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How much are smart meters costing you?

smart meters

Which? research shows that energy companies would need to work round the clock – installing 24 smart meters per minute – in order to meet the 2020 roll-out target. Guest author Steve McCabe MP tells us why this isn’t good enough…

I was interested to read the investigation into smart meters in the last month’s edition of Which? magazine. It outlined concerns about delays in the development of the Data and Communications Company (DCC) wireless network – a key part of the UK’s smart metering network.

However, claims made by the DCC and government ministers that the problems are all behind them, were left unchallenged. My view is that their reassurances are less than convincing.

Slow progress, spiralling costs

Back in November, the Chief Executive of the DCC told the parliamentary committee responsible for scrutiny of smart meters legislation (which I sat on) that real progress was being made.

We were led to believe that 250 second-generation meters had been connected to the network, only for a freedom of information request to reveal that just 80 had been connected and that most of these were in the properties of staff members!

I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the DCC’s costs, which have risen by 56% over the last three years. Other than intervention for costs that can’t reasonably be shown to be developmental or administrative, there seems to be little the government or Ofgem can do to control these costs.

It’s equally important to recognise the role of Meter Asset Providers. They are the ‘middle men’ who provide smart meter asset management to energy suppliers and they have a vested interest in driving up the rental costs energy suppliers pay for their meters. The market they operate in is a significant factor in the loss of functionality customers experience when switching and their role in the roll-out programme is deserving of closer attention.

Are smart meters increasing energy bills?

The government estimates the roll-out of smart meters will produce economic benefits of £16.7 billion, with savings of £47 on the average domestic annual bill by 2030, through using less energy.

I don’t doubt the potential benefits of smart meters, but I worry that what the government is selling as cost saving for consumers is fast turning into an unnecessarily expensive project – one that will increase energy bills in the short to medium term.

A growing number of energy suppliers are already blaming increases in energy bills on the cost of installing smart meters, including Scottish Power, SSE and Centrica.

Be clear about the costs

I recently argued that the government should require energy suppliers to include on every household’s energy bill the amount they pay for the smart meter roll-out. Without this information, how are we to know that we aren’t being fleeced?

We deserve to know whether there are still cost savings for consumers and how the functionality issues surrounding the DCC’s network are going to be resolved.

I’ll be continuing my fight for greater transparency and consumer protections, and I encourage those of you who are concerned about your energy bills to ask your supplier how much the smart meter roll-out is costing you.

This is a guest contribution by Steve McCabe MP. All views expressed here are Steve’s and not necessarily those shared by Which?.

What do you think?

Are you concerned about the cost of your energy bills? Do you think energy suppliers should tell you how much the smart meters roll-out is costing you?

Comments

Today’s Which? press release about smart meter states that more than half of energy customers have a problem when they switch supplier: https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/more-than-half-of-energy-customers-with-smart-meters-have-problems-when-they-switch/

I was one of those affected and the new company arranged that the existing smart meters were removed and replaced with new ones, and I was given a new display unit too. This is payed for by all customers.

There should be an enquiry to establish why this problem occurred and why companies were allowed to carry on fitting the old-style (SMETS1) meters. Apparently there is a software fix for this expensive problem but I do not know if this is being implemented.

Many people switch suppliers because their company has dumped them on a more expensive standard variable tariff at the end of a contract. It’s high time that energy companies stopped treating their customers in this way.

I find the Which? enthusiasm for smart meters confusing, if not contradictory. They claim they are a huge potential benefit for consumers.

“A smart future
So far we’ve seen just the tip of the smart iceberg. Smart meters bring huge potential for you, your energy company, and the wider energy system.

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/smart-meter-roll-out

Yet it seems consumers will be paying around £400 each to support the installation programme, but are unlikely to benefit by more than £11 a year (so about 36 years to recover the cost, assuming the meter lives that long). That does not seem much of a potential financial benefit to consumers.

Which? also, quite rightly, tell consumers that switching supplier is by far the best way initially to save money on their energy bills. But if they do, their smart meter is likely to stop working, with all the potential benefits lost.

