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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.


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.

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.

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.

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/

” 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 🙂

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.

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.

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

Derek H says:
2 September 2011

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

I have been reading the DECC document and I am surprised how much of the content is positive in content.

There doesn’t seem to be anything substantial about the costs of persons such as myself who are 100% against the intrusion.

Anyway let’s get a little positive, a few suggestions for Which to take up with DECC or OFGEM;

1. I would like the system to allow ME to decide when and what level of detail is sent to the suppliers this will not detract from the data available to myself but will limit to a meter reading that which the suppliers can receive. This meets the cost reduction and also meets the need for privacy.

2. I note that there is a section on the IHD and disability and ability to use or understand the data being presented including language, I see that the Welsh requirement is being considered but what about all the other ethnic groups and non-English first language speakers in the country – the IHD must support all languages out of the box.

3. The device will require a colour screen to provide data graphically.

4. The device used must allow access by home computer securely, it MUST support all mainstream operating systems access; Windows, Mac OS X, LINUX, iOS, Android to cope with the variance in home computer use.

5. To prevent unauthorised access by persons other than the property owner the access should contain the ability to set both a username and password.

6. The device must meet the DPA with regard to the data and it’s use, in particular it must be down to the individual whether the data sent / obtained should remain witin the bounds of the UK.

Finally I note that there is a group being formed with regard to privacy of data, provided criteria for attendance can be agreed I am willing to represent those users who feel these devices are unsafe and intrusive.

Simon Evans says:
20 August 2011

There are some reasonable ideas in the DECC publications, but, as with so many of these initiatives, the business case is very shaky and the technical side fluffed over. It strikes me as a typical British public sector approach, looking for too much to be done in a “big bang,” with inbuilt assumptions about technical possibilities that are hard to justify.

The whole approach is a steam hammer to crack a nut. Some of my immediate reactions on reading through the DECC literature (and I will be writing to them along these lines) were:
(1) Before rolling out smart meters across the country run a small test in one area, and see what the actual costs and benefits are, and how consumers and suppliers use them in practice.
(2) Revisit the networking approach. If smart meters are such a good idea the (very small) volume of data they create can be fed into my wireless router and recovered through the web, reducing costs substantially.
(3) Given that the government wants to extend broadband to everyone, for those who don’t have it and where a smart meter is to be installed, work (financially) with the broadband supplier to on a package deal that suits everyone.
(4) Apply the 80/20 rule. The hype about smart meters is just that. Very few people need continuous readouts of consumption or periodic analyses of how and when they use power. If it is felt that energy savings can be made in the average home there a few simple steps every consumer can take to see if they can lower their bills. £100m spent on explaining these steps would likely produce a far better return than £11.7bn (and rising) on a smart meter network.
(4) Universality. Why must everyone have a smart meter? As with so many blue sky projects from government we must beware of any system that only produces benefits if everyone has it (for many reasons, they won’t). Smart meters should show benefits from the first installation, if they don’t, then the programme needs to be re-examined.
(5) There must be consumer “buy in” to smart meter programmes (not broad agreement to the idea in general but to the detailed way in which smart meters will monitor consumption and may switch appliances, or the whole supply, off).

More generally we need to learn from other programmes now effectively abandoned.

In particular: energy performance certificates were allegedly going to change people’s buying habits and help them reduce power consumption when they bought a house. Intending purchasers were meant to study the EPC in detail before making their buying decisions. It hasn’t happened, and a detailed study of reactions to EPCs should inform any future government action on consumers’ behaviour.

@simon: agree entirely, especially the buyin and the opt out of having one altogether provided that opting out doesn’t involve a penalty.

I think tho that the problem is those persons compiling the arguments made in the documents have their own agenda for hyping up the likelihood for success.

A balanced view would include copious analyses of the detractions but then again that would involve a declaration of how they would deal with the various negative scenarios and they wouldn’t want to show their hand too early or reveal tactics.

melanierose says:
27 August 2011

@simon, You raise some valid point, but there are a few other points that need to be kept in mind.

1. Agreed, and the “current view” (because the DECC takes a very long time time to confirm anything) is that this will be the case. Only the bare minimum data needed to send you an accurate quarterly/monthly bill will be taken from the meter.

2. The de facto language of the UK is English. Non-English (or Welsh) speakers already have difficulty accessing important government information, reading the IHD would be the least of their worries.

