/ Home & Energy

Our smart meter challenge to help stop stealth sales

Can you imagine someone coming round to install your new smart meter, then trying to flog you cavity wall insulation? No? Well, you may not be as imaginative as our sales-savvy energy companies.

By 2020 the government wants every home in Great Britain to have a smart meter. It will cost over £11 billion and we are likely to pay for it via our bills.

This meter will be smart because it will communicate directly with the supplier and so cut out the need for meter readings. They’re a great idea, because as well as passing this info to your supplier, they’ll also let you see your own energy usage. This could help you reduce energy consumption and, in turn, lower your bills.

So what’s the catch?

The government is encouraging smart meter installations to include advice on energy efficiency. This includes installers telling you about other energy efficiency products that you could buy straight from them! Moreover, we’ve found job adverts from energy companies insisting that potential smart meter installers should have ‘a good head for sales.’

Am I weird in hoping that they just have ‘a good head for installing my smart meter and then leaving me alone’?

Great though smart meters are, we’re worried that energy companies have spotted an excellent opportunity to sneak salespeople through your front door. Our research shows that 93% of people wouldn’t let an energy salesperson into their home, and 30% wouldn’t even open the door to them.

I don’t want your stealth salespeople

And what surprises me more is that it’s the energy industry being allowed to do this. Yes, the same industry that has a lowly track record for mis-selling and the same industry that has record lows when it comes to our trust in them.

The government’s sending a message to industry to make sure they don’t exploit this opportunity to be irresponsible when selling door-to-door, with the industry also putting together a code of conduct.

But, here at Which?, we still think it’s not right to sell products when energy companies come round to install 50 million smart meters. Full stop.

No selling, just installing

We’re challenging energy suppliers to sign up to our ‘no selling, just installing’ smart meter challenge. Companies who accept the challenge will not sell during the installation and their smart meter installers will not be on sales-related commission or have to make any sales leads.

The installer will fit the meter, explain how it works, leave written material – and yes, some of this may include marketing material – and then go. Seven companies have made the promise already – well done to Co-operative Energy, Ecotricity, First Utility, Good Energy, Ovo and The Utility Warehouse.

But come on other suppliers. Take up the Which? smart meter challenge and show that you’re committed to making the smart meter roll-out hassle-free, rather than just extra-profitable.

So, thanks for my new smart meter, energy company. Yes, please install it. Yes, please explain how it works. Yes, please leave written information. But don’t try and sell to me in my home.

Comments

None of the large energy suppliers then? (rolleyes)

For me, this is just another waste of public money that will end up in the pockets of the energy companies. Remember the “energy saving lightbulbs” ? That’s right, energy prices subsequently went up. How about “Install loft insulation”, what happened? Energy prices went up. How about “discounts for paying by direct debit”, what happened? energy bills went up.

I predict exactly the same will happen with the “smart” meter, billions will be spent saying how much better off we will be, billions will be spent setting it up, then what will happen? That’s right, energy bills will go up again.

It’s NOT about reducing your energy, it’s about making massive profits off a service that should be nationalised under the guise of saving the planet.

I really do think that Which? Should be looking through all these smokescreens and get campaigning on the real issue here that energy prices are exponentially rising.

[Hello Dean, please don’t write excessively with capital letters, as explained in our Commenting Guidelines. We’ve now edited them out. Thanks, mods.]

Hi dean, thanks for your comment. You’re right – energy prices are rising, and we do recognise that this is an extremely worrying issue for consumers. It’s not realistic for Which? to just demand that energy companies lower their prices, but we have identified lots of ways that we can tackle the issue of rising prices – some action from government, some action from consumers, and some action from companies themselves. You can see what we’re doing to tackle rising energy prices here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/price-rises/

Ultimately a lot of our work in the energy sector is aimed at driving more competition, which we think will help to lower prices and encourage companies to provide a better service to their customers. Our smart meter challenge is just one part of all the work we do on energy, which includes fighting for simpler tariffs, better competition, a decent Green Deal for consumers, etc. You can see all our energy campaigns work here: http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/energy-and-environment/

Finally, our smart meter challenge is something that we think does really matter to consumers – our research shows that 93% of people don’t want an energy salesperson in their home. That’s pretty significant when you consider that some of the large companies will be sending them out as a matter of course, often without customers being aware that they’ll be subject to a sales pitch during the installation. We have had a great response from the smaller, newer entrants to the market (a demonstration that they’re committed to showing they’re different!) but we’d obviously like the larger energy companies to see that by signing up to our challenge they can show their customers that they’re committed to an efficient roll out that benefits their customers rather than just squeezing more profit from them.