“More than half of energy customers with smart meters have problems when they switch
8 March 2019
New Which? research reveals more than half of people are finding their devices turn “dumb” when they switch, raising serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Government’s smart meter rollout programme.
Switching energy deals is the most effective way for customers to save money on gas and electricity or find a supplier that provides better customer service.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/more-than-half-of-energy-customers-with-smart-meters-have-problems-when-they-switch/

It would be useful if Which? pulled all this together and told us exactly why they are worthwhile, or whether they are an expensive “initiative”, started too soon before we were properly prepared with the right products and communications. There are doubtless some potential benefits, but not available yet. And I remain to be convinced that they have any real impact on most people’s energy use, especially when the novelty wears off.

I have to admit that I cannot fathom why Which is being so positive, perhaps someone from Which can explain?

Or is it that they have been coerced into support either by EU subsidy or energy suppliers subsidy, I do not think Which has the consumers position at the forefront of their thinking.

I wish Which? would explain why it has nailed its colours so firmly to the smart meter mast.

I don’t recall any consultation with members and contributors over whether or not smart meters are a good thing economically when the costs of implementation are taken into account. Those costs are imposed on all energy consumers and are particularly regressive in respect of people on low incomes who might need to use more energy for heating.

I don’t believe Which? has ever answered this point which has certainly been raised in Which? Conversation from time to time. It is that deliberate abdication from engagement that I find so annoying, and recent attempts to encourage a better relationship with ‘the community’ do not make up for those deeply-embedded dismissive behaviours.

Well put, John. Speaking as one who exercised their right to have their smart meter removed, I think I, too, am concerned about this apparently uncritical support for the smart meter roll out. In fact, I am now certain my smart meter was flawed in several ways and have the figures to show that I was being charged around 40% more for our use during the period it was working.

And this, really, is the point: I am now back to reading my meter once a month, from which I can glean my usage. If I want more detailed stats I can buy one of the many devices that fit in the meter cupboard and send info, wirelessly, to a receiver.

So no; no signs of the ‘huge potential’ Which? seems to believe they offer, a very ropey system – at best – that relied on mobile ‘phone signals (we have no mobile coverage) and at the suggested cost per person I don’t see how they can possible be worth the investment. Unless the government has ideas involving control of the supply which it hasn’t shared…

When smart meters were first discussed, I don’t remember Which? explaining that there is no need to allow them to be installed. Now it is made clear on this undated page: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/do-i-have-to-accept-a-smart-meter

I try to avoid advertising but I am not aware that the companies pushing smart meters have explained that they are needed. This could have been worth a press release to draw attention to how the government and companies are manipulating the public at their expense.

I have refused to be “upgraded” to a smart meter.

I have been using “customer supplied” clip-on-ammeter style electricity monitors for years, so a fully smart electricity meter would not greatly benefit me.

I have gas central heating, but I think I can already control and minimise my usage by means such as appropriate settings of master and radiator thermostats.

Hence I tend to think that anyone who wants to save energy can easily do so without a smart meter and that also smart meters won’t benefit those who don’t either care about saving energy or simply don’t have a clue.

It would appear most of us cannot understand the dire need for smart meters or why Which? is so behind them when there are such obvious disadvantages.

We read our old meters daily and submit the readings for billing once a month. A smart meter isn’t going to change the way we use our energy. We use what we want but at the same time try not to be wasteful and turn most things off when not in use.

Amongst many of its statements on installing smart meters, Smart Energy GB states:
Gas and electricity suppliers are responsible for providing and fitting smart meters for everyone in Britain by the end of 2020.
https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/get-a-smart-meter/how-to-get-a-smart-meter

No wonder people are confused over whether they must have them installed or not.

I think it is the Government who are driving the push for smart meters, not “companies”. They, as usual, seem anxious to comply with any EU directive going, unlike the Germans, and pass the cost onto us.

Who is Smart Energy GB?
Smart Energy GB is a not-for-profit company created to provide an independent voice for consumers. Our task is to support the rollout of smart meters so that everyone has the opportunity to share in the benefits that they bring for households, our economy and our environment.”

I think the ASA might take issue with the “independent voice” bit. They have presented distorted and untrue adverts and I doubt they are independent; certainly not impartial.

We should be able to rely on Which? to provide an independent voice of the consumer. Instead of that they issue press releases in support of the roll out program:
https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-responds-to-latest-government-smart-meter-installation-statistics/
No apparent wish to critically examine the value of smart meters to consumers.