3. You are free to buy a fancy colour IHD yourself from a electric store. As energy suppliers will be required to give their customers a standard IHD for free, it is unfair to other consumers to ask for this feature as part of the standard specification. High standard IHD costs will ultimately just result in higher priced tariffs.

4. Agreed. DECC has introduced the concept of a “bridging device”, which will allow for secure trusted connections to other devices. I believe that the specification details should be published, along with the necessary security features, to allow for anyone who is willing to develop an application for analysis of smart meter consumption data.

5. PINs are being considered for devices in public areas. I am not sure what security is available on devices inside the home, but please see the technical specification document at.

6. It will, anything less would be illegal.

As difficult as it may be to believe, supplying utilities is not a high margin business. Some of the big 6 suppliers make little or no profit as it is. The lower the cost of the roll-out, the lower the tariff rises will be.

@melanierose: I believe that you were answering my points rather than Simon’s;

1.  Disagree with you as currently specified the data may be kept for a little while but it will transmit it in bulk, every 30 seconds data will be captured for electricity and very 15 minutes for gas.

2.  Disagree, it would be discriminatory if different languages were not catered for and DECC would face legal challenge.

3.  I partly disagree here, the devices supplied will have to be capable of being used by people with sight and dexterity problems and will require large buttons and adjustable text.  They may well have to build different devices for the different groups but then that would make it extremely difficult to update the devices software as they would need to interrogate the device to determine action.  I admit colour may be over the top but there is no point providing a graph of usage (in the spec) without showing colour otherwise the resolution of the screen would have to be quite high to show differing line types.

4.  Bridging device – the assumption will be browser based and probably flash based, but then that limits the devices capable of showing the data, flash is NOT universally accepted.  I work in software testing trust me it will be a mess.

5. I think you misunderstood my point, I want to be able to set a username and password that allows access to the device only by myself and no other person not even the suppliers.  It is MY data not theirs!

6.  It’s only illegal if the Government don’t introduce an exception for data collected for energy consumption. Just watch the EU jump on the need for data analysis outside of the UK. No way Jose!

If you really think that the big 6 make little profit then you must not be very well informed. The amount per unit may be small but the amount consumed is very large and thus contribute a large profit, when did you last see any energy company report a loss. What really gets me is most of the companies are now foreign owned and they use us to subsidise their home Market.

“….A recent National Audit Office report raised a number of concerns about the government’s plans ….”
Any change that Which? can post a link to this report, or even just it’s full official title so we can find it ourselves please?

Also, can Which? please tell us if they will be using a Chartered IT Professional (or better a group of them) to advise on the Data security / Hacking risks that have been so widely discussed on the most recent convo about SM’s? If Which? do not plan to do this can they tell us why not please?

I would have thought that Which? probably has at least one CITP within the organisation, but the British Computer Society can and will give you a list of them if you need to find one.

In other circumstances I might have offered my CITP services (for free I might add) but given that my opinion on SM’s is very well known now from other convo’s I feel that it would be inappropriate for me to do so, and even if I offered I suspect Which? would not accept the offer – and I must add that I think they would be absolutely right not to with my opinions so publicly well known.

Strange I posted the URL in reply to you earlier daved, it appears on my main machine on this convo even after refresh, but it doesn’t appear on my iPad after a refresh of the page.

No I am not paranoid yet but …

Anyway search on google for ‘audit office report smart meter’, this should provide you with HC 1091 2010-2012 or alternately http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/1012/smart_meters.aspx

Thanks David Ramsey – I have posted a few things on the last Smart Meter convo that mysteriously either appeared for just a few minutes or hours or never appeared at all.
There is clearly some sort of censorship going on but I couldn’t be bothered to argue about it.

Hi both, we have system in place where comments with links are put into a pending queue – this is because links can either be irrelevant, spam, inappropriate or illegal. We check every link before it goes up. In this case David you posted your link twice – both were in our pending queue and our mods decided to approve one of these. We approve them as quickly as we can!

And Dave we’re not aware of deleting any of your comments, please email us if you have concerns https://conversation.which.co.uk/contact-us

Cheers Patrick – useful info.

To be fair, it does make extremely good sense to vet links so I cannot possibly criticise Which? for this.

Thanks Patrick, didn’t know that, the reason there was two entries was down to the fact that when I returned to the page the comment that included the link didn’t appear.

