<a href="http://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Smart meters and climate change

Energy meter

Credit: Clipart

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Australia is now moving towards smart meters, with the Rudd Government announcing its $100 million Smart Grid, Smart City initiative.

Proponents of smart meters say that they will help fight climate change by giving consumers the wherewithal to reduce their electricity consumption. They can also incorporate renewable and distributed energies such as wind, solar and cogeneration.

Under the existing system, power companies send someone out to check household meters four times a year, where they can run into problems from barking dogs to meters being out of reach. Smart meter technology changes that by transmitting the information back to the company. More significantly, the smart meter will be able to read the household's use every 30 minutes.

In my column here, I argue that smart meters may well usher in massive changes in society. Most people couldn't care less about electricity, let alone fully understand it. That's why I suspect we will see companies forming to help people run smart homes that save power and reduce consumption. They will spring up alongside the utilities, pretty much in the same way as internet service providers sprang up alongside telcos.

In his book Hot Flat and Crowded, Thomas Friedman writes about smart energy grids that would use power more efficiently, turning the home into a Smart Black Box (SBB) that controls and ensures the seamless inter-operability of lighting, home alarm systems, telephones, computers, internet connections and all other devices, while telling you how much energy they use and ensuring the heating, air-conditioning units, dishwasher, dryer, refrigerator and car battery can run at lower power.

Just press the 'sleep' button on the SBB control panel when you walk out the door and all lights and appliances either switch off or go to their lowest necessary power. Alternatively, you can call your SBB from your mobile on your way home to tell the house to 'wake up'. It's a world where an electric car can charge and store energy at night. Indeed, it's no longer called a car ("The term 'car' is now considered to be so, gosh, 20th century"), it's a Rolling Energy Storage Unit (RESU) and is now a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that can be charged at home, or at any ramp.

Still, smart meters might have some problems. Like costs, for example. They are being rolled out in Victoria and as I point out in my pieces here and here, they are going to cost consumers plenty. Also, there's no guarantee people will reduce their electricity usage, particularly when electricity is the lowest item in most household budgets.

So what do you think of smart meters? Would they be effective in reducing electricity consumption? Are you prepared to pay extra?