/ Home & Energy

The Government must urgently cut smart meter roll-out costs

Energy meter

Have you had a smart meter installed in your house? The official roll-out’s due to start next year, but we’re concerned about the £10.9bn cost. That’s why we’re calling on the Government to urgently cut costs.

A number of energy suppliers, including British Gas and Eon, have already started installing millions of smart meters up and down the country. However, the full roll-out won’t begin until the end of 2015. If everything goes to plan, we’ll all have gas and electricity smart meters in our homes by 2020. But, with you and me footing the bill, what’s being done to ensure we’re getting value for money?

We’ve previously called on the Government to pause the smart meter roll-out so that costs could be properly assessed. The roll-out was delayed for year. But now that the programme’s set to begin in earnest in December 2015, we’re calling on the Government to do all it can to cut the costs that will ultimately end up on your energy bill.

Three ways to cut smart meter costs

Today we wrote to the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, ahead of his speech at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference, to make him seriously consider cost cutting measures.

The Government says that competition between suppliers will keep costs down, but with the energy market undergoing a full scale investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority, we’re not convinced.

So, as part of our Fix the Big Six campaign, we have identified three ways in which savings can be made:

1. The Government should explore using economies of scale to drive down costs. The meters themselves are one of the biggest costs for the roll-out, yet suppliers are currently buying meters separately. A centralised approach could save hundreds of millions of pounds.

2. A coordinated approach to the installation of meters in multi-occupancy buildings, such as flats, is required to reduce disruption and cost. Otherwise, there could be an unnecessary duplication of effort and costs, with visits from multiple suppliers.

3. Suppliers are required to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to install meters in every home by 2020, but it hasn’t been made clear what this means. Suppliers need early guidance from Ofgem on what lengths they have to go to so that they can improve the efficiency of the roll-out and avoid disproportionate costs.

Get smart on smart meters

Smart meters can be a very good thing, giving you more accurate billing and control over the energy you use. But that doesn’t mean we should be writing a blank cheque to have them installed in our homes. The Government, energy suppliers and Ofgem must get to grips with the smart meter programme to ensure we’re not paying over the odds. Otherwise it’s in danger of spiralling out of control.

Have you had a smart meter installed? Has it led to more accurate bills, or made you think twice about how much energy you use?

Comments

The cost of the smart meter roll-out is enormous. I’m quite capable of reading my own meters and filling in the automated request sent periodically by my energy supplier. I don’t want a smart meter. Unless something has changed, I’m not obliged to have one. Whenever I want to measure the consumption of individual appliances I can use a plug-in device that cost £9.99.

I thought that Which? had back-tracked on supporting the expensive smart meter roll-out.

Sorry – I acknowledge and appreciate that Which? is trying to cut the cost of the smart meter roll-out, but my point is about whether or not we all need them. They may be useful to some people but many of us don’t need them.

I agree with Wavechange’s and most earlier comments. I do not have a so called smart meter and do not want one. This is a further example of the ‘dumbing down’ of society.

I am at present using 1st Utility for my electricity supply and I give an on-line meter reading monthly. I also keep a spreadsheet to record the monthly consumption and resultant cost for both gas and electricity. The majority could do this and save us £10-11 Billion. Even those not interested in how much they consume could ‘phone in meter readings or complete cards.

Those wishing to assess their consumption can do so by switching on each appliance and timing the rotation of the meter disc to calculate a Kwh – my father did this back in the 1950s. So we do not need other devices to state our device consumption. We do not need this expensive nannying.

It would be good if Which? could add its voice to resisting the implementation.
Brian Hughes.

“timing the rotation of the meter disc”??? Surely no one has one of these old meters now?

I do. Unlike the one it replaced, it has a digital display.

I think you’ll find that one reason for sky high bills is the fact that there’s an element of training levied by all the major players. So does this estimate of $10bn cover all the money the public have been paying over the last few years too?

Like wavechange, I don’t see any benefit to me. If I plug a smart meter in it’s not going to give me a breakdown of how much each appliance if actually using without me going round and switching them off and on one at a time. Which if I was that bothered, ( I try to keep everything switched off anyway), I would be doing it now without a smart meter.

