/ 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.

Ralph Day says:
15 July 2011

We allready have a smart meter from npower which we have had for 1 year as we have a 5kW wind turbine. This smart meter gives 4 readings ie. Consumption, Importation, Generation and Exportation.
It has a sim card built in and can be read by npower. There isnt, any need for meter readers.

However the Micro Generation department of npower still need me to give the our meter readings every six months.

This type of smart meter isn’t necessary for most consumers and there is also the saving of manual meter readers.

Alex Mathie says:
15 July 2011

I believe that smart meters will not make the difference credited to them. Once the initial novelty has worn off, those that currently have no idea, or couldn’t care less, which items consume most electricity and probably not inclined to change their lifestyle to save energy anyway, will have “paid” for a meter whose only real function will be to send meter readings to the supplier. I have halved our energy consumption (not cost) since 2006 mainly by using those the power hungry items more efficiently, running more overnight with economy 7 etc, and ensuring that anything that is not being used is turned off (at the wall plug not just the item switch as many items continue to use electricity even when “turned off”). With regard to increasing prices, don’t just blame privatisation, a nationalised industry would still be subject increasing regulatory and health and safety costs and such EU nonsenses as the smart meter and the choice to switch would not exist regardless of how poor the service. Also, we should not forget that all energy, whether electricity, gas, coal or oil are worldwide resources that, with the exception of coal, can be readily transmitted across borders by wire or pipe and as such are not just affected by the cost of the raw material, but also what others use and are willing to pay. Finally, regarding installers with a sales hat, ask them to wait until they have completed the installation and given you the instructions on how it operates, then politely use that word that DeGaulle was very fond of but we Brits seem too shy to use – NO. Unless of course you want some advise and/or prices, but then don’t fall for the “I can only give you this price if you sign today”. Get quotes from two or three others.

James says:
15 July 2011

Smart meters should be able to reduce bills in the longer term. At the moment, changes in demand are managed by ramping power stations (thermal or hydro) up and down. However, a fridge-freezer only uses the compressor for a short while each night (when the door isn’t being opened and closed) and with dedicated connections in smart meters for charging cars, they will be able to charge your car in an hour or so. In both of these cases, you don’t need to know when it happens, just that your fridge remains cold and your car is charged and ready for work. If someone can choose when to change your car during the night and in doing so flatten demand and reduce the need for more fossil generation, why not let them? And if they can shape prices such that it costs less at night, and in doing so encourage people to use their washing machines etc at night, then why not? The wholesale electricity market is traded half hourly. People who don’t have economy 7 but still run appliances at night are currently effectively subsidising those that just stick it on during the day, so why not let them benefit from it?

My one concern is the government. With more electric cars, they will get less tax. But if they know exactly what has been used for powering your car, it wouldn’t surprise me to see some electricity having a higher tax rate applied to it.

As for the upselling, why not? It’s not like the electricity companies chose to install smart meters. They were told they had to, even though a customer could leave as soon as a company had spent several hundred pounds installing them a new meter. And in spite of the fact that it would probably have made more sense for the network companies to install the meters. So if they can upsell when installing, it may a) help reduce consumption for the user and b) offset the cost of installation. Both of which should result in lower (or less high, as the case may be) bills.

Finally, as for the electricity/gas companies ripping people off, you need to do some reading. The latest ofgem review estimates that for an average dual fuel customer the companies will make a profit of £75 from a bill of £1,170. This is under 6.5%. There must be loads of things that are bought every day where the mark-up is greater than this. And if they choose to make zero margin, on average you’d save £75. Break out the champagne. Obviously, the £75 is for a typical customer on the standard rate. If you switch to the cheapest supplier, use an online tariff, etc, they make a lot less than this.

James, not sure I agree with all you say..
How is a smart meter itself really going to save you or me any money at all?
We will have to change our consumption habits to reduce usage, nothing to do with the meter. Yes they’ll give you better information on consumption if you monitor the things but how long before that fad wears off?

