Our smart meter challenge to help stop stealth sales

by , Senior Advocate Energy & Home 11 July 2011
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Can you imagine someone coming round to install your new smart meter, then trying to flog you cavity wall insulation? No? Well, you may not be as imaginative as our sales-savvy energy companies.

promise for convo

By 2020 the government wants every home in Great Britain to have a smart meter. It will cost over £11 billion and we are likely to pay for it via our bills.

This meter will be smart because it will communicate directly with the supplier and so cut out the need for meter readings. They’re a great idea, because as well as passing this info to your supplier, they’ll also let you see your own energy usage. This could help you reduce energy consumption and, in turn, lower your bills.

So what’s the catch?

The government is encouraging smart meter installations to include advice on energy efficiency. This includes installers telling you about other energy efficiency products that you could buy straight from them! Moreover, we’ve found job adverts from energy companies insisting that potential smart meter installers should have ‘a good head for sales.’

Am I weird in hoping that they just have ‘a good head for installing my smart meter and then leaving me alone’?

Great though smart meters are, we’re worried that energy companies have spotted an excellent opportunity to sneak salespeople through your front door. Our research shows that 93% of people wouldn’t let an energy salesperson into their home, and 30% wouldn’t even open the door to them.

I don’t want your stealth salespeople

And what surprises me more is that it’s the energy industry being allowed to do this. Yes, the same industry that has a lowly track record for mis-selling and the same industry that has record lows when it comes to our trust in them.

The government’s sending a message to industry to make sure they don’t exploit this opportunity to be irresponsible when selling door-to-door, with the industry also putting together a code of conduct.

But, here at Which?, we still think it’s not right to sell products when energy companies come round to install 50 million smart meters. Full stop.

No selling, just installing

We’re challenging energy suppliers to sign up to our ‘no selling, just installing’ smart meter challenge. Companies who accept the challenge will not sell during the installation and their smart meter installers will not be on sales-related commission or have to make any sales leads.

The installer will fit the meter, explain how it works, leave written material – and yes, some of this may include marketing material – and then go. Seven companies have made the promise already – well done to Co-operative Energy, Ecotricity, First Utility, Good Energy, Ovo and The Utility Warehouse.

But come on other suppliers. Take up the Which? smart meter challenge and show that you’re committed to making the smart meter roll-out hassle-free, rather than just extra-profitable.

So, thanks for my new smart meter, energy company. Yes, please install it. Yes, please explain how it works. Yes, please leave written information. But don’t try and sell to me in my home.

174 comments

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dean

None of the large energy suppliers then? (rolleyes)

For me, this is just another waste of public money that will end up in the pockets of the energy companies. Remember the “energy saving lightbulbs” ? That’s right, energy prices subsequently went up. How about “Install loft insulation”, what happened? Energy prices went up. How about “discounts for paying by direct debit”, what happened? energy bills went up.

I predict exactly the same will happen with the “smart” meter, billions will be spent saying how much better off we will be, billions will be spent setting it up, then what will happen? That’s right, energy bills will go up again.

It’s NOT about reducing your energy, it’s about making massive profits off a service that should be nationalised under the guise of saving the planet.

I really do think that Which? Should be looking through all these smokescreens and get campaigning on the real issue here that energy prices are exponentially rising.

[Hello Dean, please don't write excessively with capital letters, as explained in our Commenting Guidelines. We've now edited them out. Thanks, mods.]

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Nikki Whiteman

Hi dean, thanks for your comment. You’re right – energy prices are rising, and we do recognise that this is an extremely worrying issue for consumers. It’s not realistic for Which? to just demand that energy companies lower their prices, but we have identified lots of ways that we can tackle the issue of rising prices – some action from government, some action from consumers, and some action from companies themselves. You can see what we’re doing to tackle rising energy prices here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/price-rises/

Ultimately a lot of our work in the energy sector is aimed at driving more competition, which we think will help to lower prices and encourage companies to provide a better service to their customers. Our smart meter challenge is just one part of all the work we do on energy, which includes fighting for simpler tariffs, better competition, a decent Green Deal for consumers, etc. You can see all our energy campaigns work here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/

Finally, our smart meter challenge is something that we think does really matter to consumers – our research shows that 93% of people don’t want an energy salesperson in their home. That’s pretty significant when you consider that some of the large companies will be sending them out as a matter of course, often without customers being aware that they’ll be subject to a sales pitch during the installation. We have had a great response from the smaller, newer entrants to the market (a demonstration that they’re committed to showing they’re different!) but we’d obviously like the larger energy companies to see that by signing up to our challenge they can show their customers that they’re committed to an efficient roll out that benefits their customers rather than just squeezing more profit from them.

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Chris

Nikki,
I would think your research showing over 90% of people really don’t want an energy sales person in their home is correct, in fact I’d estimate higher.
But don’t confuse energy sales, where they’re just trying to win you over to supply from them, with energy efficiency measures like loft insulation, cavity wall etc which will save you money.
You used cavity wall in the write up as an example of stealth selling by energy suppliers and seem to class this as the same as the Eon sales person trying to get you to change from EDF. It’s not the same, with appropriate energy efficiency measures you win, not the supplier.

But I would also agree with “dean” in that the less energy we use through improved efficiency the greater the chance of increases in price to protect profits. This is because sell less and the unit cost to supply increases, sort of economies of scale in reverse.
However as this is already happening the only way to avoid the rise is to use less through greater efficiency, we have no choice.
I can only suggest a better way is that we cut out the duplication in supply infrastructure (and duplicated cost) by re-nationalising energy supply. “Competition” isn’t working (and anyway it’s not competition if it’s a cartel, as many of us suspect the big six situation is) so why not?

And finally smart meters only give more up to date bills. Yes that’s good but really isn’t saving you any money. If you want to save by monitoring your useage buy a £25 owl monitor on ebay. Much cheaper than the eventual cost to the consumer of so called smart meters.
The “which” campaign in support of smart meters is I feel not justified or fully thought through.
These meters just arn’t that smart, but they certainly are an added cost to the hard pressed consumer.

