Having the opportunity to travel in parts of Australia this week, I am struck by the familiarity of the issues encountered in various smart grid and smart metering programs currently underway. After several visits with some of the largest distribution businesses and a major retail energy provider, it has become quite apparent that the strategy, planning, and deployment issues are truly very similar in nature to the U.S. and in Europe, but occurring in a parallel universe more than 8,000 miles apart.
For instance, a number of the smart meter deployments in the state of Victoria are encountering some degree of consumer backlash, mostly associated with concerns over costs/benefits and potential RF radiation impacts. Sound familiar? Other issues being encountered stem around a high degree of uncertainty as to the value of installing the mandatory ZigBee chip in each smart meter (owned by the distribution businesses), given the lack of consensus or interest on the part of retailers to explore its inherent functionality in offering consumer products and services. Finally, there are also some of the same expressed concerns found in the U.S. and in Europe about the ability of smart meter manufacturers to maintain low failure rates as local and off-shore manufacturing rapidly ramps up. Premature failures in early generation meter designs have led to unexpected errors, some of which cannot be remedied by remote firmware updates. Thus, there are questions about the viability of achieving positive business case outcomes, should this trend continue with subsequent generations of metering product.
None of these issues are unique to Australia. Each can be resolved via solutions already being implemented in North America and in Europe, assuming a sufficient transfer of leading practices, methods, and experiences. However, as Australian stakeholders resolve these issues and even develop their own unique solutions, we in the northern hemisphere should also pay attention and expand our own horizons with insights from down under. What is your view?
By: Rob Wilhite