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Is the smart meter roll-out a good idea?

First Utility smart meter

When we launched our smart meter challenge, we were surprised by how many said they didn’t want one at all. And although we support the roll-out, we’re working hard to tackle the issues that could be bad for consumers.

Many of you clearly have concerns about smart meters, which is why we’re campaigning on this issue and will be for some time to come. But overall we think there are significant benefits.

How smart meters can benefit us

In a market where we’ve heard a lot about innovation but seen little of it, this new metering technology is a real improvement. We’ll get accurate bills and we’ll all be able to better understand how we use energy. There should also be improvements to the market, as companies can better balance the grid to match energy demand.

Commenter Mike D presented two examples of how smart meters could help his family – a smart meter could have identified his daughter’s faulty fridge freezer as the cause of her excessive quarterly bill. And daily readings could stop his elderly father from worrying about surprise sky-high bills.

However, Phil rightly pointed out that there are concerns about smart meters, ‘Which? should be addressing these matters, not providing an unqualified approval.’ So I’m here to explain why our approval isn’t unqualified and what we’re doing to ensure the roll-out benefits consumers.

Is the roll-out happening too soon?

The most immediate issue with smart meters stems from the fact that companies are rolling them out early – before consumer benefits have been agreed and explained, and before universal standards are in place.

It isn’t right that suppliers can roll-out meters that aren’t up to spec and expect you to pay if and when they need to be replaced. We think that any company that does this should bear the cost of upgrading or replacing them when the government does decide on a universal standard – it was their commercial decision to roll-out early, so they should shoulder the risk.

This also goes for the problem of switching energy suppliers. Commenter Ron asked, ‘will each supplier have a propriety system, resulting in a re-installation cost if you switch?’ Having a smart meter shouldn’t make it more difficult for you to switch, which is why we’re continuing to push for a universal standard.

Why are we paying when energy companies benefit?

In our previous Convo, Paul Moran said ‘The people who are going to profit from them year after year are the energy companies who will save on meter reading.’

Others are also worried that if we reduce our energy consumption by using an energy monitor, suppliers will just raise prices again. Otherwise, why would suppliers be interested in us using less of their energy?

To tackle this, we’re making sure that Ofgem and the government keep a close eye on the prices energy companies charge after the roll-out. Plus, energy companies are now making new profits by helping us use less energy, like selling us insulation and solar panels.

Do I have to have one?

Some of you are also concerned that you’ll be forced into getting a smart meter before you’re ready for one. But at the moment it’s important to note that you do not need to have one installed, even if you’re offered it. This may change in the future, but in the meantime we’ll continue to work with government and energy companies to make sure consumers are heard and protected throughout the roll-out.

Our ‘no selling, just installing’ campaign is just one part of our on-going work on smart meters, and we will continue to launch campaigns for the different elements when it is appropriate, so I hope that you’ll all continue to be as actively engaged in this issue.

In the meantime, do you think there are any areas where Which?, the government or your energy supplier could be doing more to inform people about smart meters?

Comments
Member

Gerry- You did not understand my comments. The meter would only be set to transmit energy consumption once a month or once a quarter depending upon the individual domestic consumers tariff. The data wold be the total cumulative kWhs from day one; day one would be the total from when the meter was installed and put into service, hence to establish the amount used in the previous month or quarter one would have to know the previous reading and to subtract the last reading from the current reading. There would be no merit in continuous readings from 22,000,000 plus individual domestic meters.
To the Which staff dealing with this subject WAKE UP and please reply to my previous request to give your views on my suggestion on how the new meters should work, which is after all is the key to all the arguments on this subject. PLEASE ANSWER WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

Member
Gerry says:
9 September 2011

@b.martin

I wouldn’t particularly mind if a new meter worked the way that you describe, but it’s a safe bet that sooner or later it would have far more functionality than that. It would be built in from the start but temporarily disabled, or else it would be quietly added later via a software upgrade.

Collecting usage pattern information would be very useful because it would allow all sorts of surcharges and restrictions, all applied and billed automatically. They would benefit Big Energy, not the poor old consumer who would just end up paying for all the clever technology that worked against them.

Member
Simon Evans says:
10 September 2011

I think this is a key point. Calling these devices “smart meters” makes them look user-friendly, environmentally sound and generally a good thing. If they were called “Remote power control and billing devices” it would be more honest.

Member

@ Simon Evans

Or “Subscriber Compliance and Appliance Monitoring”, SCAM for short…

Member

I returned from holiday today to find my copy of Which? had been delivered, inside it was a copy of “Affordable Energy Campaign”.

The article “Time to Get Smarter” – where Which? says what needs to happen – I quote “There’s been some scepticism from Which? members about the benefits smart meters will bring” under the topic “Why should you pay so they save?”

Talk about an understatement, there isn’t even a mention of the ability to switch off remotely or even the forced – you will have one even if you don’t want one!

Come on Which? come clean and let the facts be published properly so that everyone can see ALL of the issues.

Member

Quite agree.
I am, frankly, disgusted, by Which?’s published stance on this issue.
It is rather comparable with making a statement like “Some people believe that Hitler may have been too hard on the Jews”.
But then, I compare with Which?’s stance on CFL’s and a few other hot topics at the moment and it’s clear that there is a similaity.

Member

Hello
We will be in touch very soon about further research on smart meters. As we said in a previous Convo, we want to give people the opportunity to give us their opinions on this issue to help us plan future work.

Jenny

Member

I’m sure this comment has been made many times before, but as I don’t want to read all 283 previous comments I’ll say it any way. Smart meters will benefit the energy companies only in that they will be able to dispense with the meter man (or woman). Nothing wrong with that, especially if they pass on the savings to the consumer after their capital spend has been recouped. But please don’t dress it up as something it is not, and please don’t let the consumer pay for it. The fairly widespread use of energy moniters has proved the lie that they will save the consumer money, after the inital novelty phase has worn off they sit on the side unlooked at and frankly in the way. Which? should be campaigning for the consumer here and be 100% against the consumer having to pay for their installation. I can also see that in time, with remote software upgrades these meters might be used for any number of different purposes – purposes that could conceivable act very much against the consumers’ interest. No to smart meters in the first place – a complete waste of several billion £’s.