Nikki,
I would think your research showing over 90% of people really don’t want an energy sales person in their home is correct, in fact I’d estimate higher.
But don’t confuse energy sales, where they’re just trying to win you over to supply from them, with energy efficiency measures like loft insulation, cavity wall etc which will save you money.
You used cavity wall in the write up as an example of stealth selling by energy suppliers and seem to class this as the same as the Eon sales person trying to get you to change from EDF. It’s not the same, with appropriate energy efficiency measures you win, not the supplier.

But I would also agree with “dean” in that the less energy we use through improved efficiency the greater the chance of increases in price to protect profits. This is because sell less and the unit cost to supply increases, sort of economies of scale in reverse.
However as this is already happening the only way to avoid the rise is to use less through greater efficiency, we have no choice.
I can only suggest a better way is that we cut out the duplication in supply infrastructure (and duplicated cost) by re-nationalising energy supply. “Competition” isn’t working (and anyway it’s not competition if it’s a cartel, as many of us suspect the big six situation is) so why not?

And finally smart meters only give more up to date bills. Yes that’s good but really isn’t saving you any money. If you want to save by monitoring your useage buy a £25 owl monitor on ebay. Much cheaper than the eventual cost to the consumer of so called smart meters.
The “which” campaign in support of smart meters is I feel not justified or fully thought through.
These meters just arn’t that smart, but they certainly are an added cost to the hard pressed consumer.

So you’re campaigning to ensure that more money is spent on erroneous measures that will achieve nothing? Stopping salesmen calling is certainly laudable, but in terms of the issue in hand, you are completely missing the point.

“A green deal” is such a non-issue. What people want as a consumer is fair, low prices and it is no secret that energy prices have been rising way above inflation for many years, actually serving to increase the perilous nature of our economy at present because we have no option but to pay.

If Which? campaigning is only serving to create more “initiatives” that are actually driving up prices, then perhaps the strategy needs to be re-thought.

Please let us know how competition has lowered train fares, air fares, energy bills and bus fares.

Switching is fine until your new supplier updates their price, then you are back at square one.

Why can’t businesses just leave us alone in our homes?
We get enough advertising, selling, etc as it is, on TVs, leaflets, doorstep callers, via our landlines (that we pay for) is giving yet another industry license to oin us really a good idea?
As has happened in every other industry, self regulation and codes of conduct have all failed miserably, to the detriment of the public.

If the energy companies can adjust the CV on our meters every week on digital meters millions currently have installed, why do we need “smart” meters at all?
Is the law changing, so that meters have to be inspected once every 2 years – a current legal requirement – which we all pay for?
If it is, then consumers should see immediate reductions in their bills to reflect the fact that these “new” meters no longer need inspection under law?

I understand where you’re coming from Jenny, but just one example of where it will fail;

British Gas owners Centrica, stated last week in the tabloids that one of the three reasons prices were going up 18% (on top of last December’s rise) in August, was because of “lower consumption.” – this, they tell me today via letter, is on the basis that wholesale energy prices MAY increase by 30% in December 2011 – staggering that increases are coming in from August, without factual confirmed rises in wholesale costs!
Proof that what many people have been saying on forums all over the internet for a long time now, the more we save energy the higher the price becomes to protect energy company profits.

I just don’t see how smart meters will improve the current problems we are all facing. Forget the initial increase via our bills to pay for them, which won’t be reversed once the roll out is complete, the scrutiny should be falling upon the energy companies and the confusion they are creating with their billing systems, to try to justify huge profits.
Sam’s idea below is a cracking one. Automation of best price would force down prices as energy companies wouldn’t be guaranteed any payments unless they were competitive, now that would be “smart!”