So how much have I already paid for something I don’t feel I need? I’m using 33% less energy but my bills a 3x higher than 10 years ago.

…or look at the kW number on the ratings plate. Granted that doesn’t give the mean consumption, but it will give you a good idea of what to use less of if you want to save money.

The benefits of smart meters: they can automatically update your supplier for accurate readings, although my company had one and changed suppliers, and they can no longer auto-update.
They show you how much energy you’re using, but I’ve had a free monitor from e.on for many years that did that.
For a supposed £11b outlay (and before we even get to the conspiracy theories online) is it really worth it?

I’ve not really been too paying much attention to this but have seen various articles about smart meters.

I’m confused as to their benefits and they way they are being ‘sold’ to us.

We are told different things:

1. that they get rid of the need for estimated readings and give us ‘more accurate bills’.

2. that they let us monitor usage, help us understand our usage and presumably help us cut down.

Are there any other main arguments?

My tuppenceworth:

1. Are estimated bills a problem? Mine always seem to be fairly accurate and any difference is sorted out in the next bill after a meter reading whether by me or the energy company. There could well be a problem for some on low incomes if a bill is over-estimated, but surely giving the energy company a reading and getting them to re-calculate solves that? Am I missing something here?

And even if they are a problem, are they £10bn of a problem?

2. In broad terms, cutting down on energy usage is straightforward. Look at the kW rating of appliances: if you have electric heating, making small adjustments to temperature or how long they are on will give the biggest savings. Cutting back on washing machines, cookers, etc will have a small effect, but I doubt it will make much difference. Lights: with CFLs or LEDs, yes, switch them off when not needed, but I doubt you’ll save much. Unplugging equipment on standby will save pennies. If the rating is measured in Watts and not kW, then, essentially forget it – concentrate on cutting the heating back by a small amount and you’ll overwhelm any saving on phone chargers and TVs.

As an example, switching off a 2 kW heater or kettle for just one single minute will save as much energy as switching a 20 W CFL light bulb for 1 hour 40 minutes or a 2 W charger for 17 hours.

For gas, turn the thermostat down a bit or reduce the time the central heating is on.

I think that has got to be easier to follow advice like that than expecting someone to sit and watch a meter and understand them. Is there any evidence that smart meters or energy monitors provide additional cost savings?

But I suspect the main reason why energy companies what these is to reduce the cost of meter readings. If that’s the case, then they should say so and not sell us the products on essentially false benefits to us. Drop the nonsense about ‘more accurate bills’ and advantages to the consumer.

And why should the Government be paying £10bn to help the energy companies save money? Our bills have rocketed in recent years – the Government should be fixing the problems that has allowed this to happen.

[end of rant]

Excellent common sense ‘rant’ Alan. I go along with every word of it.

Heating is the biggest item in the energy bill and I don’t suppose there are many people who don’t know how to economise if they can and who take every practical measure within their means to do so. The problem is that in many homes [especially older ones], because of their construction and layout characteristics, there is no more scope to economise on heating without spending a small fortune on physical alterations. Many of these properties are occupied by people on low incomes or with constant heating needs and i think that if there is £10+billion to burn on smart meters it would do the whole country a favour to invest in energy saving measures in such dwellings. So far, government-sponsored schemes have been narrow in their scope and mean in their funding so uptake for the most deserving examples has been lower than it should be. Something practical and effective can be done in virtually every type of domestic property whatever its age and construction; it might not be the best, it might not be the complete solution, and it might not tick all the boxes on insulation values, payback, durability and so on, but it would make a big difference for the people living there and be an investment in the nation’s housing stock. It’s not a gift or a subsidy either and it”s about time we stopped regarding it as such – improving the heat retention of thousands of older houses is just as valuable in energy terms as sticking [subsidized] solar panels on newer properties and it could avoid the need for one or two of the replacement power stations needed over the next decade.

You are absolutely right to focus on heating, John, and I agree that it can be money well spent to help people improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

Having said that, I’m not interested in cavity wall insulation because I have heard of too many cases of dampness caused by poor installations. I have resisted all efforts to get me to change my ancient but reliable gas boiler for a more economical one, simply because newer ones can be very unreliable.