And the statement that energy suppliers only profit by £75 on a £1,170 annual bill.
Well profit is what you make after all costs, wholesale gas/electricity, supply, infrastructure and operating costs etc.
Perhaps the question should be how is the energy supply organization manages to take wholesale energy cost, which is about 60% and convert it to the 100% retail price we pay?
Yes from that 40% comes operating cost and profit but is that an efficient conversion?
Cut operating cost and they could make more profit (or reduce our bills, some chance)
Increase operating cost and they make less profit (or increase our bills, every chance).
So I’d say that £75 you mention is meaningless without looking at the 40% which converts wholesale price to retail price.

Dave says:
15 July 2011

Do you really trust them to switch your fridge-freezer on and off? I don’t, and I used to work for the electricity industry. However, you have reminded me that domestic load shedding is part of the agenda. This is necessary because most industry won’t put up with it (they will simply go overseas), yet more load shedding is necessary because newer generation (‘green’, CCGT, nuclear etc.) is far less flexible than the old coal-fired power stations.
Have a smart meter, so we can control your house remotely. Doesn’t sound very British, does it?

Trust not says:
15 July 2011

So who will be using the power saved , Buck palace? To cook seven course dinners, or heat the stables?

As always Which assume that evryone lives within the M25.
I don’t have a mobile signal at home so will never be able to have a smart meter.
How about supporting us, Which????????????????????????????????????????????

Sybilmari says:
15 July 2011

I am already ‘smart’ with my energy consumption.
I object to these compulsory installations. They should be voluntary.
It is another invasion of my life and a nannying of my activities.
I do not want something installed in my home without my requesting it.
The so-called saving from reading meters won’t be handed on to customers anyway.
Prices of fuel will still go up.
Shareholders will probably get more profits; the companies certainly will.
In my long experience someone skilled at selling is unlikely to be skilled at fitting.
We, consumers, need to be protected by law from sales in our own homes under any circumstances. Think of all the vulnerable people who won’t know how to handle a situation like that!
Please Which, get this crushed on our behalf.

Patsy says:
17 July 2011

My sound is not working, but I suppose it was ‘Hearts and Flowers’ played on a single violin

Please explain just exactly how can yet another increase for the consumer to finance your Industry will end up delivering benefits to people other than you?

Thinking of consumers would result in lower bills and costs would’nt it?


Patsy says:
15 July 2011

Another con to exploit consumers, if everyone had one fitted overnight and the consumption reduced, the bills will not go down, they will increase to keep turnover and profit to at least their current level.

The cost of the meters and installation will be added so there will also be an increase to pay this.


The roll-out of Smart Meters is Government mandated. I can’t tell if your comment is suggesting you feel that it is in some way a con by the Energy Companies to exploit consumers. But, if so, then I think you’re a bit off the mark.

Certainly, the costs involved in installing millions of new meters will be somewhat passed on to consumers. It is an operational cost for all of the companies involved. This is no different to the current circumstances. Every meter installed by an Energy Company currently is an operational cost which is factored into trading. Just like the set-top box you might use for your cable/satellite TV or the mobile phone which, you might initially get for free and then pay a monthly tariff.

@patsy “The roll-out of Smart Meters is Government mandated.”

It may well be but in that case they should only be introduced when the electricity meters require replacement at NO additional cost, after all I have already paid for my meter!

They will have to get past me, my dog and any implement to hand that I have to defend my home against unwanted intruders!

Mind you it is a moot point because I have no intention of paying for electricity, gas, water or council tax when I retire.

Patsy says:
16 July 2011

If you do not pay, the power companies will have another excuse to increase charges.
These companies always make excessive profits and bonuses,
They never become bankrupt or cease trading due to shortage of income or profit do they.

Damn Young says:
17 July 2011

I understand we will soon be allowed to hit them with a poker.

baldelectrician says:
15 July 2011

I spoke to someone at a supplier about them

The smart meters have many additional functions that help the supplier, such as
Call up (via internal sim card) to do the following
Let the supplier know if the front cover is removed
relay meter readings
switch off part or all of the supply (switching or remote disconnection)
let the supplier know if the meter fails its own diagnostic test
program a customer key (such as when a top up key is lost)
let the customer top up their electricity bill online (credit sent to meter via sim)

Thanks @baldelectrician
“Let the supplier know if the front cover is removed
switch off part or all of the supply (switching or remote disconnection)”

Now we know why they want the technology, so it means they don’t require anyone to visit the premises to suspend service – I thought that this needed to have a court order!

