No rush to install smart meters

Smart meters will not be rolled out in Blenheim any time soon, TrustPower and Marlborough Lines say.

SmartCo, a group of 14 lines companies, plans to spend $200 million fitting smart meters in homes throughout New Zealand. Smart meters are electronic electricity meters that can connect wirelessly with smart home appliances, controlling and communicating with them. They can also operate on variable pricing structures, meaning customers can buy electricity at on-the-spot prices, rather than fixed.

Network Tasman said last week it was investigating whether it will join the group, and invest up to $20m over three to four years to fit out Nelson houses.

Most Marlborough electricity meters are owned by electricity generator and retailer TrustPower, and the company is not convinced.

TrustPower spokesman Graeme Purches said the technology was not ready for investment yet.

"We won't be doing anything with smart meters any time soon.

"We don't see that there's any business case for them at the present time," he said.

There would be a time for smart meters, but the technology for linking the meters to smart appliances was not yet uniform and smart appliances were not sold in New Zealand.

A telling signal was Google a few months ago abandoning its web-based service that allowed people with smart meters to watch their power usage, he said.

Smart meters cost about $450 each, compared with $50 for an analogue meter, he said.

The company may look at doing them case by case if customers had their heart set on a smart meter, he said.

Marlborough Lines managing director Ken Forrest said smart meters could be used to shed power during high demand, but the old meters could shed hot water cylinders already, he said.

The real reason for installing smart meters was to open customers to wholesale electricity prices that change every half-hour, he said.

Retailers have to replace their outdated meters by 2014.

More than 614,000 advanced meters capable of sending half-hourly meter readings back to retailers have been installed throughout the country on behalf of companies, including Genesis Energy and Mercury Energy.

The Marlborough Express