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dean

So you’re campaigning to ensure that more money is spent on erroneous measures that will achieve nothing? Stopping salesmen calling is certainly laudable, but in terms of the issue in hand, you are completely missing the point.

“A green deal” is such a non-issue. What people want as a consumer is fair, low prices and it is no secret that energy prices have been rising way above inflation for many years, actually serving to increase the perilous nature of our economy at present because we have no option but to pay.

If Which? campaigning is only serving to create more “initiatives” that are actually driving up prices, then perhaps the strategy needs to be re-thought.

Please let us know how competition has lowered train fares, air fares, energy bills and bus fares.

Switching is fine until your new supplier updates their price, then you are back at square one.

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frugal ways

Why can’t businesses just leave us alone in our homes?
We get enough advertising, selling, etc as it is, on TVs, leaflets, doorstep callers, via our landlines (that we pay for) is giving yet another industry license to oin us really a good idea?
As has happened in every other industry, self regulation and codes of conduct have all failed miserably, to the detriment of the public.

If the energy companies can adjust the CV on our meters every week on digital meters millions currently have installed, why do we need “smart” meters at all?
Is the law changing, so that meters have to be inspected once every 2 years – a current legal requirement – which we all pay for?
If it is, then consumers should see immediate reductions in their bills to reflect the fact that these “new” meters no longer need inspection under law?

Hello frugal ways

We do think that smart meters will be a good thing for a lot of people. I know that when I get mine I will value being able to see clearly when I’m using a lot of electricity and it may help me – and the rest of the family – cut down and, importantly, save on energy bills. They will also cut out the need for meter readings as well.

EU legislation requires GB to have smart meters and the Government is hoping that they will help reduce our energy use to cut down on carbon emissions. Consumers will be expected to pay for the roll out, but, as I said we do think that a smart meter in the house can help people save on energy use and also switch quickly to better tariffs.

Jenny

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frugal ways

I understand where you’re coming from Jenny, but just one example of where it will fail;

British Gas owners Centrica, stated last week in the tabloids that one of the three reasons prices were going up 18% (on top of last December’s rise) in August, was because of “lower consumption.” – this, they tell me today via letter, is on the basis that wholesale energy prices MAY increase by 30% in December 2011 – staggering that increases are coming in from August, without factual confirmed rises in wholesale costs!
Proof that what many people have been saying on forums all over the internet for a long time now, the more we save energy the higher the price becomes to protect energy company profits.

I just don’t see how smart meters will improve the current problems we are all facing. Forget the initial increase via our bills to pay for them, which won’t be reversed once the roll out is complete, the scrutiny should be falling upon the energy companies and the confusion they are creating with their billing systems, to try to justify huge profits.
Sam’s idea below is a cracking one. Automation of best price would force down prices as energy companies wouldn’t be guaranteed any payments unless they were competitive, now that would be “smart!”

Which? is also working on the issue of companies being put under the spotlight and wants Government and the energy regulator to be stronger in scrutinising energy suppliers and, particularly, their finances. The reason why we believe that smart meters could be beneficial is that they could help us have more control over our bills and make billing simpler. In an ideal world you could have have different tariffs to suit your energy use at particular times of the day and be able to switch from day-to-day. Smart meters can help try to tackle the high costs of energy that we will have to cope with as long as they work for us and the roll out is value for money. This is why Which? is in the debate now and trying to make sure that suppliers and government really do make this roll out work for us all and be value for money.

Your comments are really useful and proof that government, energy suppliers and consumer organisations have got to make sure that people are told about smart meters and understand how they work and what they can deliver. There is a long way to go!

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frugal ways

Do these smart meters run alongside existing meters?
I read yesterday (on Which? action I think?), about the information they can store, suggestions already that this information could be sold on, leaving the consumer facing more marketing.
There is of course the cost to set the system up, more costs with computer systems, call centres and staff, costs to maintain the system and retrain staff, engineers, etc.

I sound as if I don’t want to save energy, I do honestly, but these meters allow better monitoring for the consumer – which is what should be being done with existing digital meters and the onus should be placed on energy companies to sort their existing systems out.
These meters will do nothing to address the problems we have now – confusing bills/statements, deliberately confusing tariffs, etc.

The biggest problem of all we have now is a simple one to sort out – the more energy we save, the higher the price of energy goes – the link between price rises and reducing consumption is their for all to see, Centrica themselves have stated it is the case.
Yet not a single word on this from any of the big six energy companies or the Energy saving trust!

Smart meters will do nothing to resolve these issues… I only wish they would!

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Fat Sam, Glos

Yet another ill-thought government-backed scheme. yes, we will all pay for the new meters through our bills (or increased taxes, take your pick). Why do we need a smart meter that sends meter readings to energy companies when some of us can already do that online? It takes less than 2 minutes.

Now, if a smart meter measured my electricity over time, continuously compared my usage against different suppliers and then sent me the cheapest bill possible without me even having to go to a price comparison site or whatever, then that would be smart in my opinion. Smart for me – not for the government or the energy suppliers and their dodgy sales staff.

———

When I was very very little I always wonder why our electricians built homes with the meter stuck in some inaccessible point outside or in the garage. Our parents were always telling us to keep doors and windows closed. The cleverest thing I thought, even at that tender age, would be if you could see how much electricity you were using and how much it cost. That was over 30 years ago. It’s not a difficult concept by any means. Why has it taken us so long to get to this point? I can list a whole lot of things that our builders/electricians/plumbers/heating engineers should have done to make life easier for homeowners. I am beginning to think that we have the dumbest tradespeople in the entire universe.

Hi Fat Sam, it is great that you are already so engaged with your energy use but not everyone is – actually you are in a very select group. So the smart metering system will help a lot people to get where you are already at. It will also allow us all to have real time understanding of how we use our gas and electricity use and the cost of it- which none of us have at the moment.

