Smart meter roll-out delayed – time to get it right

by , Campaigns Officer Energy & Home 13 May 2013
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News reached us last week that the introduction of smart meters into 30m UK homes would be delayed by a year. Time enough for the government to make sure the £11bn cost doesn’t spiral out of control.

Green sand timer

As opposed to existing meters, rather unkindly termed ‘dumb meters’, smart meters will give much more detailed information about the amount of gas and electricity your household is using.

The government had planned to complete the roll-out of these new meters by 2019, kicking it all off in 2014. However, both of those markers have been shifted back a year. The reason given was that the industry needs more time to perfect the communications systems required for smart meters to be effective.

Don’t let smart meter costs spiral

So why should you be interested in this? Well, the roll-out comes with an expected bill of around £11.7bn. And that’s a bill that all of us will be picking up. So it’s pretty important that the whole thing is done with the cost to you and me at the forefront of considerations.

Smart meters are, in principle, a good idea. Or they ought to be at least. More accurate billing should flow as a result of their introduction and we have often come across estimated bills as one of your most regular bones of contention. That makes it all the more important that their roll-out across the UK is done correctly.

Last year we called on the government to review the smart meter roll-out on the grounds that there were no effective cost controls in place. The government seems to think that the energy market is competitive enough to keep costs down. However, when the number of people switching energy companies has declined in recent years and the majority of people still sit on expensive standard tariffs, this seems a bit far-fetched.

We also called for suppliers to regularly report to Ofgem about the costs they’re passing through to customers. Furthermore, we think that installing smart meters region by region would be far more cost effective and would better engage people with their benefits. In that respect it wouldn’t be dissimilar to the digital television switchover which was completed successfully.

Getting the smart meter roll-out right

So, this delay presents an opportunity for the government to get a grip on these issues. It needs to prove to us that it has a plan that will be well coordinated and consumer friendly – and that the cost of the roll-out doesn’t spiral. Energy bills are on the up and up anyway, so the last thing we need is something else compounding the problem.

Have you had a smart meter installed? Do you love it or hate it? If you haven’t got a smart meter, are you keen to get one installed or are you dead against it?

18 comments

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wavechange

It’s not difficult to read modern digital meters. If we read our meters when requested and submit readings online or by phone, there should be little need for estimated readings, and definitely no need for smart meters. If anyone wants a smart meter, that’s fine as long as they are prepared to pay to have one installed.

I recently learned that switching energy supplier can mean that expensive smart meters can no longer be used to transmit meter readings. If this is true, it is incredible that the companies have not decided on a common standard used by everyone.

I feel that Which? was a bit too positive about smart meters when the roll out was first suggested, but now have a much better understanding of the problems.

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brianac

This seems like another government white elephant. They are quite happy to spend our money for political gain, with little or no benefit to the average honest consumer.
Just what we will gain is not at all clear to me. It seems all that will happen is that the meter can be read without the company having to employ a meter reader, that does nothing for me, nor for the employment situation.
I would also question the point of less mistakes, the whole system is open to all sorts of cross over of data, transmission drop out and all the other problems that engineers of today seem not able to prevent nor correct. There is also the additional power all this extra electronics will consume. More delay equals more costs, not less. Too many fingers in too many pies. If as Wavechange indicates there is no overall standardization between companies then this will be a major, major disaster, as most government big projects tend to be.
So, just what do I gain? Nothing. What do I pay? probably around 10% of my power bill.
Thanks a lot.

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David Ramsay

I think overall that everyone may be missing the plot. Smart meters will enable power companies (and thus governments) to control supply. It is the intention of the EU to have centralised and common control of energy, there is NO need for these meters at all. It is an EU edict being spun to fool us into thinking they will be good for us!

What would be good for us is if politicians become honest and tell us why these meters will improve our consumption?

I for one will NEVER have an operational smart meter in my home, I am prepared to bypass and remove any that are installed against my will.

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David Ramsay

oops want an e-mail when any comments added

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Anon the mouse

I understand that the original version of the smart meter had no security, instead relying on obscurity to protect something as critical as the power supply to a property.

There is a study that shows that the data collected by these meters is sufficient to show not only if your TV is on, but what you are watching by the minute changes in power levels that are recorded.

Every connected device you own can be hacked. From doing simple things like enabling the USB port on your TV for playing videos back via usb stick, to complex stuff like accessing a neighbours router and moving their channel to stop interference. If it’s got any means of electronic access it’s hackable, that’s why these smart meters are a bad idea.

Imagine you go away for a weekend and someone remotely turns off your power and waits for your burglar alarm battery to go flat (Generally a couple of hours and it will go off once to say it’s got no power), then it’s a simple matter of breaking in KNOWING that the alarm will not go off as it’s already gone off to say it’s ran down. Even if it does go off again your neighbours will have been the first time, know it’s faulty and ignore it.

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Teajay

How right previous comments are! In addition we may be assured that energy companies will not be allowed to use a smart meter to interrupt our supply, but how long before our politicians decide that such a rule is rescinded.

I regret that Which? does not include this sort of possibility in their comments on the disadvantages of smart meters.

I have had an energy monitor for several years but it is of little use for detailed monitoring of usage. The fridge, heater, computer, etc switch on and off fairly randomly so I don’t know what is consuming my current 388W. It is, however, useful for reading the temperature and time! The only benefit I can see for a smart meter is that I won’t have to open a cupboard door and read the meter once a quarter and then spend a couple of minutes sending the reading to my supplier.

I too will refuse a smart meter.

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David Ramsay

The EU are proposing ‘smart’ chips that are placed within all consumer electronics so that when there is a peak load that cannot be satisfied the chip detects this (actually it detects a reduction of the frequency of the supply) and switches off the appliance for a short period (milliseconds).

