/ Home & Energy

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
Letta Mego says:
1 July 2012

Smart meters subject our whole bodies to radiation 24 hours a day..they are never off…You cannot compare a cell phone on your ear for a few hours a day…. to the whole body 24 hours a day emissions of smart meters.. Smart meters are far more harmful than cell phones.. And cell phones are voluntary…you can turn them off or chose not to have them…you can choose not to have wireless technology in you home. Don’t be stupid enough to allow utility companies to force this stuff on you. Get involved. Fight back.

Ian Mills says:
24 August 2012

Smart meters!

I have to laugh or I’ll cry- I have just driven 400 miles from Torquay to Carlisle to see my 83 year old mother in Law. BG seem to be rolling out smart meters here and they have just yesterday fitted smart meters with the display gadget that shows you you have left on the TV or goes red when you boil the kettle. Very interesting , except the fitting team left her with no heating or hot water! They left without testing the system! They then sent another guy and he couldnt fix it! Still no heating or hot water! I am now waiting in for BG while my MIL has gone to a hospital appointment on the bus! Its not good service!

Hello Ian

Far from ideal! I have sent your comment to British Gas. It’s important that all of the energy suppliers are able to sort out problems like this quickly, especially as 50 million meters are planned to be replaced.

I do hope that your mother-in-law has gas and electricity restored quickly.

Jenny

Ian,
You have my sympathy, hope your 83 year old mother in Law has services restored very soon.
But, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
50 million of the useless things costing us no doubt through bill suppliments £11 billion, and very probably much more.
If only 0.5% of installation are problematic, and I think it will be greater than that, a quarter of a million people will be presented with problems they never had before, and totally needlessly.
“But I’m sure the detailed information this smart meter will provide your mother in law with will be invaluable, and save her a fortune” NOT.
And “Which” who we’d hope should know better, in principle supports the dam things.
You couldn’t make it up could you?

Hi Ian

We are very sorry to hear that the installation of your mother-in-law’s smart meter led to a failure of her hot water and heating systems, and that our engineers were not able to fix these on the first visit.

We do hope that all these problems have now been resolved. If there are any further issues you would like us to look into, please email us at TalktoUs@britishgas.co.uk and we would be very happy to help.

Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused to you and your family.

Best wishes

Laura

@British Gas: I think you missed the point, the engineers LEFT without making sure it was all working properly.

It is incumbent on the engineers to check functionality and operation after such a change. I suspect (you can correct me if I am wrong) but doing that on every installation will significantly increase installation costs – well hard luck!

I am fortunate in as much that I have already indicated I will NOT accept the installation of such meters and that has been accepted including the fact that if I move home and my new home has meters installed that they will be removed / replaced at NO charge to myself.

If on the other hand this were not the case then in the circumstances indicated I would advise British Gas or any supplier of energy that I would book myself and family into a hotel until the problem was resolved and send the bill to them. If it was not paid I would undertake to take them to the small claims court to recover costs.

@Any Energy Supplier: you need to get your process in order even if you need to subcontract the work.

@Sub-contractors: Make sure you cover the time necessary to resolve faults before moving on to the next installation AND be prepared to leave a contact number with the previous installation home owner and immediately undertake to return that same day to resolve – working 24/7 until it is resolved.

Jane says:
7 March 2013

I feel as if I am in the minority in this conversation

Having moved temporarily into a rented flat fitted with smart meters last autumn, I would hate to go back to conventional meters.

The flat has electric heating and immersion heater and through the winter i have taken regular readings of my usage. I have also worked out how much things like washing machines etc cost.

The smart meter is not one of the more sophisticated type and I have to input info into my own excel spreadsheet. It has enabled me to learn how to heat the flat within a sensible budget with a high degree of accuracy. With energy possibly becoming in short supply in the future, we have got to learn to use energy more efficiently.

My main complaint is that it was fitted by British Gas, but as I have now transferred to another provider and they cannot read it, so I now have to send in readings.