Perhaps when a link is included there could be some feedback to indicate that it wouldn’t appear immediately due to the need to confirm the appropriateness of the link.

Yes, all very well saying “we’ll make sure roll out costs are controlled, proportionate and don’t go over budget”, but are we not missing something?
That something being that many many people don’t want the things at all. Many many people argue that they offer very few benefits (other than to the energy supplier) and, even if the roll out is kept within budget we’re talking about £11 billion that will ultimately come from us the consumers.

A revised “Which” position should be not “we’ll monitor the roll out” it should rather be “how do we stop the waste of £11 billion of our money”.
“Which” says it was listening to those of us who expressed concerns.
Doesn’t sound like that to me?

@Chris – I’m inclined to agree, but I do accept a point made by the Which? team when I asked a direct question, which is that they wish to gather information about a much larger sample of the public’s views than they get on here before making a big change.

Frankly I don’t think that is good enough with such serious issues and such huge costs at stake but I realise and understand that if Which? are seen to be influenced in massive changes in position by a relatively small sample of the population then they will be taken less seriously.

Interesting that the comment:
“Yes, all very well saying “we’ll make sure roll out costs are controlled, proportionate and don’t go over budget”, but are we not missing something?
That something being that many many people don’t want the things at all.”

A comment made back in August that has not prompted any response from “Which”?
Correct me if I’m wrong but “Which” still seem only to be addressing, or looking to address, issues about how the roll out takes place, what it will cost etc. etc,
No one at “Which” has said that the review of “Which” position is to include the possiblility of total opposition to the roll out?
Now clearly like many people who have commented on the subject I’m dead against what I see as a complete folly and dreadful mis-use of money that could be far better spent on other energy saving initiatives. Lobbying by “Which” could make a difference, so exactly where does “which” stand???

Simon Evans says:
21 August 2011

It seems that the Dutch have come up with the right approach. Let us hope that Which? can learn from our neighbours across the North Sea:

“The Hague, Netherlands — (METERING.COM) — April 14, 2009 – Smart meters will not be compulsory in the Netherlands, minister of economic affairs Maria van der Hoeven has decided.

Van der Hoeven had intended to make smart meters compulsory, with a refusal to install them punishable with a fine of up to €17,000 or six months in prison. However, after vigorous campaigning by consumer organizations and privacy watchdog groups on privacy concerns with smart meter data it became clear that a majority of parliamentarians would vote against compulsory smart metering. As a result van der Hoeven has backed down and moved to make the installation of smart meters voluntary.

The Dutch consumer association, Consumentenbond, has long opposed a mandatory rollout of smart meters. A report commissioned by the association from the University of Tilburg last November stated that the introduction of smart meters would constitute a violation of the consumers’ right to privacy and the freedom to do as they please within their homes, and consequently would be in breach of the European Convention of Human Rights. The frequent meter reads would give information about the habits and living patterns of consumers, such as when they enter or leave the house. There was also a risk of such information falling into the hands of a third party.

Moreover Consumentenbond maintains, it is not obvious that smart meters would lead to energy saving by consumers.”

Typical (though still good) that our overseas counterparts are waking up to smell the coffee in time to prevent a major issue arising whilst we saunter along apparently happy to wait until after a disaster has happened before we wonder if we should have stood up and shouted.

I would like to point out a useful little fact that cropped up in the recent documentation from DECC, the IHD’s that will be provided are only guaranteed for 1 year after fitting.

I believe that this is NOT satisfactory the IHD supplied forms part of the Smart Meter installation and it should be covered continuously from the moment of supply until you no longer have one installed. If it fails then the supplier should be responsible for replacing the item free of charge.

The consumer should not have to replace this item as it is so integral to the so called ‘energy saving’ that they would attain. If it is ascertained that this is NOT possible then the cost of insuring the item must be taken into account with regard to the overall benefit that is likely to be achieved over the lifetime of the ROI being suggested by DECC.

Can I please confirm that Which? will take this up with DECC and OFGEM?

Simon Evans says:
22 August 2011

This is a vital point. The IHD, if the DECC is be believed, will be instrumental in changing consumer behaviour. So it needs to work reliably. But your point may get kicked into the long grass – just as the fact that the chip used in “smart” passports is not guaranteed for ten years has been ignored by IPS. This all relates to the fact that smart metering systems are apparently being designed by people in the power industry, with little effective input from computer specialists. I can’t see anyone who knew their stuff coming up with the network architecture we are faced with, or with the idea that there will be one, and one only, company running it nationwide.