Have a look at the advertising produced by the energy companies, Malcolm. I don’t doubt that the Government is driving this too.

The government’s remit is to roll out smart electricity meters to 80% of consumers by 2020 in a bid to meet the EU’s requirement. Smart Energy GB was set up by law to assist that remit. Of course energy companies will be doing their bit to comply but it is Smart Energy GB who have been putting out misleading and dishonest advertising, as the ASA has determined.

Smart Energy list the following consumer representatives on their board:
Nominated by Citizens Advice:
• Dhara Vyas (also Head of Future Energy Systems at Citizens Advice)
• James Taylor (also Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Scope)
Representing the interests of energy consumers:
• Penny Shepherd
• Chris MacLeod

Is anyone there from Which? Are these representatives not looking critically at claims made?

However, the question initially raised is why Which? have been putting their voice behind the smart meter roll out when it may not be financially a good option for consumers, not technically a good option at present.

One thing regarding the content of your link – “If you really don’t want a smart meter, make this clear to your supplier and they may be able to set up a smart meter to work in ‘dumb’ mode, with all the communications switched off.” – this implies that a dumb meter is still a smart meter and can be reprogrammed remotely to be active.

Try this link – https://www.facebook.com/groups/SmartMetersHealthProblemsUK/ – and join the club!

REFUSE A SMART METER WHETHER DUMB OR NOT!!

With just over nine months to go before the ‘by 2020’ deadline arrives this looks like being one of the most expensive policy failures ever, counting not just the implementation costs but also [a] the absence of financially quantifiable benefits to consumers generally, and [b] the unrelieved financial hardship imposed on many consumers on low incomes. At what point is there any review of whether to keep throwing good money after bad?

I presume it is a licence obligation for energy suppliers to have to cooperate actively with the government’s policy and deliver the unrealistic installation programme without challenge or demur.

With the government’s new house-building programme also stalling, the percentage of homes fitted with a smart meter will only creep up slowly despite the misleading advertising. The percentage of consumers in homes fitted with them who actively use them also appears to be low although, of course, where compatible they do benefit the suppliers through automatic metering and billing. Is a surcharge for dumb metering on the horizon?

The EU required the implementation of a programme by member states to install smart electricity meters.

Smart metering
The EU Directives concerning common rules for the internal market for electricty and gas (2009/72/EC and 2009/73/EC) and the EU Directive on energy efficiency (2012/27/EU) require Member States to ensure the implementation of ‘intelligent metering systems’ that shall assist the active participation of consumers in the energy market. Regarding electricity, where there was a positive assessment of the long-term costs and benefits, then at least 80% of the households should be equipped with smart metering systems by 2020.

One claimed benefit – at least by the UK – was that by letting people see a screen with their energy usage they would (somehow) use significantly less energy. Quite why this would come about I am not sure. When my smart meter worked I do admit that on a couple of occasions it reminded me I had left the oven on, but that was it.

As it is, a current prediction is it might save £11 a year, for a £400 installation cost per consumer, but quite how is unclear.
A radio advert by Smart Energy GB has been banned for making ‘misleading’ claims that consumers could save money simply by getting a smart meter installed.
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/03/smart-meter-advert-banned-for-misleading-consumers/ – Which?

Another objective was to get better control of the use of electricity – the so-called smart grid. However, this 2016 article casts doubt on the need for smart meters to achieve that.

“A transition to an intelligent electricity grid in Europe can take place without smart meters, industry players have said, in comments that will embarrass the European Commission, which pushed a Europe-wide plan to roll out smart meters years ago.

There are other more efficient ways than smart meters to help develop intelligent power grids, said industry delegates at the annual convention of Europe’s electricity association Eurelectric, held in Vilnius last week.
These include quicker integration of renewables, the development of energy storage and energy demand response solutions, said the industry representatives.

