Smart meter advice for solar households nearing end of bonus tariffs

For 146,000 people on the gross Solar Bonus Scheme in New South Wales – currently receiving 20c or 60c feed-in tariff for all the electricity they produce from their solar panels, the end is night. The scheme ends on December 31.
So if you’re a solar owner on the scheme, what should you do?
One of the first things is to ensure you get a net meter installed. Without this meter, come 1 January 2016 all the energy generated from your solar system will effectively be exported to the grid at a measly retail rate of around 6c/kwh.
What you’ll be able to do with a ntt meter is use your solar electricity rather than grid electricity which costs 4 or 5 times that amount. A typical solar bonus scheme customer risks wasting $30 per month or more without a nett meter from 1 January 2016.
Swapping from gross to net meters will usually involve getting a smart meter.
How to get a smart meter? In the past, electricity networks (the companies that own the poles and wires) have owned and read your meter. But now, electricity retailers are able to sell and own meters and are most likely to set you up with a smart meter.
There are different kinds of smart meters with different functions but at a minimum they record energy consumption and transmit this remotely via a built-in 3G modem, avoiding manual checks of the meter. This means no more men in high vis inspecting your fuse box every few months.
If nothing else, smart meters should slash the rate of dog attacks on innocent meter readers! The more sophisticated smart meters will be able to record your usage and generation more frequently – some  even provide data in real times so can get more information on when you’re using and generating electricity.
Solar Citizens directly surveyed the largest 20 electricity retailers on how they are assisting customers to have a smart meter installed. We found a range of approaches and some less than genuine deals.
The Energy Australia offer is the most alarming. Australia’s third largest retailer is advertising “free” smart meters but will be charging customers $10 or $20 per month for an uncapped period.  
There’s also an exit fee that applies if you want to switch retailers and Energy Australia refused to provide details on the rates being offered. We reckon this deal deserves a wide steer. (UPDATE – it seems Energy Australia have provided an additional offer after Solar Citizens raised concerns. Watch this space.)
There are 6 retailers offering what seem to be genuinely free smart meters. They are claiming no extra increases in tariffs or exit fees for these smart meters. At least two of these retailers (AGL and Origin) are installing smart meters on an “opt out” basis so if you’re already a customer and don’t respond to their letter, you’ll have a smart meter installed before the end of the year.
Furthermore, the offer by community-owned retailer Enova is transparent although will lead to an extra $91 per year. Similarly, the Mojo offer includes a free meter but requires going onto a specific plan which is really only worthwhile for large energy consumers.
Retailers – especially the large ones – should be in a position to offer free meters because even though the upfront costs for them are not insignificant (around $600 each or more), they will be able to recoup these costs over time by avoiding costs to manually read the meters. (Avoided expenses from dog-attack insurance is bound to save them a bucket alone.)
The unknown factor (and hopefully one in which the IPART inquiry will look into), is what happens when you decide six  months down the track to switch to a different electricity retailer but your smart meter is owned by the retailer you switched from?
Will the retailer that owns your meter be able to charge your new retailer a fee that gets passed onto you? What happens to your usage data? Will the retailer that owns the meter still have rights to the data? There are also grave concerns that different kinds of meters won’t be compatible with different retailers, which could mean installing expensive new meters when customers switch to a new provider.
Another key question is what kind of access to data retailers will provide. Some retailers such as Powershop are offering full access to data gathered by smart meters whilst Energy Australia has one offer that includes access to monitoring and data and another, more expensive offer that doesn’t.
We would have liked to ask more questions of retailers about what meters they are installing, how the data will be provided to customers and so on but we found it difficult enough getting simple information from most retailers!!
For all the failings of the smart meter roll-out in Victoria, it does seem like the competitive model about to be trialled in NSW won’t apply lessons learned by the sector.

Electricity retailers offering FREE nett or smart meters
AGL Offering all NSW Solar Bonus Scheme customers free smart meters on an opt-out basis. https://refer.agl.com.au/forms/sbs-meter/
Diamond Free to SBS customers who were with Diamond pre-August 2016. Other customers should enquire with Diamond http://diamondenergy.com.au/solarbonusnsw/
Lumo Offering all NSW Solar Bonus Scheme customers free smart meters https://lumoenergy.com.au/help-centre/fee-schedule-nsw
Origin Offering all NSW Solar Bonus Scheme customers free smart meters on an opt-out basis. https://www.originenergy.com.au/for-home/solar/plans-offers/nsw-solar-bonus.html
Powershop Offering all NSW Solar Bonus Scheme customers free smart meters http://www.powershop.com.au/nsw-smart-meters/
Red Energy Offering all NSW Solar Bonus Scheme customers free smart meters https://www.redenergy.com.au/smart-meters/smart-meters-new-south-wales.html
Companies offering meters WITH CONDITIONS
Energy Australia Energy Australia claims to offer a “FREE” smart meter plus a deal that includes a free solar panel clean every year and a high feed-in rate HOWEVER you will be put on a rate that includes a $10/month meter charge plus unknown usage rates and an exit penalty if you switch retailers within a year. https://www.energyaustralia.com.au/faqs/residential/nsw-solar-scheme
Mojo Free for customers on the Plus+ plan. Check the rates for this plan. There are no lock-in contracts and/or exit fees however these plans only suit high energy users http://www.mojopower.com.au/solarbonus/
Enova Customers can purchase a simple nett meter or a smart meter. Metering fees apply. There will be a metering fee of approximately $0.25per day or $91.25 single phase and $121 three phase per annum. This will be a fixed charge clearly identified on your bill,as separate metering fee. No locked-in contracts. http://www.enovaenergy.com.au/solar-meters/
Cova Customers will be placed on a 2 year contract, terms and agreements include a possible new tariff structure and customers will liable for exit fees. https://www.covau.com.au

 
Actew AGL, Alinta, Blue NRG, Power Direct, Sanctuary, Simply Energy T/as Energy Solutions, Urth, Dodo, Momentum, Click Energy
Make sure you are getting a good retail offer too!
Of course, just as important as getting a smart meter is ensuring you are getting a good deal from your retailer for both your usage rates and feed-in tariff.
Make sure you spend some time comparing retail offers. Unfortunately, the www.energymadeeasy.gov.au website does not include calculations for solar owners and the NSW govt does not have the equivalent of http://switchon.vic.gov.au/ which does exactly that.
Solar Choice published an article in July analysing the best deals for solar owners in NSW with Powershop, Momentum and Red Energy picking up guernseys (NB. All these retailers offer free smart meters with no catches).
If you are with the big three energy companies (AGL, Energy Australia, Origin) and haven’t switched plans for a year or two chances are you’re on a “standing” market offer and are getting a very poor deal.
Solar Citizens hopes to undertake a fresh look at the best deals for solar owners early in the new year.

A new smart installed in a NSW solar bonus scheme customer’s house this week in Sydney.
A new smart installed in a NSW solar bonus scheme customer’s house this week in Sydney.

Reece Turner is the consumer campaigner for Solar Citizens.

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