The IHD could well be be a 9 day wonder in most homes, and whether it works or not will be unimportant for most consumers. They certainly won’t pay for a replacement.

@simonevans: It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure that these issues are not swept under the carpet.

@petemoorey: How about it Peter, are Which? going to take the consumers interest with regard to IHD’s into account or they going to be ignored?

If they are ignored doesn’t this make the implementation of smart meters being beneficial to the consumer a load of tosh since for the implementation to be beneficial the IHD needs to be workable by all.

I would suggest then this makes an investment of £11BN to be an avoidable cost – should we not be doing something about this Which?

Mind you I could always take the view if the IHD fails then I don’t know what my consumption is and therefore I would feel that there would be NO need to pay my energy consumption bill as I have no way of monitoring it. 😉

melanierose says:
27 August 2011

Keep in mind that the more costs we allocate to the supplier, the more expensive the roll-out and maintenance will be, and the higher our tariffs will be. Energy supplying isn’t a high margin business. Churn is high and there is no product differentiation. Some of the Big 6 make little or no profit.

I do agree that IHDs shouldn’t be the only secure and free option for accessing personal half-hourly consumption data. We should fight for another method of viewing detailed analysis of our data WITHOUT opting-in to give the data to the supplier (or 3rd party), preferably without having the data transmitted via the DCC as well.

In summary, we should be able to download our consumption data directly from the HAN (Home Area Network) in an usable, open-source format. That will allow the open-source community to write applications to help us to analysis the data, without it ever leaving our home.

(Could you imagine how powerful a free, community developed energy consumption application could be? We could create a database of devices and their power signatures without the need for “smart appliances”. You could profile the devices in your hope and see exactly how much it costs to leave your computer on standby for a hour versus putting it to sleep for an hour…)

@ melanierose: as posted above against your other comment suggesting that the big six don’t make much profit: not sure if you are being sarcastic – in which case I applaud you – or whether you really believe that some of the big six make little or no profit. In the event that you really believe this, listen to the news on any radio or TV station, or read any paper – I think you’ll find that they make obscene profits.

Hopefully you were just being sarcastic and if so I apologise for even thinking you could be that naive.

DD444 says:
23 August 2011

Worst case scenario is that you would still have exactly what you have now with the exception of a meter that does not require a meter reader gaining access to your home and your supplier’s ability to actually bill you to actual readings rather than estimations based on either previous consumption or even the consumption of the previous occupier.

So what if the IHD breaks after a year – I will have understood in a very short amount of time whether I can do anything to change my consumption and even without the IHD I could read my own meter if I really wanted to. There are enough energy monitoring devices in the market and like my home I expect the IHD will soon find its way into the draw and never see the light of day after a few weeks anyway.

Smart meters certainly have my vote, if only to ensure that my bills are more accurate and my Direct Debit correct – it could even lead to monthly billing and Variable Direct Debit so I confidently pay for my energy in the same way as I pay for my telephone or credit card statement each month.

A meter or IHD isn’t going to change my consumption – Only I can do that and if I needed to monitor it I could do that today.

The security of the comms channels does worry me – not because people can see my consumption (theres nothing to hide there) but because it uses the same comms that is currently easily hacked into (read the news about mobile hacking) and that could mean that the unscrupulous fraudsters could change tariffs, stop supplies and generally be a complete nuisance! However it doesnt stop me using a mobile phone either.

