What Is A Smart Meter and How Does It Work?

There’s been a lot of talk about smart meters in Australia in recent years. Since late 2017 smart meters are required by federal legislation to be used for all new and replacement meter installations, yet many people still aren’t entirely sure what they are and how they differ from traditional meters. Exactly what is a smart meter and how does it work? Are they worth the hype? Are they safe? How much do they cost? Despite the controversy, smart meters are actually simple, safe and highly effective.

What is a smart meter?

Just like the older model electricity meters, a smart meter records how much power is being used within each home or business. Although they may be attached to your property, you won’t technically own a smart meter because they’re part of the network infrastructure which is owned by the distributor. The key difference between a smart meter and a regular meter is found in how the information it records is transmitted back to the energy retailer. An old-style meter can only be read by someone physically visiting the property and reviewing the information. But a smart meter takes a regular automatic reading and relays this information directly back to the retailer.

How does a smart meter work?

A smart meter contains AC sensors that can measure the amperage and voltage of a building’s electrical circuit. Because the digital sensors don’t have any mechanical moving parts, they are less likely to fail due to continuous wear and tear (resulting in a longer-lasting piece of equipment). The smart meter uses these sensors to record how much power is consumed in 30-minute intervals and then sends this information back to the energy provider via radio frequencies. Energy retailers can then share this helpful real-time usage data with the energy distributors who are in charge of managing electricity infrastructure (power poles, wires, etc.). The energy usage information can also be shared directly with you so that you can monitor your home’s electricity consumption.

Are smart meters safe?

Yes, they are. Some people may worry about smart meters because they use radio frequencies to transmit information, but radio frequencies are completely harmless and non-ionising. Operating in the range of 902 MHz to 2.4 GHz, you’ll get more radiation from an afternoon in the sun then you’d get from a smart meter. In fact, most Wi-Fi routers use a 5.8 GHz band, so your smart meter will emit lower frequencies than your humble router.

How much will a smart meter cost?

While all energy retailers will offer smart meter installations, the associated costs may vary (due to a lack of regulations surrounding smart meter pricing). Your smart meter probably won’t be free, but a retailer may charge either an upfront fee or else factor the cost into your energy supply tariffs. Whatever the case, if you ask your energy retailer about costs associated with smart meters, they are required to disclose all the details. So, make sure you ask the right questions to ensure you’re getting the best deal.


Author: Claire Stapley
Claire Stapley is ElectricityComparison.com.au's Energy Editor, based in Melbourne Australia. Claire is a founding member of ElectricityComparison.com.au News and Energy Team.