/ 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
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?

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.

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…

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.