I do not want a smart meter.

They are not going to save me any money a swe already torn off all except fridge and boiler.

andrew atkins says:
15 July 2011

If you are in a position to be able to read your own meters easily yourself I don’t see why you need a Smart Meter. If you take regular readings yourself you can easily and simply work out where most of your energy consumption comes from just by comparing readings over similar time periods with appliances / usage sources etc. turned on or off. I’m sure most of us understand which are or are not the big energy consumers anyway so personally I don’t believe Smart Meters add anything for me.

Larry Stuart says:
15 July 2011

I wonder why we need smart meters, will it save us money on our bills or will it give the utility companies a another reason to rip the general public out of their cash once again, I think this need for smart meters will have to be looked at again, I suppose some users will benefit but I think these may be in the minority.

Jenny – I’m slightly worried about the implied misunderstanding on your part: anyone can get an energy monitor to do what you describe. Which? has tested many. There is no need whatever to have a Smart Meter to do this; in fact the Smart Meter itself won’t facilitate this.
Many customers are already confused about the difference between an Energy Monitor and a SmartMeter – regrettably I think the post that you have written here will either do nothing to clarify or possibly actually make people incorrectly believe that a Smart Meter is an Energy Monitor.
Could you edit or repost to clarify?

JS says:
15 July 2011

They are needed to provide more control options for the state and for the power companies. They are not needed by the consumer. I am concerned about the totalitarian impulses of the environmentalists intent on controlliung our lives – all in the name of their poorly defined, poorly understood, Mother Nature. A Nature which in their view is not enhanced by humanity. My view is the complete reverse of that, and hence I oppose these insidious meters.

Chris Jennings says:
15 July 2011

Who’s kidding who. This is just another Government Con just like the change of lighting to CFCs that are reported to strike imediately and have a power output that equals the old incandescant lamps. This is entirely untrue. It has always been a known fact that fluorescent lamps have to warm up before reaching full power and nothing has changed. The ordinary Joe will not benefit from these Smart Meters just the power suppliers profits.

baldelectrician says:
15 July 2011

The smart meters can also be connected to external units to allow remote reading of water and gas meters

They can be used for remote disconnection in certain circumstances – the meters can be disconnected if the building is unoccupied for example

They can be set to be pre-pay or post pay – either

stepper says:
16 July 2011

I have pay-as-you-go meters – if I can top-up online with the smart meter will I still be charged extra for being a pre-paid meter customer? I was told it was more expensive because the meters were more complex (more parts to deal with the electric ‘key’ or card. So, if they are all the same model in the future will the price be fairer for all?

Hugh Crawford says:
16 July 2011

The country can’t afford free care for the elderly because it would cost £1.8bn. £11 BILLION for smart meters is OK though!

MikeD says:
16 July 2011

My father is 91 and he changed utility supplier 3 times last year and once so far this year.
As his carrer, without any legal power as he will not allow it, I do not want to have to fight to cancel all the contracts my father will sign and then regrets when a high powered salesman with a FREE offer fits his new smart meter. I would like to see a voluntary register that records customers who are considered gullible to utility company sales, in the same format as the postal preferences service.
My father gets anxious when no one reads his meter regularly, because in his mind he will be building up a large bill that he believes he cannot afford. To counter his bad memory he writes everything down on lists, as I am sure many other elderly people do, but the annual meter reading is too infrequent for him. A Smart Meter that displays the amount consumed, with a stick-on-note from me telling him that the utility company is reading his bill every day, will ease his mind. Even better if I can show him an accumulating bill against his accumulating monthly payment.

Have an interest here. Solar PV! For clients who are having PV I say don’t have a Smart Meter as the assumption is you export 50% of what you generate even if you use it all! (unlikely). People need to do their homework on what they use and when and calculate if the SM is an advantage to them. If not, leave well alone!