Smarter meters coming to Nelson

CHARLOTTE SQUIRE
Last updated 12:58 14/04/2014

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A $15 million Network Tasman project to install smart electricity meters in homes and businesses across the Nelson region is set to be rolled out from September.

The meters will measure power use and transmit this information, as well as outages data, direct to Network Tasman's operations centre via a radio signal.

Advanced metering development manager Andrew Stanton said Network Tasman initially planned to begin installing the new meters this month, but the start date had now been pushed back to September.

Up to 40,000 meters will be installed.

"The rollout will begin slowly, with a few hundred meters being deployed initially. We will then ramp up to 1500 meter installations per month across the region. It's a complex process, getting the retailer systems geared to work with the contractors," he said.

Stanton said he wasn't sure which area would be the first to receive the new meters.

More than one million have been installed in other parts of the country.

Network Tasman chief executive Wayne Mackey said there would be many benefits from switching to the advanced meters. There would be no need for meter readers to access land or buildings to take readings.

There would also be improved management of power outages, he said.

"If you lose power, the meter sends a message back to central office, alerting Network Tasman of the outage.

"In the future, they will also have in-house displays, so you can see what's happening with your power supply. They can be linked to computers and smartphones."

Stanton said one key benefit from knowing when customers had lost power was that Network Tasman could "get our faultman rolling" rather than waiting for customers to make contact.

Mackey said the advanced meters had proven useful in Christchurch during the earthquakes, when the local power company knew immediately which households had lost power. They were also proving useful during emergencies and storms.

Some consumers have raised concerns about the new technology.

Golden Bay artist Sarah Hornibrook said she had concerns about the health and privacy implications of the new meters, especially after watching the film Take Back Your Power, by Josh del Sol. She said the issue was "far-reaching and complex".

An online synopsis of the film says it features whistleblowers, researchers, government agents, lawyers, doctors and environmentalists, and exposes "corporate and government corruption" and the "erosion of rights in the name of ‘smart' and ‘green' ".

"If anyone has concerns about cellphone towers, they definitely need to see this film," Hornibrook said. She pointed to the website stopsmartmeters.org.nz, which says: "Smart meters are not compulsory, and every single person who refuses to install a ‘smart meter' (or gets their existing ‘smart meter' removed) can help reduce the level of unnecessary and potentially harmful microwave radiation in their own home, and their wider community."

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In response to those concerns, Stanton said: "All the meters do is measure energy voltage and the electrical characteristics of our network. All that information is transmitted through secure and coded communication pipes back to our system."

He said Network Tasman would pass the consumption information on to each consumer's retailer, so it could calculate power bills.

Mackay said the new meters produced fewer radio emissions than a wireless modem, and much less than a cellphone. He pointed to a table on the Network Tasman website comparing levels of radio emissions.

"There's a lot of misinformation going around. People need to weigh up the very low levels these meters produce, compared to using a smartphone or a wireless router. Most of the time, the communication transmitter in these devices is asleep."

Stanton said people who wanted more information or a non-transmitting meter should refer to a section on Network Tasman's website under the "Advanced meters/Contact us" page. Requests for non-transmitting meters could be lodged there, and Network Tasman would pass these on to retailers.

"Those customers won't receive the benefits of us knowing when the power's on or off, and they'll still need a meter reader to access their property."

- Nelson

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