Network Tasman eyes $20m plan for smart meters

Network Tasman is considering whether to invest up to $20 million to fit out homes in the Nelson region with so-called smart meters as part of a joint venture with other electricity lines companies.

Chairman Ian Kearney confirmed Network Tasman was undertaking a feasibility study into joining SmartCo, a consortium of 14 lines companies which wants to spend $200m around the country putting in electronic meters equipped with Home Area Network (HAN) radios capable of wirelessly controlling and communicating with smart home appliances.

Mr Kearney said if Network Tasman became a SmartCo shareholder, it would spend between $15m and $20m over three to four years installing the meters in its distribution area.

A decision whether to proceed would not be made until October and because it was a significant investment it would require approval from trustees of the consumer trust which owns the company, he said.

"It's fair to say that in principle we see there is a logic and advantages in the distribution company owning through to the meters and providing the metering services to the retailers."

Retailers had to replace their current outdated meters by 2014 and some had indicated they would prefer to sell them and have someone else go through the certification programme, he said.

"There are economies of scale in buying and reinstalling metres, so Network Tasman is looking at taking that meter ownership position in the Tasman region where retailers are looking at getting out of the meter business."

Current meters were based on 80-year-old technology and did not permit easy electricity management or load control, whereas new generation meters were far more efficient and were able to provide extra services, Mr Kearney said.

However, to label them smart was overstating their usefulness, he said.

"Potentially there are a number of things an electronic meter will make easier but at this point of time we don't see there is any significant demand for people who want to hook refrigerators or washing machines or dishwashers to them because most of these devices have a built-in timing system anyway."

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright criticised electricity retailers in a 2009 report for installing "dumb" smart meters that could relay half-hourly meter readings back to retailers, but which do not have home networking capabilities built in.

While the SmartCo initiative was "very encouraging" and would allow variable pricing, the fact electricity retailers had already started installing meters without HAN radios created "a mess", she said.

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

The Nelson Mail