Do these smart meters run alongside existing meters?
I read yesterday (on Which? action I think?), about the information they can store, suggestions already that this information could be sold on, leaving the consumer facing more marketing.
There is of course the cost to set the system up, more costs with computer systems, call centres and staff, costs to maintain the system and retrain staff, engineers, etc.

I sound as if I don’t want to save energy, I do honestly, but these meters allow better monitoring for the consumer – which is what should be being done with existing digital meters and the onus should be placed on energy companies to sort their existing systems out.
These meters will do nothing to address the problems we have now – confusing bills/statements, deliberately confusing tariffs, etc.

The biggest problem of all we have now is a simple one to sort out – the more energy we save, the higher the price of energy goes – the link between price rises and reducing consumption is their for all to see, Centrica themselves have stated it is the case.
Yet not a single word on this from any of the big six energy companies or the Energy saving trust!

Smart meters will do nothing to resolve these issues… I only wish they would!

Fat Sam, Glos says:
11 July 2011

Yet another ill-thought government-backed scheme. yes, we will all pay for the new meters through our bills (or increased taxes, take your pick). Why do we need a smart meter that sends meter readings to energy companies when some of us can already do that online? It takes less than 2 minutes.

Now, if a smart meter measured my electricity over time, continuously compared my usage against different suppliers and then sent me the cheapest bill possible without me even having to go to a price comparison site or whatever, then that would be smart in my opinion. Smart for me – not for the government or the energy suppliers and their dodgy sales staff.

———

When I was very very little I always wonder why our electricians built homes with the meter stuck in some inaccessible point outside or in the garage. Our parents were always telling us to keep doors and windows closed. The cleverest thing I thought, even at that tender age, would be if you could see how much electricity you were using and how much it cost. That was over 30 years ago. It’s not a difficult concept by any means. Why has it taken us so long to get to this point? I can list a whole lot of things that our builders/electricians/plumbers/heating engineers should have done to make life easier for homeowners. I am beginning to think that we have the dumbest tradespeople in the entire universe.

Hi Fat Sam, it is great that you are already so engaged with your energy use but not everyone is – actually you are in a very select group. So the smart metering system will help a lot people to get where you are already at. It will also allow us all to have real time understanding of how we use our gas and electricity use and the cost of it- which none of us have at the moment.

I think your idea of smart switching is really interesting, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see intermediary companies who provide that sort of service for you as well as other energy services.

I may be in a select group but what’s cheaper? Installing smart meters to every bill payer in the country at tremendous cost to each and every one of us – or simply getting companies to introduce simple and secure ways for people to submit meter readings online?

There seems to be a drive to get everything connected automatically to the net. I can guess where this idea come from – a bunch of overpaid, but clueless, consultants who needed to deliver an over-engineered solution for a problem that could be solved relatively easily by other means just to justify their over-inflated wage bill. Look at the digital switchover and the cost to every household with that rushed policy.

Personally, I think there are better things for the government to waste their (sorry, our) money on.

We really don’t need this right now. The smart thing to do would be to abandon it – or introduce a scheme, as I suggested above, that puts the consumer in control of how smart it can be.

As each day goes by I am just left bewildered and gob-smacked on some of the decision that politicians make and the policies they develop (don’t even get me started on why England doesn’t even have it’s own government but it’s somehow OK for the rest of the UK to have one – logic? where?! I could go on..). But then, can we really blame them, after all, it was most of the Sun/Daily Mail/Mirror-reading electorate that voted them in.

Maybe we’ve just become a nation of dumb-(insert name of animal similar to a donkey)es. I think there are bigger issues at stake. Democracy for starters. May be we should all have to pass an exam to be eligible to vote. Now, that’s not a bad idea.

Just re-read the article. It’s been estimated that the smart-meter rollout will cost £11 BILLION!!!

Seriously, where are the government’s priorities? With that much money, how much care could we provide for the elderly? How many students could we get through university? How many hospital beds could they provide? How many nursery and school places? more importantly though, how many potholes would that fix?! 🙂

Even if it’s money that will be raised through increased bills is it really fair to impose that upon us when the main beneficiary will be the already overweight cat energy industry? If it is through taxation than I rest my case with the arguments above.