The government pushes us to take advantages of making our homes more energy efficient but I’m not sure that there is much help on offer to the unfortunate few who end up with expensive bills as a result of having major work done on their homes.

I agree with you and I am also dubious about after-filling cavity walls although, if done competently, it should make a worthwhile difference in heat retention without giving rise to other problems. Houses with cavity wall construction are inherently more heat retentive and less prone to cold and dampness ingress than properties with solid walls so there is not so much potential gain from an after-fill and the benefit to cost ratio is likely to be less favourable than attention to the more difficult properties where even a simple internal insulation lining could make a substantial difference. Houses with only two exposed walls can be lined economically but this is rarely presented as an option. Some form of ceiling coverage can be suitable where the roofspace is inaccessible, or has no party walls, or has too little headroom for working in. I am not advocating half-measures per se, or believing that these ideas would look good, but I do feel they are part of the answer to the heating problems faced by hundreds of thousands of people in the UK living in town and country houses that are perfectly well designed for their living requirements but are not technologically advanced enough to be comfortable or economical. As I have said so often before, in this country [at government level if not commercially] we hanker after the gold-plated solution and let the best become the enemy of the good.

deegeepee says:
13 October 2014

heating is undoubtedly the single biggest item currently on bills, but is that about to change with the more widespread acceptance of plug in cars? beware the sudden increase when charging your car. Yes, cheaper than fuel (at the minute), but all you are doing is changing the way you pay for fuel from “up front” to “quarterly”, which could really hike up those bills.

So your electric company now also benefits from the electricity supplied to “fill up” your new hybrid.

However, too many plug in cars will also have a knock on effect to the infrastructure required to get electricity to us. If we all overnight went out and bought plug in hybrids, I suspect the electricity company would be rubbing their hands in glee (unless the cars brought the entire national grid to a grinding halt, and what can be done to limit the amount of electricity being used then?)

Interesting question, DGP. We are at risk of reducing one problem [fossil fuel reliance] by creating another [higher electricity demand]. Admittedly, much of the demand for electric vehicle charging will be overnight and can use the baseload nucear generation capacity and optimise the use of available windpower. A significant proportion of car charging might take place during the daytime [while people are at work] if sufficient charging points are available and this might have to be priced to choke off excessive demand at peak times. I assume there will have to be separate metering for car charging if it becomes commonplace so that demand-management tariffs can be applied without introducing too much uncertainty and price fluctuation into the normal domestic consumption. However, not knowing how much it is going to cost each night [and at different times throughout the charging period] to top up the batteries could be a serious drawback that deters people from going electric. Our neighbours occasionally use an electric company car and plug it into their garage power point overnight but they are not on a night-rate economy tariff because their general consumption pattern does not justify it. This is expensive so, if possible, the user charges the car at her employer’s premises during the day-time. Her work-to-home-and-back journey is about sixty miles [not what electric cars are best for, really] and she is not particularly pleased with the car’s performance [compared with her Audi sports car!]. I think a lot more development has to go into electric motoring before it takes off in a big way and the issues of energy price and supply to support any expansion will have to be much bettter thought out. In view of our present critical generating capacity position I suspect electric vehicle use will have to be restrained while balancing reductions in demand [e.g. arising from the smart meter programme?!] can accrue and be secured. It would be a political blunder of the first order if government allowed a big new electricity demand to develop in an unmoderated way, with people buying lots of new electric cars and then finding they could not put enough juice in them for the day’s journeys whether for availability.or financial reasons. These difficulties could serve as an incentive to develop means by which solar panels on cars could make a contribution to the charging needs but it could be a long time at our latitude before electric cars would be self-contained in energy requirements even for modest mileages.

I seem to remember hearing that smart meters would only work with the company that installed it so if you switched supplier, you also had to have another smart meter installed. Is this still the case?

Instead of wasting 10bn on smart meters that many people do not want, it would be “smarter” to put it towards paying off the government deficit or improving our road surfaces or employing more doctors and nurses.