I think your idea of smart switching is really interesting, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see intermediary companies who provide that sort of service for you as well as other energy services.

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fat sam

I may be in a select group but what’s cheaper? Installing smart meters to every bill payer in the country at tremendous cost to each and every one of us – or simply getting companies to introduce simple and secure ways for people to submit meter readings online?

There seems to be a drive to get everything connected automatically to the net. I can guess where this idea come from – a bunch of overpaid, but clueless, consultants who needed to deliver an over-engineered solution for a problem that could be solved relatively easily by other means just to justify their over-inflated wage bill. Look at the digital switchover and the cost to every household with that rushed policy.

Personally, I think there are better things for the government to waste their (sorry, our) money on.

We really don’t need this right now. The smart thing to do would be to abandon it – or introduce a scheme, as I suggested above, that puts the consumer in control of how smart it can be.

As each day goes by I am just left bewildered and gob-smacked on some of the decision that politicians make and the policies they develop (don’t even get me started on why England doesn’t even have it’s own government but it’s somehow OK for the rest of the UK to have one – logic? where?! I could go on..). But then, can we really blame them, after all, it was most of the Sun/Daily Mail/Mirror-reading electorate that voted them in.

Maybe we’ve just become a nation of dumb-(insert name of animal similar to a donkey)es. I think there are bigger issues at stake. Democracy for starters. May be we should all have to pass an exam to be eligible to vote. Now, that’s not a bad idea.

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fat sam

Just re-read the article. It’s been estimated that the smart-meter rollout will cost £11 BILLION!!!

Seriously, where are the government’s priorities? With that much money, how much care could we provide for the elderly? How many students could we get through university? How many hospital beds could they provide? How many nursery and school places? more importantly though, how many potholes would that fix?! :)

Even if it’s money that will be raised through increased bills is it really fair to impose that upon us when the main beneficiary will be the already overweight cat energy industry? If it is through taxation than I rest my case with the arguments above.

Scrap it. It really is not a priority right now.

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Lynn Thackray

I’ve had an Energy Fit Starter Pack supplied by E.ON and have been trying to install the software for months with no success – turns out the software is not a valid Win32 application and some of the applications have ‘Publisher: UNKNOWN’
I’v spoken to and have had suggestions as to overcome the installation problems (before I found out it wasn’t valid) and in the end was told I should go back to the company I bought the computer from – not the most helpful suggestion. I tried installing the software on my partners computer but warning signs came up asking if we really wanted to continue.
I think the software needs re-writing to sort this out. Has anyone else had a problem with the software??

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dean

Could be simply an issue with the firewall. Or a compatibility issue with your computer (operating system)

A myriad of possibilities, but I think that the question is “was it tested with all operating system versions”, my guess would be no :-)

I’ve asked E.ON to see if they can help out on this
Jenny

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e.on talking energy

Hello Lynn,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. All Energy Fit Starter Pack software issues should be covered in our online FAQ here: https://www.eonenergy.com/At-Home/Products/EnergyFit/StarterPack/Energy+Fit+Software+FAQs.htm?WT.mc_id=Software_FAQs&WT.svl=8

If the advice here doesn’t resolve your problem, please reply here or tweet @talkingenergy and I’ll find the right person in to help you.

Kind regards,
Anne, E.ON @talkingenergy

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Daver22

Firstly I use a Mac and will expect any software supplied for this to fail to install. I test software so I am no stranger to the issues.

Secondly, if anyone comes round to install a smart meter or whatever they will get short shrift from me I will tell them to go to hell.

Thirdly in the highly unlikely event that they manage to install it I will remove it myself – I am an electronics engineer, I do not fear electricity.

Finally, as I will be retired by the time they get round to it I will not be paying for my Electricity, Gas, Water and Council Tax and I will be encouraging every pensioner to do the same unless of course the government of the day provides a pension capable of paying for all these expenses – £50,000 a year seems reasonable to me (allowing for inflation).

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Chris

Although I see the point you’re making about what you call “stealth sales”, that is thrusting upon you something you may not need, the example of cavity wall insulation is not too good.
Myself I’d rather have cavity wall insulation than a so called “smart meter”. The meter is not going to save you a penny in itself (just marginally more up to date bills, while it works) whereas cavity wall insulation could save you a couple of hundred a year. The same goes for other energy efficient measures, so long as they are appropriate. After all you can simply say “no thank you” if you’d rather pay through the nose for energy, or freeze.

If “which” really wants to cut out the real “nusance” or “stealth” selling how about attacking the cold calling for PPI refunds, accident claim lawyers, Sky box insurance, etc. etc.

And no I’m not a smart meter installer and I don’t work for any of the energy suppliers.

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Robert C

Ah, good, we are back on the actual topic of stealth sales

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Sim1234

You are totally missing the point with this campaign (not for the first time). Smart meters themselves will do nothing to reduce energy consumption and save money. Consumers taking action because of smart meters will however, and this invovles installing extra energy efficiency measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation, better heating controls, better draught proofing etc. These products do not install themselves and need to be provided or sold. When a smart meter is installed is a good time to think about these measures. You should focus your campaign on proper miss-selling, whereas your current campaign seems to want to limit consumers’ ability to save money and improve their lives through living in a warmer house!

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Nikki Whiteman

Hi Sim1234 – you’re right that smart meters won’t on their own reduce energy use, but we think that in this situation it’s important to protect people from stealth sales is because of all the mis-selling that has happened in the past.

We’d like energy companies to be able to inform their customers about energy saving measures they can take, but this shouldn’t be in a situation where a) you have to let them into your home b) you don’t necessarily know that the purpose of their visit is to sell as well as install and c) you are only being given sales information from one company.

In an ideal world, we’d like people to be able to get their smart meters and not feel under pressure from salesmen, then in their own time make an informed choice about reducing energy consumption, and get competitive quotes from a range of installers.

