Ausgrid NSW smart meter trial switches on in October

Customer feedback from 30,000 meters will inform future smart grid deployments

NSW energy utility company, Ausgrid, will be using the customer feedback results from smart meter trials which begin in October to make a strong business case for the development of further smart grid deployments.

Speaking at the National Smart Grids Forum in Sydney, Ausgrid managing director, George Maltabarow, said the rollout of 30,000 smart meters in NSW would also determine if the devices make the power supply more reliable, reduce peaks in energy demand and help customers lower their electricity bills. The company, formerly known as EnergyAustralia before being sold off by the NSW state government earlier in 2011, was selected to lead the three-year $100 million Smart Cities, Smart Grid project.

The trial will be taking place in five locations throughout NSW including Newcastle, Scone, Ku-ring-gai and the Sydney central business district. Earlier this year, it was announced that Scone would test battery-powered micro grids, employing a five kilowatt zinc-bromine battery about the size of a slim fridge installed outside the house near the electricity meter. In Newcastle, residents will have the option of having a battery-powered smart meter unit or gas fuel cell installed by Ausgrid.

“This work will allow us to share the workings of data and analysis on a range of technologies with the industry and also provide insight for policy standards and future business case discussions," Maltabarow said.

“The customer experience will be dependent on providing [feedback] data and that will inform the industry on the challenges of the network.”

Once the trial is complete, he said the company would look at future innovations such as household energy audits, enhanced retail bill payment options, rebates from electricity networks, and tariffs that involve both a network and retail component.

“Customers with time-based pricing currently save on average $270 per year," he said. "For Smart Grids, Smart City we are going to build on that experience by testing [smart meter] products which will give customers more control over their bills."

As part of its bid to educate customers about smart meters and smart grids, Ausgrid opened a centre at Honeysuckle in Newcastle in September that will keep residents updated during the trial and will be "constantly updated" with new displays, he said.

According to Maltabarow, the smart meter project could have the potential to bring "enormous benefits" to households and electricity networks. However, he said there needs to be changes in the regulation of the electricity market in order to make electricity more affordable.

"As the operator of a network company, managing peak demand is the biggest challenge we face," he said. "The right decisions at a regulatory level for networks to invest in demand management and smart grids [are] the key to keeping costs down in the future."

He also said Ausgrid has made a regulatory change submission to the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) so the industry can respond to the rises in peak demand and the opportunities that might be presented by smart grid technologies.

Maltabarow added that Ausgrid had learnt some lessons from the Victorian smart meter project, which was meant to replace accumulation meters in 2.4 million homes and small businesses with smart meters by 2013. However, the business case for the project was criticised by the state's Auditor-General office, which called for a re-evaluation of the project in 2009.

"In that example, all the meters were deployed but the customers were not getting any benefits," he said.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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