However, I doubt the honesty and veracity of this proposal as it is only a short step to do exactly as Teajay says.

The proposal is also plainly stupid as the peaks will be uncontrollable as each device will switch back on again and bump the peak reappears. This is why the chips will have the ability to control when we are able to use electricity, my answer, a damn great 6inch nail!

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ellen

Smart meters have as much use as changing Energy Suppliers, they do not reduce energy, the only way to do that is to use less energy!

Its all about changing your way of life and installing real Energy Reducing Products. Why turn down the heating and feel cold. get a really Intelligent Heating Control installed, at the moment our 6 panel Solar installation is producing the same amount of power that we are using, sometimes more, I love springtime.
Give yourself a lift buy one of the Energy Egg, its fun and a few more pence saved. We find our Oven is the biggest user of power and have changed the way we prepare food.

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Alwyn Maynard

Frightening!

Does this mean they will soon be able to control how much we light our homes or cool the food is kept in our freezers?

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that.

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Chris Gloucester

Postpone indefinitely far as I’m concerned.
No gain for the consumer because smart meters won’t save us a penny. Any savings we might make through suggested better knowledge of our consumption will be very short lived.
This £11 billion cost will of course be covered by us the consumer so no saving there either.

These so called smart meters are a piece of technology for technologies sake, and will only benefit the energy suppliers.

What we have works (dumb meters) and I see no reason to change.

If that £11 billion was use to subsidise insulation costs it would be a far better use of the money, which will no doubt be extracted from us anyway.

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David Chalmers

There is a lot of misinformation about smart meters. The network that collects the billing information will use GSM and be as secure as your mobile phone call. The home network will be almost impossible to hack without dismantling the meter.

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Chris Gloucester

David Chalmers,
Maybe so but “smart meters” will still saddle us collectively with an £11 bill and save us nothing.

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David Ramsay

Oh so true Chris

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debbie davis

There are now invasive virus’s that can control the internal workings of the Iranian Atomic Energy programme, Not even connected to the internet, it still managed to find its spot, a programme designed and released by the Israeli and USA Government. Why would this be safe?
As this meter will be of benefit to the Suppliers why are they not paying for the installation?

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Dave Beakhust

I understand that on the continent, where wiring is typically radial (everything back to the fuse box, instead of going round in a ring, the type of smart meters in use routinely have two circuits, one interruptible and the other not. My source, an IET article. Faintly like economy seven of blessed memory. You could easily see it may be unproblematic if your water heater was interruptible. It would also be easy to wire it to the interruptible port ( or not ).
My concern is that meters currently being fitted in uk have only ONE circuit and that IS interruptible. We could find alleged non-payers cut off remotely, as it would be cheaper than sending personnel. This despite promises to the contrary. Errors are errors, and the cutoff function could also be set off by mistake. Also, do gas smart meters have TECHNICAL provision to cut off? Should not, as you cannot safely load-shed by cutting off gas – it needs gas-safe engineer to restore.
I suspect that the divergence between Meters fitted in uk and euro mainland is leading to cost hikes.
These concerns regarding differences between uk and European Meters, the possibility of easy power interruption, and the possibility that the metering companies ( who are not the suppliers) could leak occupation info illegally are all concerns that will keep smart meters from my house until there is no option, and I will then have to just hope that the ghastly mobile coverage here will help me.
I ask that ‘which?’ go into the issue of the TECHNICAL ability to cut off supply, and test assurances they are given against any evidence you can dig up from outside uk. Remember that the metering companies will have control of these things and are arms length from the suppliers, so mistakes will happen. I am sure I cannot suggest any company names here in the T and C rules, but you all can guess who they are….

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Contax

I have no objection to smart meters but find the current dumb meters do a fine job (wish I had decimal digits on my electric meter), people need to learn to read their meters and send meter readings to their supplier, I submit my readings every month end and get monthly online bills even though on DD. Smart meters are a waste of consumers money as they are for the suppliers to control our supply, see BG free Saturday electric but more expensive on weekdays, it will be different tarrifs at peak periods when we all have smart meters. I have a water smart meter so readings can be read remotely from the roadside and it has a remote display for consumer, I record monthly water meter readings and daily gas & electric readings which also show monthly and yearly consumption.
Get a simple energy checker that fits between appliance plug and wall socket to show what an appliance is using over a given period then you can work out running costs ( fridge and freezer will vary depending on temperature in the home). Meters like the Owl are a novel item at first but otherwise tell very little, hard to work out as things like fridges and freezers constantly switching on and off.
I wish someone would challenge Ofgems rulling that all tarrifs must have standing charges as from new year, it will cost low users such as pensioners, disabled, sick and low income households a lot more in summer months than the 2 tier tarrif, what we need is a single unit (kWh) price for each fuel gas and electric with no standing charges or 2 tier tarrifs just like buying petrol and diesel. Metering and transport costs would be spread over every kWh sold so everyone would pay the same price. It would make comparing tarrifs just like checking cost of a litre of petrol and diesel at each garage, cut out hidden charging by suppliers so price increases would be simple and clear. We should also demand that every consumer in the UK pays the same price not different tarrifs for each area. I believe EDF have suggested this to Ofgem if all suppliers do the same but Ofgem rejected it, just need to check who is advising Ofgem to know why. Why don’t Which or one of these supposed to be on the consumers side get a campaign against Ofgem and sort the energy charging rip off once and for all.

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Jen

There is a petition to sign if anyone feels strongly about the potential problems of smart meters:
https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/we-do-not-consent-to-smart-meters?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1405185593

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Phil

The benefits of smart-meters are all to the energy companies who will make great savings by not employing meter-readers. Further savings will be made by improved assessment of energy demand.
Any cost of installation should be met by investors and Companies should not be permitted to load any part of the cost on consumers.

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