Gerry Brownlee has decided not to specify a standard for smart meters, denying householders the opportunity to get a little more control over the cost of their electricity. The technology on offer is quite exciting, and it’s a real shame the new meters electricity companies are fitting won’t make use of it. The meters being installed don’t have a HAN (home area network) chip, so they won’t be able to communicate with other in-home appliances to allow consumers to take advantage of using power when electricity is cheaper.
Brownlee’s decision is good news for the electricity companies, who now have ministerial backing in their quest to deny households the opportunity to save money on their power bills. It’s a shame he didn’t listen to the advice of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who recommended last year that he specify a standard, as many overseas jurisdictions have done. Brownlee is defending his decision by saying that the ripple control system for hot water heaters is an adequate substitute. As my colleague Charles Chauvel has stated “In technology terms, that’s a bit like saying you don’t want an iPod because you still have a perfectly good collection of 78s”.
However, he has got one thing right in that he has agreed to regulate some of the basic data exchange protocols. That will ensure that consumers will be able to make use of new meter technology even if they switch retailers. As an example, I’m currently with Meridian but my meter was installed by Genesis. Meridian read my meter every 2nd month, but if I was with Genesis they would do an electronic reading monthly so I’d never need to worry about ‘estimate’ readings. Hopefully the new rules will ensure that Meridian will be able to use the meters electronic capability, even though they didn’t install it themselves.
It’s a real shame Gerry Brownlee hasn’t used his 3 and a half months deliberating on the issue (the Electricity Commission presented their recommendations to him in early December) to make a more gutsy call. As usual he’s sticking with his head in the sand, stacking up more problems that will have to be dealt with in the future rather than showing leadership today. In the meantime consumers miss out on an opportunity to save money on their power bills. So much for National being the party of choice…