From what I’ve been told by the last engineer I had in the house. The reason for a delay in rollout was trying to get an agreed standard. The standard should now be a common base unit into which each supplier can fit their own meter. Whether that’s what we’ll get is I guess, still a mystery.

Don’t properties already have a standard inlet to which a meter is installed?

Whatever happened to common sense?

Huh…, the purpose of a smart meter is to save energy? The wastage of smart meters when customers switch supplier, the energy used in the production of new ones, plus the fuel to probably transport them around the world plus fuel for getting to customers……………

deegeepee says:
13 October 2014

in reply to all three of teh above comments, each supplier can and no doubt will have their own supplier for meters (E&G) and comms hub, but the point is that they will adhere to a common base standard, with each manufacturer/supplier building on the base to provide their “customised” meter package. If you have a meter installed by company A on a tariff for a year and then change supplier, the new supplier will have to take on the supply with that meter provided by the old installing company. This may result in a reduced service, or a lack of real time cost information to the customer, but will not affect the ability to take accurate meter readings or produce accurate bills without a need for estimation.

So one smart meter, re-used across suppliers in much the same way as your old meter works. but in moving away from your installing provider, you may lose out some of the nice visuals presented on those flashy in house display units.

I think Which? should demand a complete halt to the compulsory installation of smart meters as it’s not in the overall interests of consumers. Merely calling for a reduction in costs is not going to achieve much. They should be available for a nominal sum [fitting cost only] on request and once fitted be required to remain in place. Beyond that there is no need for smart meters. People interested enough in what they can do can obtain the same results much more cheaply. Is there any evidence to show that people who already have them are using them effectively? The only real benefit is that they can cut out the periodic meter readings but there will still have to be occasional checks on electricity meters to ensure that there has been no tampering or meter by-.passing.As Wavechange says at the beginning, most consumers are capable and willing to supply meter readings on-line, and it can also be done by postcard or by telephone – lest we start believing that the only way is digital! The impact of this roll-out is a shameful impost on the energy bills of those least able to afford to heat their homes and run their domestic appliances. I do not for one minute believe that smart meters – more than any other energy conservation measures – will produce the energy saving return that is attributed to them. £10bn invested elsewhere in energy saving [like free home insulation for older hard-to-heat properties] and renewables would probably show a greater return. But overall I think it would be best to not take this money out of people’s pockets in the first place. The issue of meter compatibility between different suppliers has not yet been resolved so far as I am aware and there is also the massive waste as 50 million or more [including installations in small commercial units] functioning gas and electricity meters are removed and destroyed and new materials and energy are consumed to produce their replacements.

In January 2012, we have a Conversation entitled: “Stop and rethink the smart meter roll-out”.

Would Josh be kind enough to run a poll to see if there is a demand for smart meters?

“like free home insulation for older hard-to-heat properties” Another little bird tells me that come Jan 2017 energy companies will have to install FOC to homeowners etc external insulation where cavity wall is not suitable. They basically attached 4 inch insulation blocks to the outside of your house and then apply render on top of that.

How do I know, I just had a leaflet from the council offering a £3500 grant towards it, the cost estimated at £6k-£14k. But talking to the people actually doing an installation over the road, they said save your money and get it free from Jan 2017, The energy companies have already wormed there way out of doing it once but EU deadlines mean they probably won’t be able to get away from it again. So I’m guessing we’re already paying for that too.

There are a lot of things that can be done quickly inside a Victorian terraced house or a country cottage that do not require expenditure or intervention on that scale and that would produce useful energy cost reductions. Badly fitting doors and windows, open grates, inefficient heating appliances, over-sized baths, lack of shower, defective controls – they can all be dealt with easily and gently to bring about fast relief without creating massive disturbance for the residents. Walk down any street of terraced houses and you will see, despite half a century of double glazing and home improvements, homes in need of small-scale and low-cost work that would lead to energy reductions but which, even so, are outside the means and abilities [and life-expectancy in some cases] of the residents. A customised house-by-house scheme could be set up with a fraction of the smart meter roll-out money to deliver enormous benefits; local councils did it in the 1960’s to get rid of coal fires under Smoke Control Zones and they could do it again for energy consevation – it’s an equivalent national imperative. The fact that the smart meter scheme is funded by these high energy users themselves is the ultimate slap in the face.

