/ Home & Energy

Is getting a smart meter really the smart thing to do?

Energy count on meter

If you’ve got one of the early smart meters, you might have to get a new one installed if you want to change supplier. That’s why we’re putting pressure on to make sure all smart meters are compatible.

Have you got a smart meter yet? Despite there being no official roll-out of smart meters, some energy suppliers have started rolling them out to some customers.

And you can understand why – smart meters mean suppliers can get up-to-date meter readings without needing to pay someone to come and read it, saving them time and money.

But is an early roll-out a good thing? Here at Which?, we’re concerned that it’s not official and there are no minimum standards for smart meters. This means there’s no guarantee they’ll be compatible between suppliers.

So if you want to change your supplier but still have a smart meter, you might have to have a new smart meter installed. I don’t know about you, but going through the hassle of having another meter installed would make me think twice about changing my supplier.

So what’s being done about it? At the moment, not a lot. But earlier this month the Government published its Energy Bill. Once approved, it will set the standards for things like energy efficiency, tariffs, smart meters and the green deal.

What Which? is doing

We’ve been deeply concerned about the smart meter roll-out for a while, so we jumped at the chance to influence the Bill so that consumers will have better protection and be able to make the right choices about their energy usage.

We’ve written to Charles Hendry MP (Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change) and Ofgem, the energy regulator, to express our concerns. We’ve also written to members of the House of Lords asking them to suggest amendments to the text of the Bill to ensure that smart meters are compatible between suppliers.

The Energy Bill needs to ensure that all smart meters are built with minimum standards so they’re compatible between suppliers. And this should have happened yesterday – not in six months’ time.

Without minimum standards, there’s a great risk that consumers won’t switch suppliers because of the hassle factor, losing out on potential savings. Lack of compatibility will also increase costs, which are likely to be passed on to consumers in higher energy prices.

At the moment, the energy industry has been left in charge of putting together its own rules on smart meter installation. With only 20% of consumers trusting their energy supplier, it’s important that the Government and regulator need to set the standards.

Enforce a sales ban

Then there’s the worry that, when installing smart meters, energy suppliers will use the opportunity to try and get people to buy energy efficiency measures through the new green deal.

The green deal (being introduced in the Energy Bill) is a way of lowering your energy bills by installing products like solar panels to generate your own energy. If this happens, many households may find themselves buying a green deal product that isn’t suitable for their home, therefore not saving any money.

There needs to be a ban on all sales during smart meter installation – and marketing should only be allowed in written form to stop salespeople pushing people to sign up on the spot.

Have you got a smart meter yet – and if so, would you be put off switching if it meant getting a new one? Or would you prefer to have one early regardless of the consequences?

Comments
Profile photo of dave d
Member

I was unaware that Smart Meters were not, like traditional meters, made to a universal standard.

This is indeed very bad news and Which? is quite right to be campaigning for a single standard and a ban on further installations until such a standard is achieved.

However, I woudl go a step further.

Gas and Electricity should never have been privatised and there should never have been the opportunity for different suppliers to offer different prices. This has created the “need” for people to be forever switching suppliers chasing the best price.

Electricity and Gas prices should be fixed in law and should be universal for all suppliers (indeed, re-nationalisation would be no bad thing, but I can’t see that happening). That way there would be no need for constant switching and, more significantly, people with no Internet Access, people who cannot pay by direct debit, people who simply do not have the time to constantly check up and indeed people who are very sadly unable to work out what is the best deal will not be left out of pocket. At the same time the obscene profits that OfGEM has, to date, been spectacularly INeffective in reigning under control would be at once brought under control and into line.

And of course, although Smart Meters absolutely SHOULD and must be made to a universal standard, the need to have this standard to facilitate supplier change would be removed, so people who already have Smart MEters would not have to worry.

When will Which? start to campaign for such universal pricing please?

Profile photo of John Holmes
Member

You raise some difficult but relevant issues. We at Which? will be taking a more comprehensive review of energy over coming months. From my perspective there are a number of questions about the effectiveness of the energy market in delivering sustainable energy at affordable and stable prices.

Smart meters represent a specific problem given the government’s determination to see them installed, regardless of consumers views. Smart meters can, of course, offer some benefit (such as accurate bills) but a roll-out must be carefully managed and work with, not against, consumer interest.

