The Market Factors Driving Digital Metering in 2023: Dr Ian Monks

Dr Ian Monks recently provided analysis of a study into the digital metering state of play across Australia and New Zealand.

It’s evident from his analysis that Monks understands digital metering has potential well beyond remote meter reading and billing.  In fact, he presents digital metering as the solution to four distinct market factors impacting utilities, households and businesses in 2023.

Factor 1: Government Commitment to Climate Change Action Targets. 

Monks’ analysis draws a line between digital metering and climate action targets.

Recent commitments to tighter carbon reduction targets in Australia have major implications for the immediate future of utilities. Regulation and policy changes are already changing to align the sector with national decarbonisation targets.

One example is new guiding principles for the National Energy Market (NEM).  

National Energy Obligations (NEO) rules for the NEM have previously been limited to the price, quality, safety, reliability and security of electricity supply and the NEM.  This year however, the NEO tabled the addition of environmental considerations or potential impacts too. Once implemented, energy operators will be required to add considerations for carbon reduction in the delivery of electricity services.

How Digital Metering Enables Government Climate Action Targets:

Australia’s capability to implement energy efficiency programs to date has been limited by analogue infrastructure.

Digital utility metering, meanwhile, is fundamental to a range of clean and energy efficiency programs. Such programs reduce demand and promote more sustainable consumption patterns.

We all need to be enabled regarding Australia’s green energy and carbon reduction targets.

Two prime examples where digital metering drives carbon reduction and management are:

  1. Time-of-use-billing: Flexible tariff pricing incentivises consumers to shift energy usage to times when clean and efficient energy – namely, excess solar – is available in the grid.
  2. Visibility into consumption: Simply providing real-time consumption data empowers monitoring and management of usage to reduce energy consumption and associated costs. Businesses will also increasingly require accurate asset-level consumption data from their utilities for carbon credits or ESG reporting, too.

Factor 2: Labour Shortages

Critical labour shortages across almost all markets are expected to continue into 2023.

The impact meter reader shortages have for analogue utilities is significant. In one example in the US, widespread billing issues and operational problems were generated by recent labour shortages at New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB).

Meter reading staff shortages at S&WB lead to a greater reliance on estimate billing at the utility. The board also extended the typical 30-day billing cycles to 45-days. In turn, some residential customers were mistakenly charged at the higher rate used for business. There was also significant impact on call centres and billing teams, who were required to realign errant bills.

Error-prone and labour-intensive manual meter reading processes are still required for more than 70% of Australian utility meters. At the time of writing, more than 470 meter reading jobs are currently listed nationally on seek.com.

How Digital Metering Helps Utilities to Address Labour Shortages:

Implementing a digital metering solution that provides regular remote reads completely eliminates the need for expensive manual meter reading processes.

The time and investment required to upgrade metering infrastructure is a major consideration, however. Further, some digital metering solutions require skilled trades for installation and downtime. Today, plumbers and electricians are required to install water and electricity meters remain in short supply.

Smart meter alternatives or complementary solutions that don’t require licensed trades however are available. With minimal training, SNAPI can be installed in less than 10 seconds to digitise an analogue meter, empowering regular and ad-hoc remote, digital reads with accuracy of 99.9%. This presents an exciting method of addressing labour shortages and meanwhile, improving multiple areas of the operation.

Factor 3: Increased Consumer Expectations in a Digital World

Banks, councils and libraries are some of the largest, oldest and conservative industries. Yet most have successfully developed a digital customer experience.

A hyper-personalised, data-driven customer experience is now common when purchasing takeaway, books and groceries. Customer expectations have changed, presenting an opportunity for utilities to step up. On the flipside, organisations that install customer-driven digital experiences benefit from improved customer satisfaction, stickiness and higher spend or value per customer.

It’s time to plug in and play the game of customer focus.

Australian utilities have, unfortunately, largely failed to tap into the massive opportunity for a truly personalised, data-driven customer experience.

How Digital Meters Can Improve the Customer Experience for Utilities:

Until more consumer-centred consumption data is available, building digital-driven customer experience will remain a challenge for utilities.

Once established however, the opportunities for utilities to share personalised data with consumers are massive, and are mutually beneficial to the customer and supplier.

Examples of valuable customer insights and their impacts includes:

  • Consumption trends, peak days and comparisons with peers – reducing consumption, carbon emissions and costs
  • Rate options and charges – driving a shift to cleaner, more efficient energy and cost savings
  • Warnings on self-imposed consumption limits – to help customers manage costs, consumption and for the utility to improve supply management
  • Outages and service alerts – reducing customer complaints, the cost of notifications and support load

Government’s commitment to climate change action targets, labour shortages, rising inflation and interest on borrowing, increased consumer expectations in a digital world and personal interest in contributions to climate change provide a fertile ground for digital metering implementation.

Dr Ian Monks. IWN & WSAA Digital Metering State of Play Report Summary, Oct 2022.

Factor 4: Inflation

Inflation is already making it more challengin and expensive for Aussie businesses to operate. But ageing infrastructure, increased demand and environmental factors all add significant pressure upon Utilities to cut costs and unlock new efficiencies.  

How Digital Metering Helps Utilities to Cope with Inflation:

Digital metering is one solid example of an investment in infrastructure that delivers significant efficiency gains. Manual meter reading processes are not only high on administration and time-consuming, but they’re also error-prone, contributing to further costs to the utility. Further on-costs associated with manual meter reading that can be avoided with digital metering includes fewer billing disputes, efficient meter reading practices and employee OHS costs. Data for analytics brings value to the assessment further opportunities for improvement across asset management, customer services, and customer retention strategies.

Many Aussie consumers meanwhile, are also seeking to reduce costs due to inflation. A report published by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) in late 2022 found many people are depriving themselves of energy taking fewer showers, cooking less, not heating or cooling their homes to reduce bills.

Managing energy consumption and energy costs goes hand-in-hand.

Digital metering again, will help utilities to pass efficiencies onto customers. Digital customer experiences that help inform consumers and help them reduce household consumption will alleviate further pressures generated by inflation.

Conclusion

Dr Monks analysis demonstrates that digital metering doesn’t just replace manual meter reading. Rather, there’s significant value to be unlocked for the utility and its customers, including a wide range of economic and environmental benefits.

For more about a variety of businesses cases for digital metering, click here: https://snapi.com.au/the-digital-utility-benefits/

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