The friendly faces of Trustpower's Tauranga meter readers could be phased out over the next three years if a trial of smart meters is successful.
Up to 12 jobs could be lost in and around the city, depending on the results of the year-long trial which the Tauranga-based energy company hoped to start in early 2017.
Trustpower's business solutions and technology manager Simon Clarke said they would need to do it properly before a decision was made to roll out the new meters.
An earlier deal to install digital meters fell over last year. Since then Trustpower had been so preoccupied with implementing other major changes, like shifting the head office into the CBD and splitting Trustpower into two separately listed companies, that the initiative had gone on the back burner.
"It fell down the strategic pecking order," he said.
Mr Clarke said it was recognised there was an inevitability about the introduction of smart meters.
"It would be fair to say we have been a bit slower compared to the rest of the industry."
Trustpower was the only major power company to have not proactively deployed smart meters to customers. He said 1.3 million of New Zealand's two million electricity connections now had smart meters.
Mr Clarke said their meter readers did such a fantastic job that building a business case to put in digital meters was more challenging for Trustpower because, unlike its competitors, it had not out-sourced the reading.
"Engaging with customers was a very positive thing because the meter readers had been doing it for so long."
Trustpower remained the dominant electricity retailer in the Tauranga area, totalling 65,000 to 70,000 of its 280,000 connections around New Zealand.
Significant growth centred mainly on Auckland and Wellington had seen it pick up customers who already had smart meters installed by their previous retailer. These people now comprised 35 per cent of the company's customer base.
Trustpower had reached an agreement with the owners of the meters, Vector and Mercury Energy's Metrix, because it would have been ''a bit of a nonsense'' to pull them out, Mr Clarke said.
The switch to smart meters was partly driven by an industry compliance requirement to replace the old technologies, and because customers liked the data provided by digital meters.
Trustpower employed 75 meter readers nationwide, including reading the meters of its mains gas customers. Gas meters had not been digitised.
Around 70 per cent of customers had taken up its telco and internet service provider (ISP) options, making Trustpower the fourth-biggest ISP in the country.
Meanwhile, Tauranga City Council was no closer to making a decision to install smart meters on its water connections.
Water services team leader Peter Bahrs said the two contracted meter readers were a very small component of Tauranga's water supply costs and the business case to convert the meters did not stack up. Water meters were read quarterly.
He expected that the advances in technology would have seen prices for smart meters come down more than what had happened. ''If we can get the business case to stack up, we would look at it.''
Advantages of electricity smart meters
- Actual usage is downloaded automatically each day
- Eliminates accounts based on estimates of power consumption
- Simplifies the billing system
- People can see online how much power they are using
- Can compare consumption between months, weeks and days