Profile photo of dave d
Member

Thanks, John, for your response.
I was, until this thread appeared, all for Smart Meters because another anachronism of the Privatised Energy market, which I have posted about on other threads and which I have discussed with Which? staff in the past, is that the meter reading companies get paid by the suppliers to read meters, whether they actually carry out the reading or not. This cost is passed to the consumers within the rising energy prices so we end up paying more, but more infuriatingly, the meter readers often make no attempt to read the meters, don’t forward the data to the Energy suppliers in time to be of any use and / or send incomplete / inaccurate data that cannot be used.
I wrote to Malcolm Wickes about this when he was the minister responsible but his only reply was to say I should change to a different supplier: this completely missed the point as the suppliers no longer have any control over the readers.
If Which? wants to find out more about this one supplier, Ecotricity, will certainly tell you a lot about how appalling this service is (including the fact that meter reads for the whole of my postcode district have twice in the last year been sent to Ecotricity with the middle digit of the 5 missing, so all readings were utterly useless, but Ecotricity still have to pay the reading company for this outrageously bad service).
Until I learned of this disparity between Smart Meters I was 100% in favour of them because they will make the meter reading companies redundant and eliminate this waste of money (though of course I do feel sorry for the readers who will be out of work through no fault of their own – I am sure not every reader is lazy and incompetent).
Isn’t OfGEM also suppose to look after the REading service? If so, there is a further example of how they fail to do their job too and ergo more evidence to support my view that legislative intervention is required.

Member
Gillian Davies says:
1 November 2016

Now we are on our way to 2017, please can you advise if anything has been achieved to make smart meters compatible to all energy suppliers please? I do not want one installed and then find there are complications/expense if I wish to change suppliers

Member
RobertWilliams says:
22 December 2010

A SECOND OPINION

THE UTILITY COMPANY will make HUGE money on WIRELESS smart meters and if you study the details closely, there are NO ADVANTAGES for customers, only disadvantages.

1. UTILITY RATES are going up as soon as Smart Meters installation is completed. Once utility companies have our detailed usage information, they will set up rate structures to extract greater amounts of our total income since home electric and gas is not an item that we can easily substitute.

2. WIRELESS smart meters do NOT give customers information they can use to lower their bills – that is a Utility Company fib. They only show past usage and getting past usage every day or at the end of the month is no difference.

Other inexpensive meters that give real time usage (right-now readings) are infinitely better. Wireless smart meters require going on-line and having to analyze bar graphs of PAST information.

3. PRIVACY – The Utility Company will know what you do, when you do it and so will other commercial companies, police and burglars that hack wireless information to know which days and times they can comfortably enter your home.

4. SECURITY – Wireless simply cannot achieve the security of wired systems.

5. HEALTH PROBLEMS – At the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Nov 18, a dozen world renowned scientists reported their tests found small amounts of pulsed signal radiation (the kind coming from wireless smart meters) damaging cells, breaking DNA chains and breaking the blood / brain barrier (it allows things to reach your brain that your brain is normally protected from).

This trumps, replaces and disproves the INDUSTRY “Scientists” that told us they cannot find any damage. When honest qualified people tell us and show us they found our wallet, it doesn’t matter how many others said they couldn’t find it.

WIRELESS smart meters are worse than other wireless devices because:
1. We cannot shut them off.
2. They run all night while we and our children need quiet “Electric time” for our bodies to recover and children’s bodies to recover, grow and develop.
3. All other wireless devices are optional, but wireless smart meters are being FORCED onto our homes.

The Utility Company will save millions of dollars eliminating jobs of thousands of meter readers, and none of those savings will be shared with customers. The Utility Company will also save millions of dollars by not paying for a shielded cable infrastructure to safely carry utility signals and shield people, pets, animals, birds and bees from the radiation.

Member
smarty pants says:
22 December 2010

The reality…
Some very rash comments by our American/Canadian chum there…the biggest difference over here my friend is that in order to compete for our business, energy retailers as you may refer to them over there have to offer us the real deal. Yes, they will save money from installing smart meters, but if those savings aren’t passed on to consumers, they will lose their market share, because one of the other retailers will see the opportunity and jump on it. That’s the joys of a truly competitive retail market.
Smart meters allow you to see what you’re consuming now..either through an in-home display/web-portal etc…surely that gives me the tools to change my behaviour? Turn off the main lights bad use the lower wattage wall lights, see the display change from Orange to green…is that not a good thing?
Privacy….where do we start…the myth that an energy retailer having frequent meter readings tells them all about me…how? Is the meter so smart that it can ID me as an individual? Or ID non-smart appliances that have the same energy ratings…certainly not any of the meters I’m aware of…and finally, why should you be worried about the info being collected…if you’re a law abiding citizen, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Health problems…if you don’t want wireless devices, then ask for alternatives, but then don’t be offended if the energy retailer asks you to remove every other device/appliance/gadget that might at some point in It’s life emit something allegedly harmful to society that you have in the home. Surely that must be acceptable…even to the world renowned scientists you mention.
All in all, we as citizens need to use less energy…that is a given…vesmart meters alone won’t achieve anythig…ce there is an understanding of how and when we use energy in our homes, only then can we begin to make the changes..retailers will develop new products and services to help us use less of their energy and save money…a wierd concept for many people, but in a competitive market, it works….finally, statements that prices will go up once the meters are installed…simply not true my friend…scaremongering of this nature just isn’t a) true, and b) helpful. Embrace the technology my friend, and when your retail energy market is as competitive as the UK’s, then maybe, just maybe we might take you seriously…