As I said before, people are generally uncomfortable about allowing salespeople into their home, and after the recent mis-selling problems (which we do also pick up on and campaign about! http://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/06/sse-must-stop-using-dubious-sales-tactics-says-which-254919/ ) we’d like to see a much more considered view to advising customers on energy saving measures.

Hello

Our work on smart meters is just one part of our energy campaigning work. Our website is full of advice and information on how to reduce energy consumption. We have also been working hard to make sure that companies are providing good advice and services on loft and cavity wall insulation and we are in contact with industry and Government about Green Deal proposals. We publicised a report on cavity wall insulation in April warning people about problems with poor advice and giving them the low down on how they can get cavity wall insulation deals. We have met with companies and trade bodies to discuss how people can get better information and to make sure companies are giving consumers good advice. Tomorrow I am off to a centre which specialises in insulation. So the answer is yes we are campaigning to help people stop heating up the hot air. In fact I’ve written another Which? Conversation about this – maybe you should check it out – http://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/getting-loft-insulation-is-at-the-top-of-my-to-do-list/ ?

Jenny

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David Marcer

I had a Smart Meter fitted by First:Utility. That was fine until they put their prices up a few weeks later and I changed my utility provider. One large company would not accept my account if I had a smart meter. The others (so far) are unable to read my smart meter and so the whole technology becomes rather pointless for now.

I liked the records that First:Utility provided of my energy consumption but now I have two smart meters and they are not being used except by me when I do a visual reading once each quarter.

A little bit of joined up thinking would have established that these meters could be read by a least all of the larger utility providers.

We’ve been asking companies what they are doing if they take on customers who have smart meters with other suppliers. There needs to be more ‘joined-up’ action on this if more people are going to get smart meters before the official roll out starts. I’m interested in the company that would not accept your account. Can you email me details of this? Anyone who goes ‘early’ and has a smart meter should be told that if they switch to another supplier, at the moment, if they switch their ‘smart’ meter may revert to being a ‘dumb’ one ie like the ones most of us have now where either a meter reader or the customer has to give the reading to the supplier.

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Dave D

I **used to be** a SmartMeter enthusiast (i’m with Ecotricity and I did initially ask to be on their list of “willing volunteers” to get one fitted as soon as they were available). **HOWEVER**, I have since learned a great deal about them and have many concerns all of which have been raised above by other contributors).

There is only one way in which energy prices will ever be fair (which is not to be confused with either cheap or realistic) and that is re-nationalisation of the energy supply companies.

With that move (which I seriously doubt will happen in my lifetime) we should at least be able to remove the difficulty of changing supplier due to meter compatibility as there would be only one supplier. (There would be many other benefits and also some drawbacks too.)

However in the more realistic future we desperately need the likes of Which? to work far harder than they are doing on campaigning to get the SmartMeter roll out delayed indefinitely until al of the issues raised above have been fully resolved.

It’s odd that Which? seem to side with us, the punters, over Banks making monumental profit at our expense but on this issue Which? appear (thus far) to not understand that SmartMEters serve only one purpose and that is to increase energy companies’ profits at our expense. It’s time Which? woke up and smelled the coffee (or maybe they have turned the percolator off to save energy??).

There is just one thing that I can say in favour of SmartMeters though: under the present, utterly farcical, system for reading meters, meter readers regularly fail to supply the readings to the energy companies or supply them too late to be used or in a format which is either unusable or incomplete. This means that we are paying for the meter readers (the energy companies have to PAY the reading companies to do this job, which they blatantly do not do, so that means we pay as part of our bills) and we are also having to do the job ourselves to send in readings os that our bills are anything like correct. At least with SmartMeters (IF they work!!!) there will no longer be a need for meter readers so we should not have that annoyance to contend with. That said I bet the energy companies will decide that they cannot trust the technology and / or the consumers and will probably still insist on manual readings to “quality check” so I bet we end up with Smart Meters and meter readers. Oh what a stupid world ………….

Hello Dave, our percolator is on!

You hit the nail on the head with prices being fair. A lot of our work on energy is focusing on this. We want to make sure that companies are scrutinised so that we can see whether customers are getting value for money when it comes to paying for gas and elecectricity. We are also looking at how the current market works to make sure that it is competitive and people can easily compare prices. Alongside this work, we are also working on the roll out of smart meters.

We believe they can help us have good information on the way we use our gas and electricity and some people will use the info to cut down on their energy use. Early research shows that some people who already have smart meters are cutting down and saving money on bills. In the new ‘smart’ world we can also have appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers which can be programmed to turn on when electricity supply is cheaper.

It’s early days on the smart meter roll out but Which? is fighting to make sure the roll out is value for money and delivers benefit for people. We believe they can be a good thing but are pushing hard to make sure that the roll out concentrates on getting it right for consumers – we have a long way to go and it’s clear that government and industry has to improve the information on smart meters to address some of the concerns you and others have.

Anyway I’m going to go now as I can smell the coffee!

jenny
Jenny

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fat sam

Black, no milk, no sugar please. Thanks.

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MAF

I am not happy about smart meters being installed, as I have seen information saying that they give off very high EMF fields, which could be very deterimental to the household and other properties in the vicinity. I feel v. strongly about this, especially where children are concerned.

There have been concerns regarding this from other countries, however we understand that the levels should not be an issue, especially when some houses have their internet modems switched on most of the day. However we are interested in your views and will be keeping an eye on all issues regarding smart meters.

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Paul Rogers

I don’t want a smart meter. Do I have to have one? I use very little grid electricity, thanks to pv generating panels, and I know exactly the amount and timing of all my electricity usage.
I don’t want one.

At the moment there is no law which says you have to have one, however the government is keen for all homes to have one by the end of 2019. Which? is asking the government to make sure that people have good information so they understand the benefits of smart meters and what’s happening during the roll out. The roll out won’t start officially until 2014.

