An Australian government's troubled $2 billion smart meter roll out has been given a ringing endorsement by an independent economic analysis, which found it to be ''cost effective no matter which mix of costs and benefits are used''. The Oakley Greenwood report, to be released today, found that the benefit of rolling out the smart meters would be between $1.87 billion and $3.51 billion over 20 years and that when combined with additional demand management services the benefits would be between $2.58 billion and $5 billion over the same period. The report found that the cost over a 20-year period of installing 2.5 million smart meters in Victorian homes would be up to $2 billion (with additional services) compared with continuing to operate current manual meters for a cost of $1.5 billion. Australian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor told The Age that a moratorium on time-of-use pricing, which charges households more during peak times, would remain until the end of current trials. Digital smart meters are being installed to encourage households to cut energy use and shift to off-peak usage when power is cheaper to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Victorian programme has been dogged by claims that the less well off will be unable to shift their energy load and that household bills will be about $250 higher under the plan. The Victorian Auditor-General has attacked the scheme in a report, saying installation costs had blown out from the original estimate of $800 million to more than $2 billion. Mr Batchelor said the Oakley Greenwood report had used the results of recent tests by the Australian Energy Regulator to pinpoint what costs would be over a two-year period. ''The good thing that this report says is that the benefits will flow to households even if they don't participate,'' Mr Batchelor said. ''But if they do participate there are additional savings as well.'' He said the Government would be directed on how to apply time-of-use pricing following the completion of further trials. ''We are still working through all the design issues on what a tariff structure might be under a time of use regime,'' he said. ''We also have to resolve some technology issues. How do you get the information? Is it through web portals? In house displays? The suggestion of some companies [is to see] whether this information can be communicated through a phone application.'' The roll out should be complete by 2013.


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