The actual benefits of smart meters were also questioned at the conference, as several member states have done previously. Germany, for instance, has decided not to have a national roll-out plan at all, running counter to requirements laid out in EU legislation.
https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/smart-meters-not-needed-after-all-for-european-power-grid/

The smart grid requires consumers to use smart appliances. Then, when electricity demand becomes excessive – all of us cooking at the same time, or making a cuppa when the adverts are on – “they” can switch off our appliances remotely, and restore them later (when the dinner is spoiled and you’ve had a beer instead of a coffee). Well, I don’t intend equipping my house with smart appliances or, if they must be smart, I probably won’t connect them.
Or, of course, “they” can switch off my supply totally when it suits them.
I don’t want my supply meddled with; I want a secure supply with enough capacity for our needs. The £12 bn cost of rollout could have provided a very handy tidal storage generator.

“Smart appliances connected to the grid in future could be used to help manage surges in demand (for example, millions boiling the kettle at half time during the FA cup final) by switching off momentarily. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/smart-meter-roll-out

The adverse comments on Which?’s enthusiasm for smart meters is a good illustration of why they should interact with and consult their membership. They might have been advised to look more diligently into the cost and utility of smart meters, check the technology (which was not ready), investigate just how consumers in practice would really achieve the large savings claimed, and put a more balanced appraisal together.

Looks like Smart Energy are still misleading consumers.

Surges in demand are nothing new. Years ago, I watched a TV documentary where a power station employee explained how they had to provide extra electricity for the surge during the commercial break of Coronation Street when everyone put the kettle on.

With recordings, catch-up, internet TV or a pause button for viewing these days, TV surges should need a lot less management.

The key point is “Regarding electricity, where there was a positive assessment of the long-term costs and benefits, then at least 80% of the households should be equipped with smart metering systems by 2020”, Germany assessed this and said it wasn’t cost effective so abandoned a full rollout.

I suspect at £11 for an investment of £400 per household is not cost effective. On top of that the technology is such that replacement meters will be required at least every 10 years so that will mean an added £400/household/decade, totally cancelling out the £11 benefit!!!

In terms of smart appliances with an interruptible supply which can override consumer requirements, there are not many suitable items and I doubt whether it is worth investing in such technology. We don’t want the fridge, freezer, washing machine, iron, oven and hob, food mixer, central heating pump, portable phone, computers, printers, lighting, extractor fans, power tools, battery chargers, and televisions and recorders to stop running, which just leaves the kettle and similar gadgets – which would be daft because the peak demand period is just when people want to have a cuppa. Since most of the country’s industry is shut down or in low demand mode during the great national occasions these surges are capable of being easily managed. The days when the entire nation wanted to see the marriage of Crewe Alexandra to Accrington Stanley are long past.

While I remain opposed to the current roll out of smart meters to all households, they are helpful to those who live in fear of not being able to pay for their next energy bill. They let consumers see how much they are being charged on a daily basis. It’s perfectly possible to monitor use by looking at the meters if you can access them easily but unlike smart meters, they don’t show usage in pounds and pence. Perhaps it would have been better install smart meters where there is most need.

You might wonder whether where there is most need, those who live in fear of their bills, would be better helped by some of the £12bn being spent on the roll out and some of Smart Energy GB’s annual spend of £47m, largely on advertising and the like? An annual saving predicted of £11 is hardly a great help to these people.

As I have said many times I am opposed to the roll out, but providing those who are struggling with smart meters (and anyone else who would like to pay for them) makes sense to me. The cost would be much smaller. For those who make use of smart meters rather than ignore them the savings could be considerably greater than £11.

Yes wouldn’t it be great to have a smart meter indicate that you’ve left lights on or heaters or the cooker on. I mean there aren’t any other means by which you’d notice that… 😉

If you look at the display unit you can easily see how much gas and electricity you are using. When I moved into my present home I wondered why the display was showing high electricity consumption when the immersion heater etc. were switched off. A quick investigation showed that the previous occupants had turned on an electric heater in the conservatory, which had been off each time I had visited with the estate agent. The display occasionally reminds me that I have left a fan heater on in the garage/workshop.

I know your comment was light-hearted, Derek, but leaving a heater or the oven on is easier than it ought to be. A lot of newer ovens, particularly, subscribe to the ‘small and discrete’ school of labelling, so it’s often rather difficult to see if the oven’s been left on accidentally, and awaiting the tell-tale smell as its contents are slowly incinerated isn’t ideal.

