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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.

Derek H says:
2 September 2011

So the only change melanierose is that they can cut you off at the press of a button ? Sounds like a pretty big change to me. And yes we do have to live with hackers but that is absolutely no reason to give them the chance to have fun/cause chaos by switching whole streets or towns off “at the push of a button”. They can cause quite enough chaos as it is without giving them even more scope.

Enteeen says:
2 September 2011

I don’t need a smart meter to encourage me to reduce energy consumption. I think the principal benefit is to the energy supplier, eliminating manual meter reads and opening the door to billing by usage each month (which can be annoying for those who perform a monthly financial balance check).
The cost will be passed on to the public and utility companies will profit from it, whatever they say to the contrary.


I am more concerned about the health risks to those of us who are already electrically sensitive, those who will become so, and children, who are being bombarded with all the unnatural things we are adding to the environment. If you are electrically sensitive, you are likely to be affected by the smart meters in your neighbours’ homes aswell. Anyone who complains of symptoms is unlikely to be believed in this country. Headaches and disturbed sleep are some of the common lesser effects. If you want to know more about the impact smart meters will have on health, there’s plenty online. Search for …. smart meters electrical sensitivity. This site states the European stance on electromagnetic fields.


Not only headaches and disturbed sleep. Cancer or brain disturbance anyone?

“The DECC have confirmed “discussions” with their counterparts at the Health Department over safety concerns regarding the mass installation of smart meters.
….. And now researchers are warning of the risks from the cumulative effect of waves emitted by electric, gas and water smart meters, together with other devices in the home.”

The government’s track record on large IT projects is not good, but we still have to pay the money wasted on them – eg the NHS records and ID cards. The National Audit Office is not yet convinced:

johnp says:
6 September 2011

Smart Meters – The problem is the cost £11bn (some £300 per household) which has to be recouped through our bills. This is a lot to pay for more accurate bills which are not very important as best deals are for payment by monthly debit payments which spread high winter costs through the year. They won’t save energy as they are not clever enough to charge at high generation costs at peak times so there would be a direct saving from turning off appliances or using the microwave for cooking instead of the electric cooker.

John Fitz-Hugh says:
16 September 2011

What is a Smart Meter? Is it

(a) a device which sends information about my electricity and/or gas consumption to the utilty supplier at short time intervals (possibly every few seconds or minutes), or

(b) a device that can also on command from the utility switch off the entire supply of electricity and/or gas to my home and turn it back on again when they feel like it, possibly every few seconds or minutes or hours, or

(c) a device that does what (a) does but in addition on command from the utility broadcasts a signal into my home which will turn off or on any appliances that are equipped to receive this signal.

I think it unlikely that anyone is seriously contemplating (b) but you should never underestimate the stupidity of the establishment.

If (c) applies,when are we going to hear from the manufacturers of the specially adapted appliances that will be required?

Any chance of any authoritative answers to the above questions from anyone who actually knows what is being proposed?

It seems to me that there is nearly as much muddled thinking going on with Smart Meters as there is in the minds of those who seriously think there is any way of running a stable electricity supply with more than about 10% of the supply being generated by wind turbines.

Simon Evans says:
17 September 2011

It is (c). The term Smart Meter is a misnomer (see my previous post). These devices are remotely controlled power switches. The metering capability is a side issue from the consumer point of view.


Absolutely agree and posted the same but in different form of words a while ago.

If this was not a project that Which? are supporting (or at least, given their recent protests that they are listening, which they USED to support) they would, quite rightly, be kicking up a massive stink on our behalf over Trading Standards and “mis-selling”. Sadly, at least to date, Which? have not done this and we can only hope that they start to before every home has one.

silverthread says:
30 September 2011

I admit I am a cynic. i am doing everything possible to reduce my energy bills, a smart meter will do nothing for me and a monitor will create anxiety which will cost the NHS money because of my visits to the GP and medication provided. This government is all about making us pay, and forcing another indirect tax on us. Help with grants for insulation now become loans on our homes, smart meters will have to be paid for although they will do nothing to reduce our energy use. To do that we are told to purchase a monitor, more money to spend. When I add it all up, it will take years to get that back from reducing my energy use which is already low. I will be encouraged to buy a new cooker, freezer and fridge, TV with the latest energy