I presume that installing smart meters is a profitable exercise for the companies that install them, but are the energy supply companies making a significant amount of money on their roll-out to date.

As John has pointed out, those who are struggling to heat their homes are having to fund these meters. As Alfa says, there are better ways to spend money.

As others have said already I cant see the point of smart meters, especially at such a high cost and if no standardisation.
I agree Which! should campaign to stop the roll-out thereby saving the total cost, instead of just focusing on wasting slightly less money.

There is also the safety aspect.

Millions of homes updated by who? Newly trained staff probably having a very tight work schedule?

It is hard enough finding a good plumber/electrician/gas engineer now. What is the standard of work going to be like?

Conversion to North Sea gas was considered to be a good job done by the power industries. Does Which? have figures for the cost of this for comparative purposes?

That said, anything that replaces Npower employees with machines has a value beyond rubies.

Michael Waterson says:
7 October 2014

Surely, the better people to install smart meters are the Distributors, not the suppliers. That way, all flats in an apartment block can be done at the same time, streets can be done at the same time, etc. And since you always have the same distributor, and many of the benefits accrue to distributors, who then know more accurately what local demand is, they have the greater incentive. By contrast, if you can switch supplier within a few weeks, they have little incentive.

I’ve yet to be convinced of significant benefits for smart meters, other than there will no longer be a need to visit your premises to read your meter – which saves the energy supplier money and should come off our bills……. 🙂 .

I don’t see most people looking at their meter and deciding how they will save energy – if they are on a tight budget they are likely to be doing all they can already.

There may be a marginal gain if the supply companies charge you by the half hour – the way they buy energy. To balance loads at peak times they can give an incentive to move some usage off-peak by charging less – a more complicated economy 7. But how much domestic usage can you move in this way? Maybe just your washing machine and dishwasher.It will make it difficult to compare tariffs.

Convince me it is a good way to spend £10.9 Bn. A better way of using the dosh might be to build 218,000 council homes for the genuinely needy?

Josh,
I accept it’s not realistic to stop the rollout now, but I don’t see how the savings and benefits should outweigh such high costs. The suppliers cost being saved is that of sending someone round to read the meter, which surely does not cost billions even over a few years. The consumer savings are realised if people change their habits based on what the meter says. Apart from an initial flurry of interest that soon wanes and we all revert to our normal ways, so no significant savings.
Can you explain the calculation to support your urgent assertion on benefits and savings?

Regardless common sense should prevail on the rollout to minimise costs for suppliers and therefore us.

Thanks.

Hi all, thanks for your comments – you may be interested to see some of the industry responses to our call on the Government to urgently cut smart meter costs: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/broken-energy-market/smart-meter-roll-out-industry-responses/

Thanks for this very timely input to this discussion Patrick.

From this announcement, Energy UK has said: “‘Smart meters are already saving customers money on both their gas and electricity – although the national roll-out is not set to start in earnest until next year.”

That means that there is still time to stop the roll-out, but only if prompt action is taken.

I am very disappointed with the energy industry. Not only are the public expected to fund smart meters but we still have smaller users of energy subsidising heavy users thanks to standing charges, which should have been abolished by now.

Patrick,
“‘We are pleased that Which? recognises that smart meters will transform the way people buy gas and electricity and that the national roll-out is of critical importance.” Quote from Smart Energy.

I’d be interested to learn how they will make such a transformation. This suggests a huge benefit for consumers. Could you tell us how this will be achieved (assuming this accurately reflects Which?’s view). 🙂 . I might then change my mind about their introduction at £500 a household.

“…the national roll-out is of critical importance…”

I spotted that quote too. I’ve yet to have it explained why this is of critical importance, unless (cynically) it’s critical to some company’s bottom line. But adding £500 to our bills, and chipping away at it at £23 a year at best, is a long payback time. Is there some critical non-financial reason?

“…the national roll-out is of critical importance…”

I’m guessing but that is probably to do with certain people thinking it will benefit the county in achieving its EU emissions targets if you believe all the hype which I for one don’t.