Our very new kitchen has a lovely stainless steel gas hob, and within the first few months the printed-on labels – minute as they were – had almost completely disappeared. Turning on the gas hob, now, is something of a fiery game of chance.

Immersion heater switches are often inside airing cupboards and if one of the kids turns on the immersion you might not be aware that the water is being heated by expensive electricity rather than cheap gas. A glance at the smart meter display would make this obvious.

There is no doubt that there are some advantages in smart meters but I suspect that warning a small number of people who might occassionally leave their immersion heaters or their ovens on does not justify a £400 cost to every household in the UK. The issue at the heart of this is whether they give value for money – at least that is where I am viewing this.

Agreed, as a small clip-on gadget for far less would suffice. It is the total cost which seems disproportionate to me.

Which? responds to latest Government smart meter installation statistics
28 March 2019
All parties involved should be focusing their resources on ensuring the rollout delivers on the promise to bring greater convenience and a more competitive energy market – not just hassle and soaring costs for customers, funded by their very own bills.“.

I’d still like Which? to explain hew consumers can benefit from the £400 it costs each of them to have a smart meter. The latest average (notional) benefit is quoted as £11 a year and as has been pointed out, smart meters will need replacing when they reach end of life – another £400 a pop?

“Another £400 pound a pop” – at approx every 10 years for ever!

In today’s Which? news there is what I think is a well put-together piece on smart meters by Amelia Wade.
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/04/your-smart-meter-questions-answered/

One criticism is the link to “smart meters might cost us money due to the cost of the roll-out.”. The guide https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/what-is-a-smart-meter#money says the potential saving is £47 a year, now discredited I believe and the claim is in fact it is likely to be £11 a year. Even more costly.

This illustrates the need for all Which? publications online to be dated. I couldn’t see a date on this one. Did I miss it 🙁

The article is dated – 4 Apr 2019

Which? response to latest BEIS smart meter installation statistics
30 May 2019
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:

“It’s disappointing that the industry continues to drag its heels when it comes to smart meter installations.

This seems to ignore the fact that while the consumer is paying around £400 per smart meter the payback (their usefulness is reckoned as, at best, £11 a year). They are not cost effective so why promote them?

Kevin says:
30 May 2019

The real benefit accrues to the grid through better management, arguably a community/social benefit through improved reliability and efficiency.

The risk is that this will be swallowed up by better returns to the Energy company executives through generous bonuses, and possibly to shareholders if the CEO is feeling generous that day.

The initial risk and cost will fall on the consumer, with a longer term cost through the surge pricing which will inevitably result once the infrastructure is in place.

Grid management is the principal benefit (including the ability to selectively shed load) and charging by half hourly tariffs. How many consumers are likely to reap any benefit from that is debatable. The problem I have is the way in which smart meters are promoted – as directly saving the consumer money and therefore they should accept the cost as worthwhile. We should be honest about the benefits.

We had smart meters fitted and our electricity readings have increased between 50 and 100%. We have daily readings going back a few years so we have some evidence of increased readings. We also have solar panels so we can see what that generates too.

We had an electrician check the wiring, it’s OK.

We called various departments in British Gas, keep getting passed round from department who maybe able to help to those who really can’t. They can see our bills have increased but can’t tell why. We haven’t had new equipment installed or changed how we use what we do have. Heating, water and cooking is gas except electric shower.

There are cases of the output from solar panels being registered as usage; have you had this checked?

Mike Pattison says:
12 June 2020

I have recently had Smart Meters fitted.

Before the smart meters were fitted my Daily Standing Charges where 5.25p for Electricity and 5.25p for Gas.

Having had the Smart Meters fitted my latest bills show the daily charges are now 13.482p for Electricity and 18.102p for Gas.

So my Standing Charges have increased on an annual basis from £38.33 to £115.18. That’s an annual increase of £76.85 per annum.

I note in your Which articles that the fitting of Smart Meters is supposed to save me £47 per annum. Quite frankly once the novelty of looking at the internal meter, perched on my kitchen fridge, wore off, they seem of little use in saving me energy by becoming more savvy about switching of a 4 watt LED light bulb. I dought that I am making any saving on my energy usage as a result of having them fitted and of course being in Lockdown we are spending much more time in our homes so home energy usage has definitely increased.