Scrap it. It really is not a priority right now.

Lynn Thackray says:
11 July 2011

I’ve had an Energy Fit Starter Pack supplied by E.ON and have been trying to install the software for months with no success – turns out the software is not a valid Win32 application and some of the applications have ‘Publisher: UNKNOWN’
I’v spoken to and have had suggestions as to overcome the installation problems (before I found out it wasn’t valid) and in the end was told I should go back to the company I bought the computer from – not the most helpful suggestion. I tried installing the software on my partners computer but warning signs came up asking if we really wanted to continue.
I think the software needs re-writing to sort this out. Has anyone else had a problem with the software??

Could be simply an issue with the firewall. Or a compatibility issue with your computer (operating system)

A myriad of possibilities, but I think that the question is “was it tested with all operating system versions”, my guess would be no 🙂

Hello Lynn,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this. All Energy Fit Starter Pack software issues should be covered in our online FAQ.

If the advice here doesn’t resolve your problem, please reply here or tweet @talkingenergy and I’ll find the right person in to help you.

Kind regards,
Anne, E.ON @talkingenergy

Firstly I use a Mac and will expect any software supplied for this to fail to install. I test software so I am no stranger to the issues.

Secondly, if anyone comes round to install a smart meter or whatever they will get short shrift from me I will tell them to go to hell.

Thirdly in the highly unlikely event that they manage to install it I will remove it myself – I am an electronics engineer, I do not fear electricity.

Finally, as I will be retired by the time they get round to it I will not be paying for my Electricity, Gas, Water and Council Tax and I will be encouraging every pensioner to do the same unless of course the government of the day provides a pension capable of paying for all these expenses – £50,000 a year seems reasonable to me (allowing for inflation).

Although I see the point you’re making about what you call “stealth sales”, that is thrusting upon you something you may not need, the example of cavity wall insulation is not too good.
Myself I’d rather have cavity wall insulation than a so called “smart meter”. The meter is not going to save you a penny in itself (just marginally more up to date bills, while it works) whereas cavity wall insulation could save you a couple of hundred a year. The same goes for other energy efficient measures, so long as they are appropriate. After all you can simply say “no thank you” if you’d rather pay through the nose for energy, or freeze.

If “which” really wants to cut out the real “nusance” or “stealth” selling how about attacking the cold calling for PPI refunds, accident claim lawyers, Sky box insurance, etc. etc.

And no I’m not a smart meter installer and I don’t work for any of the energy suppliers.

Robert C says:
16 July 2011

Ah, good, we are back on the actual topic of stealth sales

Sim1234 says:
12 July 2011

You are totally missing the point with this campaign (not for the first time). Smart meters themselves will do nothing to reduce energy consumption and save money. Consumers taking action because of smart meters will however, and this invovles installing extra energy efficiency measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation, better heating controls, better draught proofing etc. These products do not install themselves and need to be provided or sold. When a smart meter is installed is a good time to think about these measures. You should focus your campaign on proper miss-selling, whereas your current campaign seems to want to limit consumers’ ability to save money and improve their lives through living in a warmer house!

Hi Sim1234 – you’re right that smart meters won’t on their own reduce energy use, but we think that in this situation it’s important to protect people from stealth sales is because of all the mis-selling that has happened in the past.

We’d like energy companies to be able to inform their customers about energy saving measures they can take, but this shouldn’t be in a situation where a) you have to let them into your home b) you don’t necessarily know that the purpose of their visit is to sell as well as install and c) you are only being given sales information from one company.

In an ideal world, we’d like people to be able to get their smart meters and not feel under pressure from salesmen, then in their own time make an informed choice about reducing energy consumption, and get competitive quotes from a range of installers.

As I said before, people are generally uncomfortable about allowing salespeople into their home, and after the recent mis-selling problems (which we do also pick up on and campaign about! http://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/06/sse-must-stop-using-dubious-sales-tactics-says-which-254919/ ) we’d like to see a much more considered view to advising customers on energy saving measures.