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Mike Wittle

British Gas contacted us to install a smart meter, they did not turn up and we had to re-fix date and then when engineer appeared and we asked if the smart meter allowed us to continue with our “Economy 7 tariff” we were told it did not and that we could not continue with this cheaper tariff. We turned the engineer away and refused the smart meter. The engineer fully agreed with our decision. What really annoyed me was that at no time did British Gas inform us that we would loose the off peak tariff with a smart meter. Given what WHICH is now saying does this mean we will be forced into loosing our off peak tariff?

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Lex Keel

Hi Mike. My name’s Lex from British Gas. I just wanted to send our sincerest apologies that we didn’t turn up for your original appointment, this is clearly not the experience we aim to offer our customers. Indeed our expectation is that we not only turn up on time but also that we call ahead to let you know what time we will be with you.

Smart metering in Great Britain is still being pioneered and, although it has been mandated from 2014 onwards, British Gas is the only major supplier to accelerate the roll out of smart for the benefit of our customers. This will allow British households to take early advantage of smart meter technology to cut energy use, carbon emissions and fuel bills by eradicating estimated bills and improving consumption information.

Right now we are working on a range of E7 and time of use tariffs for our smart meter customers which we hope to launch soon. However until these are available we should be excluding any customer using E7 from our smart meter rollout programme. Unfortunately on this occasion it appears that the meter was incorrectly identified and therefore we visited your home to install a smart meter. As a failsafe, our energy experts have been trained to identify E7 meters and check whether customers are utilising the two rate functionality. Many customers have an E7 meter but a single rate tariff rate and in these situations we can install a smart meter.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and hopefully we will have an E7 smart meter proposition available for you very shortly.

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industry insider

@ Lex: Jenny has commented below:
“First Utility are installing nationwide and British Gas and E.ON are trialing smart meters, so one of these companies may be able to put in a smart meter to replace your old one.”

I don’t believe British Gas are the only major supplier accelerating the roll out of smart. Were you aware that other suppliers are also, offering Smart Meters to their customers already?

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TeeJay

We’ve had a smart meter for about 3 years installed free of charge by EON. Monthly meter readings taken by mobile phone technology mean accurate monthly bills. Our ennergy useage has gone down to a number factors but not because we have a smart meter.

Has the information via the smart meter helped? The smart meter will help people see exactly whether they are using a lot/little energy at any time of the day. Has this helped you?

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JAEN TWIGG

Our smart meter didn’t fit. Is one size supposed to fit all?
When I rang Scottish and Southern they said that they would send packaging for me to send it back to them. They never did.

I think that you may be thinking of the energy monitor or in home display? The smart meter will replace your electricity and gas meters.

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Dave

Who will benefit most from smart meters? The energy companies, as they will no longer have to pay meter readers, and the companies who make smart meters. Who will pay for smart meters? Consumers!
How can it be energy efficient to scrap a perfectly good meter and replace it with another?
Apart from the cost of something I don’t need and don’t want, will smart meters add to the EMC problem already found in most homes? There are rumours they will use PLT for communication so will a smart meter stop my radio sets from working? Will it cope with local transmitters? Have any trials been done with CB or amateur radio enthusiasts, or people next door to a base station?
Finally, would you rather have electrical work done by a fully qualified electrician or a salesman who has had a brief training course?

Lots of questions! The energy companies will no doubt benefit from not having to send out meter readers. However Which? does believe that they will help people have good information on their energy use which could help us reduce energy. At the moment some of the energy suppliers are replacing old ‘dumb’ meters which need replacing, with smart ones to make sure that they are not going to be taking fairly new meters off the wall to be replaced with smart. Which? will be keeping an eye on all of the issues regarding the roll out and keep you up to date. We are also pushing to make sure that consumers don’t get pressured into having any electrical work done by the supplier but they also feel that they can ‘shop around’ and check out local tradespeople who may be better for them. That’s exactly why we don’t want the selling during the installation.

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Johnboy

Smart meters? Does their installation depend upon which provider you are with or is it through the National Grid? If it’s with the provider, will it be a fixed cost or is each able to charge what they want for installation and then for subsequent ” maintainence” over the years?
I feel like yet another rip-off coming our way

Hello Johnboy
The smart meter will be fitted by your supplier but there shouldn’t be an upfront cost. The cost of the national roll out is likely to be paid for via our bills. There is likely to be occasions when some meters cannot be fitted because of their location. Which? will be urging the government and industry to make sure that people are not paying additional costs for having a smart meter fitted. In terms of maintenance, the smart meters should last for around ten years and shouldn’t really have any reason to have any extra TLC and we won’t need to have visits from the meter readers!

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Liz

We’re with Good Energy who can be trusted to do what they say. We have no problems with them as our supplier. Intelligent, communicative people answer the phone and any queries clearly and positively. Full marks to them. We have no qualms about letting them install a smart meter for us.

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Malcolm

Good idea, Which? I hope you get together with those who have signed up to run both formal and viral campaigns that tell everybody how to keep sellers out of their house.

The main beneficiaries of smart meters are the energy companies, who will save meter reading costs. They want consumers and taxpayers to pay for the meters. You should expose this too.

You also need to watch out for whether consumers will actually be able to get hold of information from their smart meters directly, without it having to go through the supplier. If not, we will get little more than the useless overview from bills.

By directly, I mean an open-standard data interface for home energy monitors and computers, to allow competition and ingenuity in what these devices and software can do for consumers.

Don’t underestimate the obstacles that suppliers can and will put in the way of people using less energy. Even the precision of the consumer’s readings will make a difference: if they are only precise to the nearest kWh, they will be essentially useless for home investigations, whereas to the nearest Wh (0.001 kWh, which existing meter technology is easily capable of) then consumers can even pin down which individual gadgets need attention. E.g. “Should I replace my fridge?”

Great feedback Malcolm and I will take your views to our next catch up!

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Robert C

This would be really useful if you could get a monthly useage chart, split by day and night (cheaper) electricity. Then sites such as U-switch could offer a comparison based on your useage, not just an annual figure, but taking into account peak/off-peak useage.