I took a look at my two new meters and I note that they are owned by a leasing company so presumably there is some sort of a rental charge attached to both. That charge doesn’t show on my energy bills. When the meters were being fitted I asked the engineer how the energy company communicated with my meters? He said that was done via a Mobile Telephone link. So that’s presumably two mobile links, one for each meter as they are not physically connected together. I presume the Mobile Company is not supplying the mobile telephone links out of the goodness of their heart, so I assume there is some sort of a monthly fee for providing these two links just as there is a monthly fee for my mobile phone. Again looking at my energy bill there is no mention of a mobile phone charge or the name of the mobile phone company providing the links. So I am wondering if the additional incurred cost of £76.85 is as a result of having these wonderful new pieces of technology fitted.

If I am correct and if it had been pointed out to me that additional daily service charges would be applied, in the correspondence sent out to me by the Energy Company encouraging me at the Governments insistence to switch then I definitely would not have had them fitted. I would rather have the £76.85 in my bank account than in some leasing company and mobile phone companies coffers. I feel I have been duped into changing over by the energy companies and the Government Agencies.

Mike – I cannot see how you can make savings on your fuel bills under that arrangement. As a matter of interest, which energy supplier had the smart meters installed for you?

I had not realised that there would be a change of tariff merely for enabling the company to save costs in meter-reading and billing; indeed there should not be without your consent. Was any of this explained when you signed up to having smart meters installed? Perhaps it is a default tariff and you are expected to switch to a more suitable one. I hope you are not tied into a long contract with a heavy exit penalty. I trust the smart meters are second generation ones which will enable you to switch to an alternative supplier at the earliest opportunity should you choose to.

The coronavirus emergency restrictions have almost derailed the smart meter programme but I notice that the energy companies are pushing ahead now trying to catch up with a distinct economy of detail on the factual implications.

As you say, for households that are already energy-efficient a smart meter provides little benefit; it is almost all about cost saving and accurate billing [avoidance of arrears] for the suppliers. I would expect all the associated gizmos to be powered from the supply before the meter, not on the consumer’s side.

Installing smart meters will not affect the standing and unit charges, which depend on the selected tariff. The amount of energy used by the smart display, which plugs into a socket, is a cost to the householder and will depend on the model. I have seen a figure of less than £1 per year quoted. If you don’t look at the display then it might as well be switched off.

The benefit of smart meters will be realised when we can buy electricity at different prices set by the company according do demand. At present this can only be done with dual metering such as Economy 7 where the cheap rate is set by the supply company. Without this in place, the roll out of smart meters has been a large cost shared by all consumers, whether or not they have smart meters.

I had intended to refuse to have smart meters but they were in place when I bought my house, and when I switched energy supplier I had to have new smart meters because at that time they could not be upgraded to work with the new supplier. With proper planning this need not have happened.

Many claim that having smart meters cannot save them money but provided you are prepared to experiment and learn about energy use I’m quite sure they could. Try turning off radiators in unoccupied rooms and the smart display will demonstrate the savings. Saving energy will help reduce the amount of wood pellets we import from the US and Canada and the amount of gas used in our power stations.

The estimated saving from having a smart meter keeps reducing, now around £11 a year I believe. So it will take at least 40 years to recover the cost of the smart meter, around £400. Assuming they last that long! Their life is predicted, I think, at no more than 20 years so the economics case doesn’t work.

At some point householders will have the opportunity to buy energy like industry does, paying potentially different tariffs every half hour; the price of energy changes throughout the day, depending upon how much is being made available and how much is being used.

Quite how the average consumer will decide what company to buy from with that complicated method of charging when, according to Which?, we are not even capable of understanding our current tariff (sorry, for many people I don’t buy that), beats me.

I doubt many people go to greater lengths to reduce their energy use when they have smart meters than they did before; most know energy is expensive and many will have taken actions to minimise their usage. I doubt those others would use a smart meter to help them with this. If only the meters were intelligent and could tell you what to do.

I am waiting with interest to see what tariffs are available. I fear that to make use of the new tariffs you would probably need new smart meters. 🙁 Maybe ones that will speak to the computer.

Why did you not reject smart meters, Malcolm? I think you said you had them.