If we fail to hit the EU targets then I believe we get fined. So avoiding that probably is of critical importance. I just can’t see this helping.

I doubt we can stop smart meters, no more than we can stop HS2 – it’s a political issue.

Standing charges – a fixed cost per annum – reflect the fixed costs that energy companies need to recover that do not depend upon your energy consumption. So why make high users pay more for these “fixed” costs than low users? Being a low user does not mean you are poor and being a high user does not mean you are well off. You cannot discriminate on the basis of usage. These costs include reading and maintaining your meter, administering your account, maintaining security of supply, and regulatory (Government) charges such as supporting vulnerable customers and supporting low carbon technologies. Some of these could be taken away from the energy companies and included in taxation but others will still remain. The remaining minimum fixed costs should be paid by all energy consumers. Those in genuine need should be helped through the benefits system, not by other consumers irrespective of their means to pay.

I don’t agree. The standing charge means that low users are subsidising those that use more energy. Some will be poor and have a genuine need, but that can be met via the benefits system.

We should not be subsidising those who are not short of money, including those who are wasteful. We don’t give everyone aids for the disabled in case they happen to be disabled.

If we buy food or petrol, we don’t have a separate standing charge to pay for the infrastructure. Everyone pays the same for a loaf of bread or a tank of fuel, irrespective of how much they buy.

wavechange, I know we disagree on this but my objective has been to try to put more of the facts in front of people so they can reach a more informed conclusion. All the facts were not made clear in the (much) earlier simple tariffs introduction – something I find unacceptable when persuading people to join a campaign.
Examples of other paying models – mobile PAYG vs contract, water bills metered or annual charge, Oyster card vs. standard Underground fares, season tickets and rail cards vs. standard fares. There are all sorts of ways to charge.
I believe we ahould start by charging on the basis of what something costs, and give targetted help where someone is genuinely disadvantaged. Not indiscriminate subsidy.

Mabel says:
9 October 2014

I would like my electricity meter changed from an over 30 year old dials meter to a digital meter, but am not happy to be a guinea pig for a smart meter. I would like the technology tried and tested before I agree to having one fitted. At one time, smart meters were supposed to be at risk of hacking. Is this still a likely problem?

Alan Henness says:
9 October 2014

Mabel

I believe there is a legal requirement for energy suppliers to replace meters after a number of years, but I’m not sure of the details – does anyone else know? I’d have thought there would be few old dial meters left although I do know of one that was replaced only a few months ago.

Mabel says:
9 October 2014

Alan

I queried this and they only have to ‘calibrate’ the meters. I think they may have to change them after thirty five years. My electricity meter is inside my home and has only ever had a visual or ‘magic wand’ check in the years I have lived here. My meter is in a cupboard along with some tools, batteries, bulbs etc. I have never had to give access to an electrician to change the meter. I have had a meter reader call about every two years and that only since I have been home all day.

I asked my supplier for a change of meter about five years ago and was refused, unless I paid for it or it was faulty. There is a yellow ‘Certified 06.91″‘ sticker on the meter. I was informed by my supplier that was the month and year of recalibration. Recently I was offered a smart meter and I told them I would let them know. I really want to be assured that the technology is working correctly before I agree. Is there any reports of faulty smart meters and are students busy doing their own ‘recalibrating’. Are they hack proof?

Will Lemieux says:
12 October 2014

It is one thing for them being hack proof. There is also the question of the companies using them for data mining – THESE companies will be able to establish a reliable pofile of each households habits, and sell that to 3rd parties in the same way that Google with its cookies, tracks our internet activity and uses that to adjust what search results are offered to us and uses the pfofile to determine what ads we see on our screen. Mobile phone companies sell data based on thr location and profiles of its users. Read the latest Wired magazine article.
This is not neutral. I do hope there will be an option of turning the monitoring function off!

Mabel says:
9 October 2014

I forgot to add that my gas meter is also over 30 years old but has a digital display and I am very happy with it. My usage over the years has reduced in line with my energy saving measures eg. showers instead of baths, new boiler, turn the thermostat down and delay turning the central heating on for winter and each day. I don’t know when my meters were last tested for accuracy but I expect the ‘smart’ meters are more likely to go wrong than their ‘idiot’ predecessors.