It could even help choose between heating by electricity vs gas

With renewable energy (wind etc) we will need to use off peak electricty when it is windy, sunny, or the waves are large, instead of just night (which was the base load for the biggest power stations)

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David Ramsay

Just thought of a VERY useful use of smart meters, if they are smart then they should be able to assess the Market and AUTOMATICALLY swap suppliers every few seconds of the day so that the cost is always the minimum available.

That will send a sweat down someone’s back, after all if you have a computer this type of instantaneous analysis is exactly what they are capable of, all you need do is agree to auto change and you are away, no need for more than one supplier as they will all have to have the same tariff.

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Grangejon

I have absolutely no problem with smart meters – making us more aware of our consumption will only be of benefit long term. However I think it amazing that when I am changing my meter (in August) due to moving onto a single tariff, my energy comapny could not arrange to install a smart meter. Being cynical does this mean they want another marketing visit? I am just disappointed that the smart meter could not be fitted when they come in a months time, especially when in a couple of years, they will want to replace this new meter with a smart meter.

I had the same thing and so have switched to a supplier who will be installing a smart meter next week. First Utility are installing nationwide and British Gas and E.ON are trialing smart meters, so one of these companies may be able to put in a smart meter to replace your old one.

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Sheila

Frankly I am sick of being told what I want, like or need by people in a position to force me to accept things that are in their vested interests but not at all in mine and who never bother to consult me.
A Nanny state is one thing but sadly Nanny too often seems to be short-sighted, hard of hearing, selfish, greedy, narrowminded, interfering, opinionated and even totally stupid.
It should not be the government’s decision nor any PLC to tell consumers what we want.
No one asked me if I’d like to pay (thru tariff) for a product I would probably refuse even if it were free if I had a choice.
Even though I am over 60 (and therefore part of a section of the population the government seems to think are automatically so incompetant that we even need telling what/what not to eat and drink !!) I am not so stupid that I do not know the comparative power of my various appliances and how much I use them!
I have no objection to reading my meter and inputting the result.This and a monthly DD gives me enough control over my usage/expenditure.
First it was the eco bulbs, and the former much cheaper types withdrawn from sale to remove any element of choice.
Now if you want to pop into the loo the so called equivalent wattage is so dim when you first put the light on that you need to take a torch. By the time it would have reached full brightness (not impressive anyway) you would have switched it off and gone away ……unless of course you leave it on permanently just in case someone might want to go……
If you are doing some sewing you need to change to a special daylight bulb (old type!) and as for trying to see to do DIY safely.. ….the old 200 watt used to be ideal, then back to 60 or 100 afterwards.
The latest annoyance is apparently to be a massive investment to tell me that my 3kw heater uses more electricity than my kettle. Wow! I never suspected……however I can only hope that the extra charges feeding through to consumers will not force me to sit in the cold in winter and do without a cup of tea by increasing the bills to a level I cannot afford..

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Damn Young

I imagined an older moustached man as I read your post Sheila. Actually 3KW kettles are not uncommon today.

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Antrich

It might mean getting an accurate reading for a change, it will mean, of course, that they will now have no excuse for not providing accurate monthly bills! In a quarterly bill, things could get out of hand very quickly, and the damage will be done before situation could be rescued!

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David Blain

I recently had smart meters fitted by E-on and a monitor placed inside my house. They were on time and fitted the equipment without any fuss. However the utiliities were turned off when doing so and when turned on again they could not get the boiler to light.After some efforts were made I was told that they could not do too much and that I should make my own arrangement. Fortunately I have insurance with British Gas and they came out. Within seconds the boiler was lit. It took longer to complete the paperwork. Three people came to fit the meters, one for the electricity,one for the gas and one to watch the gas fitter.Three vans were used. We now watch the monitor and its possibly becoming an obsession.

Great information on having a smart meter fitted. I will keep your story on file. Thank you!

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Peter Lorton

If Energy Companies want to install Smrt Meters, let them foot the bill from the savings in not paying Meter Readers.

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crissy

I have had a smart meter for over a year now and ive got to say…. my bills are much better/cheaper.
I used to have to pay over £200 a month for gas and electricity and now it has nearly halved.
i didnt have to pay for the meter to be installed and the only downfall if you could all it one is that when you over pay in the summertime with other companies you go into credit then you have a good start off to the winter months, but if the power is over priced to start with this is a false advantage.
With the smart meter you pay as you use so it may be a bit steep in the winter months but your really save in the summer months…. There is also no chance of going into debt.
As we need to have power supply, we are all victims to price rises unfortunaletly we theres not much we can do about it but hopefully with this meter at least you will not be overcharged (im saying this with crossed fingers) as i dont know weather my company will be following suit and didiculously hiking up charges.

As for people moaning that the government is doing this and that…. Everyone wants to moan but no one wants to stand up and do something.
You elected them… Put up with it.

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richard berriman

so theres no longer a need to have a meter read, so nobody from an energy
company will be periodically observing the condition of the meter installation????
Surely there is a whole batch of safety issues there. It is already a legal
requirement to have the gas meter (and other parts of the gas installation)
safety checked every year if you are a tenant in a property.
How often will a trained person be attending these smart meters? Not all
gas meters are installed in little plastic boxes outside a property. many are
at the back of a cupboard, daily bombarded with brooms, hoovers, pets, toys
and inquisitive youngsters. Who will be in attendance and able to ‘flag’ any
installations which are or are becoming dangerous in non tenant properties
once the trained meter reader has lost his job.

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Steve

I think people should petition this through the charity 38 degrees, who have suceeded with the BskyB & many others. Encourage the Govt to order the utilities companies not to sell extra products

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Barbara Jack

I had smartmeters installed by Scottish Power as I wanted to take part in their pilot of energy monitoring equipment.
This has not worked out as I would have hoped – their unit was not compatible with my Wi-Fi.