Providing there adequate data protection in the system, I think some peoples concerns are unfounded. I am more concerned about the amount of information that communication companies can access form my broadband and mobile phone. That is frightening.

Sounds like your so called “smart meter” has provided you with nothing that was not possible with the old standard meter. You could still compile your spreadsheet and monitor usage. Big difference of course is the £11 billion cost to us all to roll out these things. That money will never be recovered by the consumer.

Like Jane, I have found Smart Meters work for me – so far. I signed up with First Utility a couple of years ago and they fitted a couple of meters free of charge. They give me downloadable records of my consumption, daily recordings for gas and half-hourly for electricity. This suits me fine because I know I have a very leaky house – and FU annoyingly tell me that I have above average consumption. The gas recordings are useful because I have been able to correlate consumption with published local air temperature measurements. I do this because I am a nerd and I find it useful to be able to discover the effects of any improvements I have made – or plan on making.
Another advantage of having spread-sheetable records is to change the unit rates and standing charges that FU plan to increase from 1st April this year. This has shown me that I should plan to pay more than GBP700 more over the next year if the air temperatures performance will be the same as this last year. So I must make some dramatic improvements to my insulation and leakage – or switch to a cheaper supplier. Only one snag. I don’t know if a future supplier will be able to use my existing Smart Meters or whether FU might want their freebies back.
Another advantage of the electricity meter readings is its suitability for analysis by some freebie software (from others). This has enabled me to see how much more electrical energy I consume when cooking in the evenings or when the rest of the family descend for Sunday Lunch! I am also planning to analyse whether it would be cost effective to re-organise the family’s shopping habits and decommission the spare fridge or freezer in the garage – and whether it would be worth the domestic rebellion that would undoubtedly result from this!

Have any price comparison sites ( not forgetting Which? Switch) got plans for a service where they take downloads from smart-meter data continuously so that they can advise you that a supplier switch (or change of consumer habits) could save?

Although the government has said no one will be forced to have a smart meter installed, it does seem that every new build property has to have one [for electricity at least] and the energy supplier will not substitute a simple meter even at a charge. The homeowner could possibly change suppliers as soon as the exit penalty period elapses but they would either be forced to accept a replacement smart meter [because the property never ever had a simple meter] or, even if a replacement simple meter was allowed, would presumably have to meet the expense of having the smart meter replaced by a simple meter acceptable to the new supplier; ther might also be a penalty in the tariff.

As far as I am concerned they would have to replace free of charge or I would remove the meter myself!

C V Horie says:
25 March 2017

OVO is trying to persuade me to have a smart meter fitted. Somewhere in their literature is a statement that the smart meter will record the amount of both the generation of electricity, and the exported electricity. The current situation is that the Export payment I receive is based on 50% of the amount generated, as deemed usage. The proposal appears to be that the payment I shall receive will be based on the amount exported. I currently try to use as much as possible in house by switching on washing machines, dehumidifiers etc when the sun shines.
Has Which done a cost-benefit analysis of this situation, which must be quite common? Will I lose or make money by having the smart meter fitted? There must be a relatively simple equation to work out the sums, but I do not know the underlying assumptions.

C V Horle-I do not know if Which has done a cost benefit analysis but there is at least one regular poster here who is in accountancy . As regards the technical side there are two types of smart meters which are actually interval meters as they export readings at 30 minute intervals , there are-#1- a gross meter or -#2- a net meter . In a gross feed-in tariff scheme your gross meter separately measures the total electricity consumed by your household and the total electricity generated by your solar panels system -your electric company reads the meter and determines the total amount of electricity generated ,regardless of whether it goes into the grid or is used by you. On a net feed -in tariff scheme , your meter measures your household electricity and the electricity generated by you regardless of whether it goes into the grid or is used by you. Normally the cost of supplying a smart meter ends up with you paying an additional tariff on your monthly billing rates also changing from/to off-peak rates or time of use tariff changes the pricing structure . I would be VERY careful here its not as simple as OVO is making out