/ Home & Energy

Smart meters – how you prompted us to review the roll-out

Smart meter

Today DECC issued a consultation on what companies should do during the smart meter roll-out. After a lot of discussion here about smart meters, we thought we’d explain how we’re taking your concerns on board.

Our last couple of Conversations on smart meters – one on our challenge to energy companies, and one on the smart meter roll-out as a whole – have received a huge response.

And we know a lot of you are simply not convinced about the benefits smart meters will bring – as well as the cost that their introduction may add to our energy bills.

So we’ve decided to take stock of what’s happened so far and conduct an investigation into whether the current plans for the roll-out are really up to the job. A recent National Audit Office report raised a number of concerns about the government’s plans and it’s time for a similar investigation from the consumer’s point of view.

Smart meter costs

A central part of this investigation needs to be a consideration of whether the costs are realistic and proportionate, as well as ensuring that the roll-out’s costs are controlled.

As we face a future of rising energy costs, it’s clear that you – and us here at Which? – will not tolerate a smart meter roll-out that goes millions over budget. This is particularly true when the current plans expect consumers to pick up the tab, so we’re looking at how we can make this fairer, and who will be responsible for extra costs if it does go over budget.

Another element we will look at is the data that smart meters collect, and what provisions the government has in place for keeping this secure. Smart meters allow your utility company to take regular meter readings and (for pre-payment customers) details about payment.

Again, we believe that this can be improved, and hopefully the investigation will give us more information about what provision has been made for data protection during the roll-out, and how companies are complying.

Our researchers are also conducting in-depth interviews with Which? members who already have a smart meter fitted. These will be happening over the next few weeks and we hope to be able to share any interesting results from the interviews with you.

Responding to DECC

While we put the smart meter roll-out under the microscope, we hope that DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change), like Which?, is taking serious notice of the concerns being voiced by you, the consumer. Its consultation today takes into account some of the issues raised by our ‘no selling, just installing’ smart meter campaign, which is great news.

Let’s hope that when we publish our findings in a few months’ time, it can use the information to make decisions on smart meters that will alleviate concerns and address the issues that many of you have raised here on Which? Convo.

In the next couple of weeks, we will give you more information about how we’re going to conduct this investigation and report back to you on this Conversation. As well as feeding in all the comments and questions you’ve already posted, we’ll find other ways for you to feed in your views.

In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like to tell us about the smart meter roll-out that you haven’t done previously, please share your comments below.

Comments
Member

One question that arises straight away, why isn’t the regulator listening to the people it is supposed to represent?
Should your workings, go along side work from OFGEM?

In conversations and also seperate energy company statements on twitter, “trust” is a major factor. We, the public, are told that token gestures from energy companies are to help build trust. Explanations for price increases, reasoning for doing so, etc, have all been aimed at doing this.

One only has to look at the deliberate confusion – as we all know, confusion costs us in our pockets – over how bills are made up, yearly statements are worded, combined with huge profits energy companies are making, etc, to see exactly why trust in energy companies is at rock bottom.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but I simply would not trust the energy companies to not use smart metering against my household to obtain more profits.
We are constantly using less energy yet our gas supplier – British gas – raised prices to compensate in part for, and I quote, “Lower consumption”
What guarantees do we have that our information won’t be sold on for financial gain? Is our information being stored in a safe way and do we the public have access to the information held?

OFGEM, ICO, public bodies and the government should all be pulling in the same direction, ideally alongside legislation forcing energy companies to reveal accurate information of how our bills are made up and what their charges consist of.
OFGEM, ICO, public bodies and government, are all in place to protect the public, they have taken their eye off the ball in recent years, standing on each other’s feet to try and obtain funding and forgetting the people in the process.

Member
Blair Breton says:
19 August 2011

I would like Which? and DECC to review the issues in the California smart roll out by Pacific Gas and Electric, and also experience from other EEC countries that have done this before, e.g Italy. Learn the lessons from these roll outs, rather than just use UK thinking.

Member
Simon Evans says:
19 August 2011

To pick up one point made by “frugal ways.” The ICO seems to be a broken reed. While this may be the subject of a separate activity by Which? it does seem that the ICO stands idly by while the government, and quasi governmental agencies such as utility companies (at least one of which we are bound to use) collect private data for corporate gain or government “convenience.” A case in point was the ID card system, which was designed to keep card usage data forever, for no valid purpose, yet the ICO did not raise its hand.

When issues of data security and privacy were first discussed in the 1970s the bogeyman was the large corporation, exploiting our personal data. Today the enemy is the government, and its quangos, which wants to know everything about us, and share personal information with those it approves of. Examples are the ACPO’s collection of data on innocent people’s journeys, the recording of everyone’s travel information for ten years by UKBA, the NHS computer system (all your data kept private, sort of, but available to 1.3m employees of the NHS), ContactPoint and many others.

Before any discussion of the merits and demerits of smart meters takes place should we, the people, not be asked whether we want data which would reveal much about our lives, and our presence or absence form home, to be available to anyone, including our energy supplier? We then need a national debate on whether it is appropriate and legal (no matter what technology is used) to disconnect individual consumers or to cap their consumption. Then,and only then, can we talk about smart meters in a domestic context.

Member

Hi Simon, it’s a fair point and you might be interested to read what we’ve said about the ICO on a recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/linkedin-social-ads-privacy-ico/

Member

” who will be responsible for extra costs if it does go over budget”

My concern is that we will foot the bill anyway. That is one concern you haven’t taken on board it seems. Wholesale prices have been going down yet our bills haven’t, then when wholesale goes up, our bills go up.

Can they not use the money they are fleecing out of us now to pay for it? How many billions did British gas make last year?

Yet another privatised national infrastructure industry that is constantly fleecing the customer, just like the trains. Personally I think the campaign is erroneous and won’t achieve anything other than incur some more legal/PR costs that will I’m sure be passed onto the customer.

But I’m a cynic 🙂

Member

What makes you think the money that is being taken now isn’t to pay for the metering so that they can claim that the meters are saving money?

Personally they will have to clamber over my dead body to get one installed in my property and they needn’t think I will standby and watch them charge me on a different tariff because I don’t have a meter.

Member

Agree with the above – I just want to add a point about OFGEM, who appear to be a completely toothless organisation – if it can’t represent the interests of energy customers then it should be abolished and replaced with one that can.

Perhaps all these ‘OF’ organisations need to be abolished and replaced by Which? who have done a better job of representing consumers than any of them ever have or ever will.

Member

Just in case there are some of you who wish to take a firmer stance;

At long last my e-petition has been published, if you feel strongly about this then I urge you all to sign it and to also Tweet, Facebook etc so that it gets as much coverage as possible.

URL – http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/5351

Member
Derek H says:
2 September 2011

I signed it today, though I was only number 10 which is a shame.