They were offered and I thought it convenient to be able to read the meters in the house, rather than have to go outside when the weather was bad. I read them routinely every month and use a spread sheet to monitor my usage. I was sceptical about their claimed advantages but felt it sensible to get first hand experience. I know about energy use and savings and found no advantage in looking at the smart meter information that is a snapshot. Comparing week on week or month on month involves not just chosen use, but house activity, occupancy and, of course, the weather.

When I changed energy suppliers they became useless other than as standard meters and, as yet, they cannot be reprogrammed to become universal. What a waste of money, stemming from imposed legislation from the EU. A pity we seem to lack a civil service with the ability to think these things through.

Why blame the EU and the Civil Service? The lack of compatibility is because the energy suppliers have failed to agree a common standard.

The EU required all member states to install smart meters and, in so doing, gave the energy industry considerable expense that is passed on to consumers. The payback is insufficient to justify doing this on economic grounds because the environmental gain – less use of energy – seems to have become increasingly over optimistic.

I place some responsibility for the compatibility debacle on the government, who would be subbing out the enactment of the EU requirements to the civil service, largely ending up in OFGEM as a non-ministerial government department.. They should have required that all meters should be compatible with all suppliers from the outset, since switching suppliers was encouraged

I presume the reluctance to wait until a standard industry protocol was established – universal meters – was down to the timescale within which the EU required them to get meters installed. We should have done what some other countries did and dug in our heels until we were properly prepared.

I would have preferred an opt-in system for smart meters.

Some homes have meters installed in strange places, requiring someone to climb on a stepladder or grovel under the stairs to take a reading. That’s not much fun for the disabled and elderly. Smart meters make it easier for people to monitor their use and budget effectively, helped by the fact that they show usage in pounds and pence. They are particularly valuable for those on prepayment meters.

There is an opt-in system for most. You can choose whether or not to have one fitted to a non-smart supply.

There are advantages for some; mine was convenience of taking readings. If you are on a tight budget then seeing a daily or weekly spend might be useful but, presumably, you are trying already to be economical with the energy you use. The question really is does a universal roll out give a universal benefit? Seems unlikely.

I don’t remember any of the publicity pointing out that having a smart meter was voluntary, but have not paid much attention.

Smart meter displays can help people learn that heating appliances use more power than lighting, so there’s no need to keep turning off lights on the stairs and that it costs more to leave heating on overnight, despite claims to the contrary.

As and when energy tariffs have differential prices dependent on the demand in each half hour period, life will get ridiculously complicated. As soon as it becomes known that demand is low at a certain time and the price drops, people will switch to that period and demand will go up and the price will rise, but the demand profile might be different for each energy company. For a smart meter to keep up with all that and alert the consumer to when the cheapest price is available is asking a lot. I think the novelty of smart meters will have worn off long before then and most of the displays will have been unplugged and consigned to the drawer full of obsolete tech.

A number of lights in our house are on throughout the evening and the one in the hall does not go off until 8:00 am. The porch light is on continuously. These are all LED’s and consumption is low. Our energy consumption has been falling every year for some time partly because of the weather, partly because we have been away on holiday in the coldest months, and partly because we have installed LED lamps throughout the house. I can’t see that smart meters will make any significant difference to our energy consumption on a like-for-like basis. If as we get older we start to feel the cold more and stay at home more, then our use of gas will increase but I doubt that electricity use will change much taking one year with another.

At present we don’t know how the system will operate when half-hourly variable charging is in place, but it is already in use for business customers: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/news-blog/our-blog/how-half-hourly-settlement-will-help-cut-energy-bills

It has the potential to change usage and spread demand, which could help avoid the need to build extra power stations. That is the declared intention. Differential tariffs for electricity have existed for years (Economy 7 and 10) but these are based on fixed time periods set by the supplier. A smart meter-based system should offer everyone the opportunity of cheap off-peak electricity without the need for an extra meter. Retired friends with solar panels try to run their washing machines and dishwashers when the sun is shining. As far as I know the novelty has not worn off.

Some people will pay no attention to their display unit but others will, especially those who are frightened about their next energy bills. Thankfully most of us have never been in that position. My display, which lives in the kitchen, reminds me if I have left the fan heater on in the garage/workshop or if the electric heater in the conservatory has been left on. If I leave the heating on overnight I know at a glance how much this has cost. I would have declined smart meters but having inherited them with the house I’m determined to use them to my advantage.