Profile photo of dave d
Member

I dearly wish that we had evidence to support this view, but sadly I feel, and judging by John’s response to my earlier post, and the “thumbs up / down” scores on this thread so far, so do many other people, that we actually have a great volume of evidence to the contrary.

Re-nationalistaion is the only fail safe and fool proof way to guarantee that pricing is FAIR (though not necessarily in the consumers’ best interests), but I don’t for one moment imagine that it will ever happen, and certainly not in my lifetime.

In the meantime, the best we can hope and campaign for is more honesty from the privatised utilities. I’m not very hopeful of ever getting that either, but it’s more likely than a truly fair and open system.

Profile photo of terfar
Member

Why has government regulation of industry always been so feeble? Is it a case that we have installed MPs that are too stupid to understand the basics of efficient operation or do they all have outside commitments!

Smart meters are a great idea: not only does the consumer see how much power they are demanding at a given time, but they should provide the industry with some control over demand to level out peaks. It also permits minute-by-minute monitoring of individual power demands, letting the suppliers switch on/off devices remotely as needed. Not having to send around someone to read the meters is only a minuscule part of the benefits.

Surely the government realises that there needs to be a plan? Meters should be universally compatible, not just for switching providers, but so device control is simplified and to allow for remote firmware updating. They also need to be 100% accurate.

While we are at it, they need to force providers to stop encouraging users to use more electricity. The price structuring where the first x-hundred units are expensive after which they become cheaper is not justified. A more effective method would be to ‘rate’ properties and limit the current they can draw at a standard rate: high demand for current drawn above the set rating should be charged at a higher rate.

Perhaps that is another factor that the government should be looking at for smart metering.

Member
Fat Sam, Glos says:
22 December 2010

Terry, I think you’re confusing smart meters with energy monitors. The two are different things.

It’s no surprise that these meters could be incompatible. This is, after all, how we do things in the UK. If it’s not ‘coz we’ve always done it like that’, it’s ‘we haven’t really thought too much about it’.

Even as a young child and my parents kept telling me off to shut the doors and wrap up warm I’ve never understood why gas and electricity meters were shoved in places not easily accessible or why you couldn’t have two displays: one outside for the meter man and one inside for the consumer. After all, we were paying for the stuff and I wanted to know how much we,. or my parents, were paying!

Call me sceptical, but I doubt any savings will be passed onto the consumer. I’m not sure I agree that the industry should be nationalised. We’ll just end up with the inefficient monopolies we had before.

However, we should have an industry that actually is competitive and this means that it should be a piece of **** for consumers to be able compare easily the prices of different suppliers and be easy for people to make the switch. For a start, get rid of two-tier tariffs and standing charges. Not only does this enable people to compare easily it also encourages people to save energy as you’ll only pay for what you’re using (albeit at a slightly higher rate if there’s no S/C). A plea to energy suppliers: just be more open.

PS I’ve just applied to Scottish Power, via Quidco. Goodbye and good riddance Atlantic.

Profile photo of terfar
Member

Sam

I don’t think I am mixing up anything. Why can’t a smart meter include as an energy monitor function? Adding a wireless remote capability to the smart meter so that users can interrogate it from a convenient place is hardly going to require rocket science, just a little additional programming.

My point is that the current system is geared to making money rather than encouraging energy conservation and that is what the government should be monitoring. Ofgen has neither the skill nor will power to follow it up.

I agree with your comments about ‘competition’: there just isn’t any. Ma Thatcher did much damage by selling off our assets. Really all it did was feed short-term greed and provide jobs on the boards for ex-ministers.