So I still have the smart meters – which are not being recognised by Scottish Power’s own system.
I am in the process of transferring to N-Power, and anticipate that the calculation of my final bill is going to be one enormous headache.

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Paul

I feel capable of telling a salesman to get lost if he or she tries to use an underhand way of getting to me to try to sell a product or service, or of pushing something I do not want. However there are those less able to be firm, verging on abrasive in rejecting such approaches, and they should be protected from this type of marketing.
A separate issue is the sheer annoyance we already suffer from cold selling by phone, mountains of junk mail, and misuse of email addresses. Nowadays it is almost impossible to complete an order form without provising phone number, mobile number and email address and these methods are then used for pursuit with “updates” “offers” etc.

In the last couple of weeks I even received 3 consecutive text messages telling me that I am “entitled to claim compensation for the accident I had”. Not only have I not had an accident (even if I would condescend to deal with a shark of this type) but as I was abroad I had to pay extra for receipt of these messages. I have no idea how they got my number.
If we are going to be forced to give admittance to our homes for fitting smart meters whether we want then or not, and forced to share the cost of this exercise any likelihood of further harrassment by salespersons with access to our personal contact information is a truly appalling prospect..

I have had the text messages as well following a claim I had to make re a chipped windscreen on the car! I’m sending you our tips for dealing with cold calling etc.

http://www.which.co.uk/technology/phones/guides/ten-tips-to-stop-cold-calls/

jenny

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Egeria

The other major objection to smart meters is that suppliers will be able to analyse usage and adjust their charges (to maximise their profits) by charging more during periods of high demand.

How the info from the smart meter is used, is definitely an issue for some people. Re the charges for low and high peak – consumers may be able to exploit the smart meter to switch to different tariffs throughout the day ie only put the washing machine, dishwasher on at night and switch to a different tariff in the evening to pay less..

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Dave

I have a better idea to save energy: Off means Off!
Many modern appliances don’t have an off switch, merely a standby switch. In most cases there is no valid operational reason for this, it just panders to ‘convenience’. Let’s go back to the days when things had a genuine on/off switch so Off means Off! Off means zero power consumption, zero interference generation and virtually zero fire risk. This could be done even with a remote control, as the IR receiver could use micropower techniques or a rechargeable battery so a genuinely Off item could still be switched on remotely by people suffering from laziness or mobility problems.
Could Which? start a campaign – Off means Off!

It’s a good one, and hate to say we’ve read your mind, but we’ve written a Conversation on this and there has been quite a big response: http://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/tvs-on-standby-without-an-on-off-switch/ Please join in!

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Robert C

If you want to switch something off, you can always use the switch on the wall. An electronics professor once pointed out that they are cheap and any electrician can fit a new one if it wears out. Getting a spare part for a TV or washing machine is much harder and more expensive, if you can get a spare at all.

There is a commonly held belief that the stand-by mode on TVs etc wastes electricity and we could save a lot if we did not use it. Rubbish – it saves about £1.50 / year. Then of course you have to remember it goes into heat, so half the year it was useful anyway. Net saving in a year about the same as a 1st class stamp. (Our 10 year old TV was one of the first with a 1W standby, so I assume nearly all TVs in the country will have it by now)

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mudallahmike

One difficulty with a roll-out of any initiative is that a public announcement that “Representatives will be calling in your area” leads to a rise in criminal activity. I work for Homewatch in a “No Cold Calling Area” set up to reduce the vulnerability if the elderly and disadvantaged. Whenever ligitimate persons call (Utilities, Media, Charity Collectors) they may be preceeded, or followed, by fraudsters / distraction burglars purporting to be from the same organosation. Please be aware.

Age UK and other organisations are working on the preparation stage of the roll out and it’s certainly an issue that is being discussed.

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Epbat

We have cavity wall insulation, underfloor insulation, double glazing and 28 to 56 cms of insulation in our loft. We have a condensing boiler, with all pipework lagged directly, or covered in loose lay insulation.

We have roof mounted solar panels with full metering facility and the ability to access the output and returns via a website. After the initial flush of enthusiasm (two days) I have never looked at it again (18 months ago).

We have an OWL (3 channel) wireless energy monitor attached to incoming cables from grid and from solar panels, and to main feed to house from meter. We set it up to allow us to monitor, and check, our consumption and costs from all sources. We played about with it for some time, but now I cannot, off the top of my head, tell you where the monitor is. With the current increase in costs, it will have to be reset, and I cannot be bothered.

Smart meters will go the same way. For the first few days, it will be interesting and fun, but then the monitor will be put in a drawer and forgotten about. As for me or you logging on and checking our consumption, forget about it. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN.

Some time ago the gas suppliers ran a massive programme to update all the gas meters. That cost millions. It was worth it though, because the meters should now all be safe, and accurate. We all indirectly paid for that through our gas bills.

This latest wheeze will also cost us, massively, and all for what in the end will prove to be a complete waste of time. We all have far too many interesting things to do in our lives, definitely much more interesting than getting obsessed about our energy consumption. Insulation is the answer, fit it, forget it, get on with your lives.

Sorry to ramble on – my wife claims I don’t have an ‘off switch’ ;-)

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Robert C

So, no surprise there – my supplier has not signed up (yet)
I’ve ticked all the boxes to say “no selling” so if they try it on me they will get a formal complaint and I will certainly eject the person from my home, and point out that they gained entry under false pretences.

Information to help save energy is a good thing. Accurate, not estimated, bills are also a good thing.

Perhaps there should be a standard penalty fee? If they make one false selling move, they automatically pay £50. Sign up to that or show your true colours. (no point in a pledge without teeth)

Hello Robert
These principles are ones that Which? has put together and saying to the suppliers that we think they should follow these ‘rules’. I think you sound as though you can say ‘no’! Others may feel under pressure and the worst case scenario is they sign up to products they don’t want or need.