Alan Henness says:
9 October 2014

Mabel said:

“I expect the ‘smart’ meters are more likely to go wrong than their ‘idiot’ predecessors.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily the case at all – they are likely to be more accurate and more reliable – mainly because they are not mechanical.

Is there evidence that electronic meters are more reliable, Alan? I’m very well aware that properly designed electronic items can be extremely reliable, but that is often not the case with what we encounter in the home.

Hi Wavechange – good to see you here! 🙂

I can’t provide the evidence, but I strongly suspect that meters for energy companies will have proven reliability. It’s a hassle to us if a kettle or whatever fails – the cost of replacement falls to us. For an energy company, if a meter fails or even just reads low, it could be very expensive for them to replace, so it’s in their interests to ensure it is reliable – it’s likely to be far more reliable than a piece of consumer electronics and will probably have to have proven reliability.

I would agree with Mabel, her 30 year meter, was clearly built to last like most things built back in the day. In the modern world where things are built by the cheapest bidder who will therefore use the cheapest components, things are more likely to go wrong.

Some rooms I’m still using old light bulbs that haven’t been changed for years the rooms with the new more environment friendly light bulbs I’m on the 3rd of 4th in a fraction of the same time. And there still not as good.

Mabel says:
9 October 2014

My smart central heating boiler has gone wrong in the first four years and the CH engineer used his laptop to diagnose the problem and fitted a new expensive part which did not solve the problem. My old boiler failed to work about twice in twenty five years and the engineer solved the problem the first time on both occasions

I think new technology is amazing but it is also more complicated and can be a problem to sort out malfunctions. My old gas and electric meters are over 30 years old and the only problem I have had in all that time is believing my reading on the dials meter when the hand is around zero. I made one mistake five years ago and that was when I requested a meter change.

My point was simply that industrial equipment is built to far higher standards of design, construction and reliability – even nowadays – than commercial/domestic equipment. A direct comparison isn’t valid.

Hello Alan. I’m still here, and it’s good to see you back. Whether we are discussing dodgy healthcare or the reliability of energy meters, it’s always good to question what we read.

I totally agree with your comment about the different standards of electronic equipment and your reasoning why energy meters should be built to a high standard. I’m going to continue to ask for evidence until I’m satisfied that our expectations are achieved.

Welcome back Alan! How about uploading an avatar on Convo? You can do so here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/your-account/

You asked for it… 🙂

Much better. Oh, and that request wasn’t exclusive to Alan. Everyone should upload an avatar 🙂

Wavechange asked if there is evidence that electronic meters are more reliable.

Well, having changed all the electronic clocks around the house this last week, I am always amazed how much the times are out on some of them by as much as 20 minutes.

Accuracy isn’t the same as reliability. If your clocks are 20 minutes out then they are not using the mains 50 Hz frequency as the timing element – they are either mechanical or controlled by a quartz crystal. Although the latter can be accurate, they can drift and maybe not have set up accurately.

The 50 Hz mains frequency, which many clocks such as those on cookers, mains powered alarm clock etc use as the frequency regulating component, are highly accurate. Although the mains frequency can vary throughout the day, it is controlled and over a longer period so that it is very accurate. Thus is what your meter will use.

If you’re interested, you National Power publish the mains frequency in real time here: http://www2.nationalgrid.com/uk/Industry-information/electricity-transmission-operational-data/

As I’m typing this:

Frequency: 50.001Hz

Short term, energy companies must maintain the mains frequency to within 1%, but I can’t immediately find the long-term accuracy, but it is not something to worry about for meters.

@alan, I know this is going off topic, sorry which, but how would such clocks cope with power cuts.

As even living in the southern part of the UK I’ve had 3 power cuts in the last 2 years, ( and I’m taking 30 mins + each time)

They have internal quartz oscillators that take over for those relatively short and infrequent periods. While they can be highly accurate, great accuracy may not be needed.

But, because this discussion started about clocks being inaccurate, I completely forgot that any device connected to the mobile phone network will get its time information from the mobile network – and that is highly accurate. So, even if your power is off for days, it will sort itself out when it reconnects to the gsm network.