David Marcer says:
12 July 2011

I had a Smart Meter fitted by First:Utility. That was fine until they put their prices up a few weeks later and I changed my utility provider. One large company would not accept my account if I had a smart meter. The others (so far) are unable to read my smart meter and so the whole technology becomes rather pointless for now.

I liked the records that First:Utility provided of my energy consumption but now I have two smart meters and they are not being used except by me when I do a visual reading once each quarter.

A little bit of joined up thinking would have established that these meters could be read by a least all of the larger utility providers.

I **used to be** a SmartMeter enthusiast (i’m with Ecotricity and I did initially ask to be on their list of “willing volunteers” to get one fitted as soon as they were available). **HOWEVER**, I have since learned a great deal about them and have many concerns all of which have been raised above by other contributors).

There is only one way in which energy prices will ever be fair (which is not to be confused with either cheap or realistic) and that is re-nationalisation of the energy supply companies.

With that move (which I seriously doubt will happen in my lifetime) we should at least be able to remove the difficulty of changing supplier due to meter compatibility as there would be only one supplier. (There would be many other benefits and also some drawbacks too.)

However in the more realistic future we desperately need the likes of Which? to work far harder than they are doing on campaigning to get the SmartMeter roll out delayed indefinitely until al of the issues raised above have been fully resolved.

It’s odd that Which? seem to side with us, the punters, over Banks making monumental profit at our expense but on this issue Which? appear (thus far) to not understand that SmartMEters serve only one purpose and that is to increase energy companies’ profits at our expense. It’s time Which? woke up and smelled the coffee (or maybe they have turned the percolator off to save energy??).

There is just one thing that I can say in favour of SmartMeters though: under the present, utterly farcical, system for reading meters, meter readers regularly fail to supply the readings to the energy companies or supply them too late to be used or in a format which is either unusable or incomplete. This means that we are paying for the meter readers (the energy companies have to PAY the reading companies to do this job, which they blatantly do not do, so that means we pay as part of our bills) and we are also having to do the job ourselves to send in readings os that our bills are anything like correct. At least with SmartMeters (IF they work!!!) there will no longer be a need for meter readers so we should not have that annoyance to contend with. That said I bet the energy companies will decide that they cannot trust the technology and / or the consumers and will probably still insist on manual readings to “quality check” so I bet we end up with Smart Meters and meter readers. Oh what a stupid world ………….

Black, no milk, no sugar please. Thanks.

MAF says:
15 July 2011

I am not happy about smart meters being installed, as I have seen information saying that they give off very high EMF fields, which could be very deterimental to the household and other properties in the vicinity. I feel v. strongly about this, especially where children are concerned.

Paul Rogers says:
15 July 2011

I don’t want a smart meter. Do I have to have one? I use very little grid electricity, thanks to pv generating panels, and I know exactly the amount and timing of all my electricity usage.
I don’t want one.

Mike Wittle says:
15 July 2011

British Gas contacted us to install a smart meter, they did not turn up and we had to re-fix date and then when engineer appeared and we asked if the smart meter allowed us to continue with our “Economy 7 tariff” we were told it did not and that we could not continue with this cheaper tariff. We turned the engineer away and refused the smart meter. The engineer fully agreed with our decision. What really annoyed me was that at no time did British Gas inform us that we would loose the off peak tariff with a smart meter. Given what WHICH is now saying does this mean we will be forced into loosing our off peak tariff?

Lex Keel says:
20 July 2011

Hi Mike. My name’s Lex from British Gas. I just wanted to send our sincerest apologies that we didn’t turn up for your original appointment, this is clearly not the experience we aim to offer our customers. Indeed our expectation is that we not only turn up on time but also that we call ahead to let you know what time we will be with you.

Smart metering in Great Britain is still being pioneered and, although it has been mandated from 2014 onwards, British Gas is the only major supplier to accelerate the roll out of smart for the benefit of our customers. This will allow British households to take early advantage of smart meter technology to cut energy use, carbon emissions and fuel bills by eradicating estimated bills and improving consumption information.