Simon Evans says:
23 August 2011

Enabling suppliers to read your meters without access to your house is an undoubted plus, as is a reduction in the cost of meter reading and billing (and, by extension, an improvement in the utility company’s cash flow, theoretically enabling them to reduce charges). The question is how to do this without large capital costs, and without disadvantaging the consumer.
There is no special reason to marry the IHD – a consumer oriented device – to the smart meter, which primarily benefits the supplier, at least initially. Energy monitors can, as you say, be installed now. There is, however, no evidence of great consumer hunger for them, which the DECC should bear in mind. There is some evidence that enthusiasts who install them can and do reduce their fuel consumption, but it is hard to see how that would work for the population at large. An analogy might be printing information on packets of food showing how bad it is for you. This is currently done, but has had almost no effect on purchasing patterns.
You may not be right that meters cannot change your consumption. The power industry slyly calls these devices meters, but built into them will be the capacity to cap power at a certain level, or even to switch it off. The industry is encouraging the development of smart appliances, which could also, at least in theory, be turned off and on by the meter. These features are buried in the small print, but are there. So, down the track somewhere, the meter gets to be an “in-home remotely managed metering and power consumption control device.” This is not fanciful, it is what the industry, encouraged by the DECC is trying to achieve (for the best of motives, of course).
You say the security of the comms channel worries you. It worries most of those who have looked at the proposals. You also say there is nothing to hide in your consumption information. Many will part company with you there. I have no problem with anyone knowing my annual, three monthly or monthly consumption. When the time interval becomes less, then data of value to nasty people starts to surface. If my daily consumption for the last five days has been zero or negligible then it is a fair bet I am away. Many people take one or two week holidays, so, the criminal mind will reason, I am probably going to be away for at least two more days if not longer. Now would be a good time to pay a burglarious visit. Previous monitoring has shown that I use a lot of electricity, which will indicate to the criminal mind that I am wealthy. Not worried yet?

i already have a smart meter in my home. its called my wallet. if i need to use power, i turn it on. if i don’t, i turn it off. my heating is on as high and as much as i NEED it to be and no more. I’ve even been so good with my water usage that my provider wants to check my water meter to see if its working properly. 🙂

Personally I don’t want a smart meter, I’m quite happy to give a monthly reading by phone, email, text etc.
I don’t trust the government or utility companies when it comes down to data protection. How many times have we heard on the news about ‘another’ data loss incident & I suspect the ones we hear about are just the tip of the iceberg.
Why do the utility companies need data transfer every 30 minutes. This is overkill for the purposes of ‘bill calculation’ so I suspect will be used to target heavy use periods when charge increases are calculated.
Who will pay for the instalation of these meters, surely it will be the consumer and, if not upfront, will form a ‘small charge’ on our bills.
I don’t like all this negativity but I really can’t see why, in it’s current form, this is needed. How many consumers are going to download this data to see if they can save £1 per week? I use energy when it’s needed and switch off lights & applicances when it’s not, so it won’t make any difference to me.

Simon Evans says:
31 August 2011

Of the 13 or so individual posters here 10 or 11 seem to be firmly against smart meters and one in favour, with one (or possibly two) on the fence. While this can hardly be a representative sample, a vote of over 75% against is telling. Especially as many of those who have taken the trouble to respond have clearly looked at the proposals in detail and have cogent and technically solid criticisms. It would be good to see the debate taken to a larger audience, though.

Helmar Eck says:
1 September 2011

From the correspondence so far, it would appear that the only beneficiary of having a smart meter fitted are the utility companies. Therefore a discount not surcharge should be available to the consumer who agrees to have one fitted.

Paul Hill says:
1 September 2011

I think a few folks are missing the point that these smart meters are two-way, not one-way. Not only will they supply accurate meter reading data to your energy company, as well as give you easier visibility of that data – but the option is there to centrally instruct compatible devices in the home to reduce their power usage during times of high grid demand. e.g. put the fridge freezer into deep sleep mode and don’t come on again until it’s about to go above the safe temperature or the door is opened.

Another example is for laptops and other battery powered devices to switch to drawing down on a fully charged battery even if plugged in to the mains and to only draw down on mains supply when the battery is about to run out unless you tell it you want it in charging mode. This technology exists today and is widely used by big businesses.

The carrot will be that if you agree to have devices controlled in this way, you’ll get a cheaper tariff during the time of the required energy reduction – so could have a variable tariff that changes on a minute by minute basis. This is already a widespread technology in the large business sector (e.g. Cisco Energywise), and smart meters will bring this benefit to the home user and small business.

I for one can’t wait to have my meter changed to be ready for this. Increasing supply is not the way to meet CO2 reduction targets, managing demand to what we have available is the way forward – in ways that are non-disruptive to the end user.

The problem is this aspect is not being communicated to the public because the energy industry believe it’s either too technical for the average user to understand or they want to wait until the country has been switched over and then tell people what can be done rather than generate a demand for something that is not installed yet, and you can’t buy any equipment that is compatible with it as a home user yet.

Simon Evans says:
1 September 2011

I don’t think most of those posting here have missed this point Paul. It is fundamental to the control freaks at the DECC and the power companies, but has little to do with EU requirements for smart meters, and even less to do with reducing power consumption. I have no problem installing my own software to control some of my own equipment according to parameters I set, based on instantaneous tariff data from my suppliers. Melanie Rose’s post above shows how this could work.