For Economy 7 tariff customers at the moment, which switches on heating (storage radiators) at something like 7pm to 7am (I’m going back a number of years, but I suspect it won’t have changed), these are controlled by radio signals – something in the Long Wave band if I remember correctly – not a clock. This already gives power companies to control the timing of tariffs.

There are various ways of retaining information and settings when power is interrupted. Internal batteries and capacitors were early solutions but non-volatile memory is better. A familiar example is the odometer in modern cars. They never return to zero even if the car battery is disconnected.

As Alan has said, using the mains frequency provides excellent long-term timekeeping even if the mains frequency can fluctuate during the day. It’s possible to revert to crystal-controlled timekeeping as in a battery-operated clock or watch when a mains supply is not available.

My electricity was off for well over an hour this week and even my mobile phone was out of action.

Sorry Alan, not having a go at you but my mobile phone is currently 2 minutes slow (put right about 2 weeks ago). I had assumed it would always show the correct time but found out some time ago when I was late for an appointment.

Our previous electric meter was brilliant. The cheap overnight electric lasted later and later until by the time the meter was changed, we had the cheap rate until lunch time. The current digital hasn’t changed though.

Not a problem, alfa.

I believe not all phones are synchronised to the gsm time and it can be an option for the carrier. I’d have thought most smart phones are synchronised now, but I think I remember an old Nokia of mine not being synchronised.

Not sure about your old meter, but can’t think why it should be out. In the 1980s, I did knock up a small device (essentially just a mains-powered relay) linked to my Amstrad 1512 PC to log when the Economy 7 switched on and off. IIRC, it was always accurate to within a few seconds.

Back to an unanswered point made earlier. Can we have evidence of genuine (costed) savings that smart meters will give? Industry expects to make savings with the end of estimated bills, people no longer coming to read meters, lower cost of back office processes, and a reduced number of calls to their customer service teams, as people won’t need to ring in with their meter readings. Government believes these savings will be passed onto customers, and it will monitor the smart metering rollout to ensure that this is the case.

I see on CustomerFocus website (now defunct and taken on by CAB apparently):
“Some of the costs of this new technology will only be an issue in the early stages of the rollout. This should mean that consumers will pay around £7 extra on their energy bills by 2015. However, from 2017 consumers should start to see reductions in their bills. It is expected that on average a dual fuel customer will be £25 a year better off by 2020 if they use the information on their energy display to work out where they can make savings and reduce their energy use.”

A 20 year pay back (assuming it costs £500 per user) is hardly going to “transform” energy usage, is it? Better to spend the money improving insulation nationally, for example, and really cut energy consumption?

Very good questions, Malcolm. I hope we can get some believable answers because it’s far too easy to speculate on other reasons the energy companies might like us to all have smart meters.

Thanks for that, Josh.

2% doesn’t seem like a lot, but I suppose any saving is welcome. Of course, if we use less energy, there is a temptation for the energy companies to compensate for the loss in sales/profit by increasing prices…they do have shareholders to keep happy, of course, and a company with falling turnover, profits and dividends aren’t seen in a good light.

But what I don’t understand is why the Government is helping the energy companies to the tune of £10 bn. That is not a trivial sum and I can’t help feeling it could be better spent on other energy conservation measures.

Home insulation improvements – loft insulation costs £270 and saves £150 a year, cavity wall insulation costs £370 and saves £90 a year. The Green Deal (used up apparently) helps boiler changes and other improvements. Far better pay backs and bigger energy saving. I hate the term “low hanging fruit” but it applies here – start with the biggest benefits for the least outlay.

The biggest benefits to who, though?! It’s clear the energy companies will benefit (mostly by reductions in personnel), but it seems the consumer may or may not benefit, but if they do indeed save 2%, then that is dwarfed by the increases in our bills in the recent past.

Perhaps Josh has the figures for average bills and increases over this last year for comparison? I think the average is around £1,400, so a 2% saving is just £28. I suspect many on lower incomes will save that 2% by cutting back when the energy companies increase their prices in an attempt to limit their bills.