader couldn’t access your property are over. 

How do I read my smart meter? 

Smart meters generate much more detailed data than traditional readers, but you won’t be able to access that information by looking at the meter itself. 

Instead, you can access your smart meter data through logging into your account with your energy provider, or using their app. As long as you have a smart meter, your retailer should be able to show you how much electricity you’re using – and how much it’s costing you – in real-time. 

You can also buy an in-home display to connect to your smart meter and track your usage and its related cost. 

If you’re having trouble accessing the information from your smart meter, contact your energy retailer directly. 

Can a smart meter save me money? 

Just having a smart meter installed won’t save you any money automatically, but it will give you and your energy retailer access to information that you can use to lower your energy bill. 

Because your smart meter tracks how you’re using energy at different times of day and provides this information to your retailer, you can opt for a flexible pricing plan, or time-of-use tariff. This isn’t possible with a traditional meter, which doesn’t allow for that level of detail. 

With a flexible plan, you’ll pay a higher rate for using electricity at peak times (usually on weekdays in the afternoon and early evening), a lower rate during the shoulder period between peak and off-peak, and the lowest rate at off-peak times (usually overnight). This incentivises energy users to shift as much of their consumption as possible to off-peak times, which puts less stress on network infrastructure. 

If you switch to a flexible plan, check when your retailer’s tariff switches from peak to off-peak, and try to use energy-guzzling appliances like washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, hot water heaters and pool pumps during these off-peak times. (And if you’re buying one of these appliances, look for one with a time-delay capacity, so you can set it to run during off-peak times, even when you’re asleep.) 

You can also input your smart meter data to the Federal Government’s price comparison site, Energy Made Easy, to find a flexible plan that suits your usage patterns and estimate how much it will cost you. 

Be aware, however, that switching to a flexible plan won’t necessarily be a better deal for you. If you run a business with inflexible hours, for instance, and can’t make significant changes to how you use electricity, you might not be able to avoid consuming electricity at peak times and paying higher rates. In that case, you’re probably better off with a flat rate. 

But that’s the beauty of having access to information about how and when you use electricity – you can use that information to help you find the most suitable deal for your consumption pattern.

What are the other benefits of having a smart meter? 

As well as removing the possibility of overpaying for ‘estimated’ bills and enabling you to switch to a flexible plan, smart meters also provide other benefits. 

For instance, they can measure the quality of the power at your premises and directly alert your electricity distributor if your property has power outages and issues, which can help you to get reconnected faster. 

Smart meters can also switch off the electricity supply to your property remotely, without the need for a field technician, which makes it easy to disconnect the supply when you move out and reconnect it when someone else moves in. 

Having a smart meter also enables you to switch energy providers faster, if you find a plan that works better for you. With a traditional meter, you’d have to wait until your next scheduled meter read – which could be three months away – to switch retailers, but with the real-time data provided by smart meters, there’s no need to wait for a manual reading. 

The data from your smart meter can also help you to buy a solar PV system, or a battery system, by providing you with accurate information about your energy usage that will inform the size of the system you buy. A smart meter will also record the surplus energy you feed back to the grid, so you can earn a credit on your bill called a feed-in tariff

Smart meters also create the conditions for consumers to be able to trade and purchase energy amongst themselves, although this has yet to become commonplace. 

How do I get a smart meter? 

While the exact policies differ across states and retailers, smart meters are now the default for new meter installations and replacements in most Australian jurisdictions, including Queensland. That means you’ll have a smart meter installed next time your meter is faulty and needs replacing, or if your property is new and needs a meter. You can also get a smart meter if you take up a new contract with your retailer that includes one. 

Smart meters are mandatory in Victoria. In all other states, if your retailer wants to replace your working traditional meter with a smart meter, you have the ability to opt out of the installation – unless you waived that right when you signed your energy contract. Either way, your retailer is required to give you at least four days’ notice of the installation, because it will briefly interrupt your electricity supply. 

Many retailers will install a smart meter at no direct cost to you. Instead, the installation will likely be absorbed into the daily supply charges that all customers pay, much like the cost of poles, wires and other equipment required for the network to function. Ask your retailer whether there are any ongoing costs or exit fees that come with them installing the meter. If there are, you can shop around for a retailer that offers a lower price. 

Ultimately, a smart meter is a great tool to help you monitor your electricity usage – but it will only have a meaningful impact if you’re conscious of your consumption and take action to maximise your energy efficiency. 

Learn more about how you can lower your power bills by reducing and adjusting your electricity usage and curbing your emissions.

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