Profile photo of dave d
Member

I certainly agree that the first x units being more expensive is a crazy reversal of common sense: if the first x units were cheaper and the remainder at a premium price there would be real incentive, and a half decent chance of success, for reduced consumption.
I also agree with Fat Sam (below) – you do seem to be confusing Smart MEters with Energy Monitors. And if you are, then that’s hardly surprising given that Which? discovered a long while ago that the majority of the population didn’t know what each device was let alone the difference between them.

Member
Mark Williams says:
23 December 2010

I have read quite a bit about smart meters recently and I am also skeptical that they will offer any real benefits for consumers. They will save money for the energy suppliers in the long term but the suppliers have already admitted that prices will go up to pay for the new meters.
Personally we use as little energy as possible and having a real-time display is not going to make a jot of difference to our consumption.
However the main worry I have is abuse of the meters. The government has not yet ruled out the possibility that suppliers can remotely disconnect your supply. This would be very open to abuse and there is also the quite likely possibility that the communication to the meter will be cracked and anyone will be able to cut off your power.

Member
RobertWilliams says:
25 December 2010

SCIENTISTS AND REAL PEOPLE REPORTING – DIFFERENT THAN WHAT UTILITY COMPANY TELLS US:

1. Insurance Companies Won’t Insure Wireless Device Risks (3 minutes, 13 seconds)
http://eon3emfblog.net/?p=382

2. Microwave radiation dangers in our home (6 minutes, 20 seconds)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAnrmJ3un1g

3. Truth about Smart Meters – Dr. Karl Maret, MD, Biomedical Engineer
(Dr. Maret’s presentation begins at 23:40 on the video telecast).

4. Radiation Measured From Smart Meter Mounted On A Home (6 minutes, 21 seconds)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRejDxBE6OE

5. Skyrocketing Utility Bills after smart meter installation (3 minutes, 19 seconds)
http://www.bakersfieldnow.com/news/63581287.html?tab=video

6. Wounded by Wireless Smart Meters (14 minutes, 19 seconds)
http://eon3emfblog.net/?p=840

7. WiFi in schools dangerous to students(14 minutes, 32 seconds)
http://www.youtube.com/safeschool#p/u/3/KN7VetsCR2I

Profile photo of dave d
Member

These are useful and thought provoking links, regardless of whether it is comfortable or convenient to believe them or not. Thanks for posting them.
I won’t pretend to fully understand all the science involved (even though I am a chartered IT engineer and have a lot of knowledge about wireless technology) but I do think that if we roll over and let the “scientists” **employed by the industry** go unchallenged we are at a very much increased risk of putting ourselves and our children at risk of something that hasn’t yet been around long enough for absolute proof of danger or safety to be available.
It rather reminds me of the climate change sceptics who insisted that we were not affecting the climate by our ways of life, even as recently as the 1990’s, but now of course it is absolutely accepted and proven that we have been damaging the planet and the climate for decades past.
Who is to say that the wireless issue will not also be proved damaging and accepted as such in the next 10 years?

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

In the video about the hazards of WiFi, the presenter was using a wireless microphone! I’ll bet he had a mobile phone too.

In an urban environment we are bathed in electromagnetic radiation and it will probably be a long time before we know whether the problem is serious or not.

Research in universities and research institutes offers the best opportunity to find the truth, but a lot of this research is industrially funded. This is very useful collaboration to the benefit of both parties but I feel that some research is best carried out independently, and electromagnetic radiation is an ideal example. That means government funding and proper assurance that the government will not try to influence the scientists’ conclusions.

Member

A smart meter alone is not going to benefit the consumer necessarily. It will help the supplier to accurately track the consumption and therefore better manage the purchasing side of things. This will help during the peak purchasing periods of the day and could lead to lower prices here.

From a consumer’s perspective, we have to be more pro-active about managing and taking charge of our consumption habits. With smart meters comes the online access to view your energy consumption. This may not be real time and currently, through companies such as First Utility, there is a lag of around 12 hrs. However, it will provide us with a view of our consumption habit and can see trends. It is up to us to utilise this information and monitor what we do, when we do it and try to be more energy conscious.

An energy monitor, although not entirely accurate, is good for providing realtime information (well, indicitive readings). By turning on/off appliances, lights, air-con, heaters…etc, we could build a chart or spreadsheet of each of these energy consumption figures and understand just what they consume. This way we will be more responsible in future. This will be useful in the home and in the SME business world.

I’ve been banging on about this point to people, that energy prices have risen, however, we should be more responsible, because we probably consume far more energy than we actually require. Cutting this down will lead to increasing the longevity of the fossil fuels somewhat, thereby allowing longer to find sustainable replacements.