Right now we are working on a range of E7 and time of use tariffs for our smart meter customers which we hope to launch soon. However until these are available we should be excluding any customer using E7 from our smart meter rollout programme. Unfortunately on this occasion it appears that the meter was incorrectly identified and therefore we visited your home to install a smart meter. As a failsafe, our energy experts have been trained to identify E7 meters and check whether customers are utilising the two rate functionality. Many customers have an E7 meter but a single rate tariff rate and in these situations we can install a smart meter.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and hopefully we will have an E7 smart meter proposition available for you very shortly.

@ Lex: Jenny has commented below:
“First Utility are installing nationwide and British Gas and E.ON are trialing smart meters, so one of these companies may be able to put in a smart meter to replace your old one.”

I don’t believe British Gas are the only major supplier accelerating the roll out of smart. Were you aware that other suppliers are also, offering Smart Meters to their customers already?

TeeJay says:
15 July 2011

We’ve had a smart meter for about 3 years installed free of charge by EON. Monthly meter readings taken by mobile phone technology mean accurate monthly bills. Our ennergy useage has gone down to a number factors but not because we have a smart meter.

JAEN TWIGG says:
15 July 2011

Our smart meter didn’t fit. Is one size supposed to fit all?
When I rang Scottish and Southern they said that they would send packaging for me to send it back to them. They never did.

Dave says:
15 July 2011

Who will benefit most from smart meters? The energy companies, as they will no longer have to pay meter readers, and the companies who make smart meters. Who will pay for smart meters? Consumers!
How can it be energy efficient to scrap a perfectly good meter and replace it with another?
Apart from the cost of something I don’t need and don’t want, will smart meters add to the EMC problem already found in most homes? There are rumours they will use PLT for communication so will a smart meter stop my radio sets from working? Will it cope with local transmitters? Have any trials been done with CB or amateur radio enthusiasts, or people next door to a base station?
Finally, would you rather have electrical work done by a fully qualified electrician or a salesman who has had a brief training course?

Johnboy says:
15 July 2011

Smart meters? Does their installation depend upon which provider you are with or is it through the National Grid? If it’s with the provider, will it be a fixed cost or is each able to charge what they want for installation and then for subsequent ” maintainence” over the years?
I feel like yet another rip-off coming our way

Liz says:
15 July 2011

We’re with Good Energy who can be trusted to do what they say. We have no problems with them as our supplier. Intelligent, communicative people answer the phone and any queries clearly and positively. Full marks to them. We have no qualms about letting them install a smart meter for us.

Good idea, Which? I hope you get together with those who have signed up to run both formal and viral campaigns that tell everybody how to keep sellers out of their house.

The main beneficiaries of smart meters are the energy companies, who will save meter reading costs. They want consumers and taxpayers to pay for the meters. You should expose this too.

You also need to watch out for whether consumers will actually be able to get hold of information from their smart meters directly, without it having to go through the supplier. If not, we will get little more than the useless overview from bills.

By directly, I mean an open-standard data interface for home energy monitors and computers, to allow competition and ingenuity in what these devices and software can do for consumers.

Don’t underestimate the obstacles that suppliers can and will put in the way of people using less energy. Even the precision of the consumer’s readings will make a difference: if they are only precise to the nearest kWh, they will be essentially useless for home investigations, whereas to the nearest Wh (0.001 kWh, which existing meter technology is easily capable of) then consumers can even pin down which individual gadgets need attention. E.g. “Should I replace my fridge?”

Robert C says:
16 July 2011

This would be really useful if you could get a monthly useage chart, split by day and night (cheaper) electricity. Then sites such as U-switch could offer a comparison based on your useage, not just an annual figure, but taking into account peak/off-peak useage.

It could even help choose between heating by electricity vs gas

With renewable energy (wind etc) we will need to use off peak electricty when it is windy, sunny, or the waves are large, instead of just night (which was the base load for the biggest power stations)

Just thought of a VERY useful use of smart meters, if they are smart then they should be able to assess the Market and AUTOMATICALLY swap suppliers every few seconds of the day so that the cost is always the minimum available.

That will send a sweat down someone’s back, after all if you have a computer this type of instantaneous analysis is exactly what they are capable of, all you need do is agree to auto change and you are away, no need for more than one supplier as they will all have to have the same tariff.