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Government

Techy energy infrastructure is expensive

Victoria's smart meter situation is an example of why companies love to deal with government so much, and why smart energy networks are such expensive commodities.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor on

blog Victoria's smart meter situation is an example of why companies love to deal with government so much, and why smart energy networks are such expensive commodities.

Over the weekend, a letter written by energy company Jemena last year was making the rounds. In this letter, Jemena said that the Victorian Government was reviewing performance standards for smart meter systems.

The former standards said that the company's equipment needed to be capable of adjusting loads within 10 minutes. The standards were to be changed to the national standard of one minute.

This didn't go down too well.

"[Jemena] believes there are no technologies available in the world today that can meet the current performance levels, and are proposing that this be returned to the original performance level," the letter reads.

Now, even if this isn't true, the government has already negotiated the roll-out with energy companies based on a particular set of technologies. Jemena and the other companies involved have probably done costings based on the former standards. You can't just switch the standards in the middle of the process and expect companies to meekly go along without giving some sort of carrot.

Jemena told the Australian Financial Review earlier this week that the proposed standards exceeded those needed. Jemena was yet to see the final standards, according to the report, but believed that they would "reflect reality".

In other words, Jemena thinks that the load control standard won't be as low as one minute. Probably there'll be some compromise.

But the whole saga highlights a major issue for smart meters. Electricity network components were built to last decades (think about your current meter), and people's cost expectations are in line with that. But if we begin to make these networks intelligent, they'll need much more frequent updating. Likely before Victoria's upgrade is done, the smart meters involved will be very out of date.

This fact would give most governments and companies a wait-and-see mentality. But if no one adopts smart meters, how will the systems ever get better? And while everyone's waiting for everyone else to adopt something, we continue to have dumb networks that waste energy by the handful.

So either we enter an energy crisis due to a lack of intelligent network sharing, or we buy the kit and get on with our lives.

Of course, the energy companies won't want to pay for constantly updating tech, so the cost will be passed on to you and me in the form of higher energy prices. In our energy-guzzling technological world, that's hitting us where it hurts. But with the only other option being ever-increasing numbers of black-outs, the reality is that everyone just has to shut up and pay.

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