Profile photo of b martin
Member

To Which experts,
Regarding your illustration of a smart(?) meter; what is the reading 426.3kW ? and what is the reading 720 imp/kW,h ? Please explain exactly what the meter is ment to be displaying.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Hi b.martin. Thanks for your comment. You do have a point, this is not a smart meter and simply an illustration of electricity usage – the numbers do not necessarily have any specific or relevant meaning.

However, we have a limited supply of pictures and do often choose artistic images that are visually interesting – they are not always the specific product.

You’ll find in our latest Conversation on smart meters, that we have included an actual smart meter: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/smart-meter-roll-out/

Thanks.

Profile photo of b martin
Member

TO- WHICH EXPERTS (John Holmes,Mette Kahlin et al )
Wake up ! Please reply to my question regarding your illustration of a new meter.
You have already had 24 hours to respond to what should be a simple request.

Profile photo of b martin
Member

To- Patrick Steen,
Thank you for your reply concerning the illustration. A visually interesting artistic picture in this case is not appropriate. I would ask you to change the present illustration for a large picture of an actual new meter taken square on the face so that one can see all the detail together with a brief statement on what information is being displayed.
The picture on the other conversation to which you refer is far to small to be of any use.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Thanks b.martin – Which? Conversation is a place for us to start a debate and gain comments on particular consumer issues, and generally not for us to provide detailed advice or annotated photos. Instead, you can find everything out about smart meters on our main site Which.co.uk:

http://www.which.co.uk/energy/creating-an-energy-saving-home/guides/smart-meters-explained/

Profile photo of b martin
Member

To- Patrick Steen
Thank you for your reply of 4 August. One point remains outstanding, the reading of 720imp/kW.h.
What is meaning of the units (?) imp/kW.h ?

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

Hi b.martin – since this is an old smart meter Conversation published in 2010 we sometimes miss your comments. imp/kW.h refers to how many times the meter flashes per kw/h – you can read more about this here: http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=1059061

Profile photo of b martin
Member

To- Patrick Steen
Is anyone there??
Please reply to my question of 10 August.

Profile photo of elizabethpaton.paton@gmail.com
Member

I only met up with one of those meters yesterday in the home of an elderly blind friend who lives alone in an Ayrshire village council house and I was not at all happy about her situation. I intend taking the matter up with her supplier but meantime I have been re-reading the Which article and felt I should make comment. She tells me that the new meter cost her over £300 but she quite honestly did not understand the situation and now feels that she is being overcharged for her electricity but had no paperwork to let me see. As an aside to this, I feel it would have been more to the point if Scottish Power had advised her on how to save energy since her water heating is by electricity and includes a huge storage tank.Yours, hopping mad,Elma Paton.

Profile photo of Jenny Driscoll
Member

Hi Elma

I’m really interested to hear more about your experience as suppliers have told us that there will be no upfront charges for smart meters. Was the £300 for the actual meter or something else eg updating wiring or the fuse board? It would be great if you could send us more information. Also, has she changed to a different tariff?

Your friend may be able to get help with paying her bills. I’m attaching some further information which may be useful.

You sound like a great friend! Good luck.

jenny

http://www.which.co.uk/switch/energy-advice/financial-help-for-energy-users/energy-grants-and-benefits
http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/about-us/extra-help-unit
http://www.homeheathelpline.org.uk/

Profile photo of kennethraine
Member

I was under the impression the title of your magazine was Which? The nature of this piece leads me to suspect the name is changing to What if? Lets hope not, its so much easier to pose a question than answer it.

Member
Ian Crook says:
15 July 2017

Many scientist claim that the meters are a source of constant background radiation, much higher than microwaves. Each unit forms part of a network which produces a rise in radiation levels in any community that has these units installed.
Can which pleased look into this matter and confirm whether this is accurate.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

Ian I have already brought that up on several occasions in the past to high criticism when quoting American test + results over many years as they use a variety of devices due to the many utility companies . I was “shot down in flames ” for even posting it. I would be VERY interested if Which had a convo on this but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Its called an “electronic smog ” in America , million $$$ class actions have been raised in the USA as it is ENFORCED there in most States , not only that in times of power shortages the utility companies can control your thermostats , check out your usage on various “smart ” domestic products and “third party ” you. find out -along with hackers – when you are not at home and more . Officially here anybody who disputes the official HMG line + USA government line are classed as “cranks ” “weirdos ” “hippies ” etc so I will stop there as I am already classed as “different ” .

Profile photo of Ian
Member

The power used by a smart meter to transmit its data is significantly higher than that of a mobile ‘phone. The problem is we still don’t know how much is a safe level.