But the last thing I, or anyone else as far as I can make out, want is for the power company to turn my appliances on, off, down or up. I’ll do that myself, otherwise the power company will be controlling intimate details of my life. (The electric blanket is on high for a specific reason, you this girl . . .)

Paul Hill says:
1 September 2011


Understood Simon; I was talking generally about folks in the population, not specifically about contributors on here but I can see that is not clear on a re-read, so thanks for picking up on that poor explanation.

I think there are practical problems with having too much manual control. A consumer is not in a position to know when an energy provider wants demand reduced which could fluctuate wildly and many times during the day. Then, do many people have the time to go around turning things on and off if they get an e-mail or some other way of communicating that it’s time for them to do their bit.

And even if that’s not too much workload, if you choose to reduce power or switch things down/off yourself – it’s your choice, not the energy provider’s, so how do they know you are responding to what they would like you to do, to get the discount – and not just doing something you would have done anyway? That sounds like a technical nightmare to implement the logic for.

I’m a engineer by training (now in technical sales though) so I like understanding how things work, twiddling feature knobs and playing with things, but in this regard I’d like to just sit back and delegate appliance control to my energy company and let them get on with it, knowing I get a discount for playing along and that I can override whatever is going on if I want to.

It will be the consent, communication and visibility of what is going on that are the most important things, and if that is messed up the whole idea is dead in the water anyway.

Simon Evans says:
1 September 2011

@Paul Hill

I’m a scientist and software engineer by training, so I may approach this from a slightly different point of view. It seems to me that if the power company is able to translate the variable load on its systems into pricing information, which, through a slightly fuzzy feedback loop will then manage load balancing. The difference between us is that you think the power company should directly manage loads, and I don’t. If the utility can send me the information it has internally, I will use it on an application I control that runs in my house to set my own priorities for managing my power consumption. That is why the feedback will be fuzzy, because not all consumers will dance to the utilities’ tune. For example: we all know that the utility is overstretched, but we don’t care because the game is in overtime and we want to see what happens. It is a question of who is in charge. In my book, I the customer, am the only one who decides when i run appliances. The utility can send me as many price signals as it likes, but it is my prerogative whether or not I act on them.

What useful information will the smart give that is relevant to load shedding? The Radio times and programme preferences as regularly published and the timing of adverts is currently used to forecast the times of maximum load. The smart meter only gives historical data and it will not tell you who is in the property, whether they are asleep or just had a beer instead of a cup of tea. As a means of profiling it is of limited value. Whereas the data could be of much use to hacker with malicious intent.
If they can’t even hang on to their cables how on earth could they hang on to something as nebulous as data? It might have seemed a good idea at the time and obviously many were convinced enough to believe in it to start spending other peoples money on it with enough understanding that it was not financially viable enough to give a pay back any other way. Is it surprising there is a lack of trust? We are getting used to identifying scams on the internet.

Derek H says:
2 September 2011

I am far from convinced that even Which? get this. The problem is not cross selling or estimated bills: I’m a grown up and can tell cross sellers to sling their hook and I read my meters monthly anyway and send the info to the supplier. And if I’m not grown up enough to deal with these simple things and to control my own power use and budget sensibly, then (well it has to be said) tough.

The real problem it seems to me is security of supply. As I understand it, and no-one has yet even tried to set me straight, SMART meters can turn your power supplies off remotely. And if your power company can do that then so can hackers. If you are behind with your bills that would be bad enough but we all know the suppliers, and their computer systems, can get things seriously wrong: if the computer says you have not paid then obviously you haven’t !! And hackers won’t even be bothered about your bills.

Sorry WHICH, you need to wake up to this one.

melanierose says:
2 September 2011

Hello Derek H

Keep in mind that suppliers can turn your power off already due to system errors. The only change in the disconnect process is “pressing a button” for remote disconnect rather than sending someone to do the same in person. Cutting the supply will still be a last-resort, and suppliers will still have to do a pre-disconnection visit first to ensure that it is safe to disconnect (for example, ensuring no one is on life support).

Regarding hackers, I suppose that’s one of the risks we live with in 2011. The best we can do is demand the highest possible security standards and seek consolidation in the fact that, as financial data will not be transmitted to the meters, there is little incentive to hack them.