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David Harrison

I have been given gadgets that tell me how much energy I am using which is fine. I know when I turn on the kettle or washing machine I am using more but what can I do give up tea and don’t wash my cloths! A complete waste of time and more importantly my money!

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Dave A

I’m with First Utility and had no sales pitch for other products. I’ve had my smart meters since February 2010 and during the ‘novelty’ period looked at my consumption using google powermeter. The novelty soon wore off and I haven’t bothered looking at powermeter for months now (it’s being discontinued anyway). I think the idea that we’ll all save money is a fallacy unless you’re very wasteful. I have the central heating on when it’s needed. Likewise electrical appliances get switched on when needed, they’re rarely left on standby.
The good bit is that I don’t get estimated bills and if the tariff changes (goes up – they never go down!) then it’s changed immediately instead of there being an estimate of usage before the change which I suspect was always in the providers favour.

Thanks for sharing your experience. So have you cut down on energy use since having smart or have you always been on top of your energy use?

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Wheezy_alan

I do not need a smart meter, only the electricity supplier does. I read my existing meters regularly every week. Doesn’t everyone? I also do not need energy-saving advice. I know exactly how much power every device in my home uses. and with the exception of my TV and PVR, which are always on standby, none is ever used unnecessarily. That includes this PC! OK, so some people are wasteful, But they pay for that privilege. And, that also helps to keep my own energy bills down.

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C.J. at M.P.

If the energy companies want to exchange my current (SORRY!) electricity meter for a ‘smart’ meter which will enable billing without the need for a meter reader, I am on side and expect them to fund the changeover and to reduce my future bills from the manpower savings from which they will benefit. I do no want or need any more interference or nurse-maiding in my life; I know that when I turn on any electrical appliance it will consume electricity and the larger the wattage stated on the label, the more it will consume. For goodness sake people of Great Britain, stop them all before they turn us into beings from a science fiction novel looked after and prescribed to by an ever invasive machine.

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Industry Insider

I have been reading this conversation as well as other articles by Which? on issues around Smart Metering with some invested interest. I work for one of the “Big Six” Energy Companies and I’m always keen to find out more about what customers are thinking on some of the key issues in our industry.

I agree very much with the sentiment of this campaign if not the reality. Most of the large utility providers and some of the small ones do a great deal of work in the environmental arena, in charity and in national/local community projects. But, unfortunately only the less popular side of the industry seems to really catch the media attention. Price increases and miss-selling or pressure selling are probably the main ones. So, I understand some of the reasoning behind this campaign and why recent surveys suggest that consumers do not currently have a lot of faith in their energy providers.

I can see from some of the comments above that there can be quite strong feelings left behind following an individual bad experience. And, that there are quite strong views on selling during a meter installation. I feel very strongly however, that it is both unwise and unfair to seek to impose restrictions on ‘selling’ in such a blanket fashion. Any form of pressure selling is of course, an immediate no! But, taking the time to give customers energy efficiency advice that could be of real long term benefit (and yes, may result in a purchase) should be actively encouraged.

Energy Companies should be focused on doing what is right for the customer in these situations. If this means making them aware of products which, in the long term would save them money then I think that is certainly the right thing to do. This may be a simple as leaving an information pack behind or could be as involved as drawing up a detailed quote on potential purchases with cost/saving clearly outlined. As a customer, I would much prefer to have a conversation with an experienced engineer in my own home than over the phone.

Looking at the bigger picture, there is an important element of the UK energy industry that this article seems to overlook. Energy companies are subject to a Government obligation to help customers reduce their bills. This is currently a significant financial obligation and one which, will become even more significant with the introduction of the new Energy Bill and the Green Deal. Energy Companies will be responsible for helping some of the most energy inefficient and fuel poor households in improving their homes and saving them money on their energy bills. Not just in selling them energy saving measures but, actually paying for those measures through what will be called the Energy Company Obligation. An amount from their own revenue (yet to be set by the Government) which, Energy Companies will be required to use to pay for energy efficiency measures for individual customers.
If in the future, their was any kind of restriction around ‘selling’ during a meter installation then this might significantly hinder what is a very key part of the Government’s Energy Strategy.

As an Energy Industry ‘insider’ I understand that I will have a quite different perspective on things than an average customer. I respect customer opinion and know that it is vital that the Energy Companies listen to what their customers are telling them. I think it is important to listen to as many voices as possible though and not just the loudest.

=========================================================

On a related subject, I read another Which? article recently on proposed restrictions to how much information Energy Companies should be able to take from Smart Meters.

I understand the concerns expressed in the article. Data Protection is an important issue in our Industry and others. Correct legislation and codes of practice would be the right way to enforce the appropriate standards to ensure customer data is not used in the wrong way.

The proposal to allow customers to restrict the frequency and amount of data that can be gathered from Smart Meters by the Energy Companies though seems to betray a lack of understanding in the Energy Industry by Which?

One of the key reasons behind the roll-out of Smart Meters is the future vision of a Smarter energy grid for the whole country. A Smarter grid which will lead to better demand forecasting for energy generation and form a significant part of carbon reduction targets.

The regular (half-hourly) collection of data from smart meters is THE key element in improving forecasting for electricity generation. Any restrictions on collecting this data would practically make the whole thing redundant!

Thanks for reading.

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Wheezy_alan

Thank you for your clear example of the arrogance of some in the electricity supply industry.
“Our customers clearly object in strong terms to being subjected to sales pitches, but we are going to carry on doing them, anyway.”

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industry insider

It certainly wasn’t my wish to seem arrogant in sharing my views Alan so, I apologise for that if I didn’t make myself clear. Nor was it my intention to offer a view representing the electricity supply industry. My views are informed by my knowledge of the industry yes, but they are my own personal views and should not be taken to be in any way representative of the industry as a whole.

I think you should consider your own views in a similar way. I can see that you have a strong opinion on ‘sales pitches’ but, please remember that your voice is one amongst many. As I said in my original post, I think it’s important to listen to all voices and not just the loudest.

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