I suspect that teenagers might be the ones who engage with the value of smart meters and the importance of saving energy.

The energy company asks if you would want a smart meter fitted, in effect. It is not imposed upon you. The wording may be more encouraging as the energy companies have to try to meet installation targets dictated by government.

I’m not sure how much people take notice of their meter in understanding their energy use. It might be a lot more effective, and a lot cheaper, to send everyone a guidance booklet pointing out that, for example, lights use very little energy, that electric heaters use a lot of energy and best to switch off heating at night. I don’t think a £400 smart meter is the first thing you need to teach you about simple savings when a few pence spent on a booklet would do a better job.

Here is an example of advertising for smart meters. It does not state that you must have smart meters but the suggestion is very much that they are coming and are of benefit. This and similar videos could have pointed out that smart meters add to costs for all consumers and there is no need to accept them. There is nothing I would love more than a balanced approach in advertising: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdKqYnzVDXI

This is what my supplier says. As I said, it is “encouraging” because it is required to by the government, but you do not have to if you are “not ready”. There is nothing wrong with having a smart meter installed and, as what I do will not influence the cost of roll out, I probably will update mine when I can be bothered.

“Hello Mr ,

 
We’ve been trying to contact you about changing your meter to a SMETS 2 smart meter.
Change is occurring in the energy sector. As we advance towards a greener future for everyone, we need customers to install a SMETS2 smart meter and take their first steps to support this change.
As a UK energy supplier, we are obligated by the government to install smart meters in our customers’ homes by the end of 2020.

 
 
Book Now

 
 
Please visit http://www.#######.co.uk/booksmart and select a time and date that’s suitable for you.

If you’re not ready to change your meter at this time, please let us know at http://www.#######.co.uk/not-ready.

I have had smart meters and these have been replaced with SMETS2 meters (I checked). I hope that by now yours can be updated without the need for replacement otherwise two more will be scrapped.

Once variable pricing is implemented it will be possible to encourage consumers to change their usage to balance the load on the grid. It was mentioned in the news that there are plans to create more jobs in insulating homes, which is much needed with some of our older housing stock. Rising electricity costs will are likely to encourage profligate consumers replace halogen lighting (heating) with LEDs and make whatever changes are needed to minimise their consumption.

The heavier users of electricity are appliances with heaters – cookers, washing machines, dishwashers, tumble dryers for example. We will do most of our cooking near mealtimes, not overnight. We are told not to run these appliances while we are asleep. So I don’t see how cheap overnight tariffs will benefit most people unless they have electric storage – heating or batteries. Or have the money to buy an electric car; but when lots of better off people have bought their electric cars and plugged them in overnight usage will soar and tariffs will increase.

To make up for the cheaper overnight tariffs daytime ones, that we will mainly use, will become more expensive.

I wonder what the nett result will be for most people?

Will this provoke a new push to persuade people to buy storage batteries? Like solar panels, maybe beneficial, but only for those lucky enough to own their own houses and who can afford them?

The overall outcome will not be to benefit users financially. The shift in usage will benefit the generators and the distribution network by helping to even out the demand for energy over the whole 24 hours. That is a good thing as it makes much better use of the plant and infrastructure and avoids the need to build excess capacity just to cope with peak periods.

Whether smart meters will be used by people to shift demand in such a large way is questionable. Natural behaviour, like car charging, might be the main effect.

I agree, Malcolm.

When millions of electric cars are being recharged overnight I doubt that renewable energy sources alone will be able to cope and for many car owners recharging overnight will be impractical unless they have off-street parking. I think we are a long way away from solving the problems of using electric vehicles for the majority of people who need to run a car, but new battery technology might assist and changes to work patterns could drive the reduction in energy demand.

I read recently that the internet now consumes 6% of global energy production. 25 years ago it was too small to be measurable. Data storage is the biggest factor followed by the power required for data transmission. Perhaps the government should enforce a speed reduction on streaming services to save energy.

It does seem hard to believe how much energy the internet consumes. The government could put an extra tax – like fuel duty – on streaming services to help towards the extra generation needed to support them.

It is difficult to predict the future. Those who use electricity for heating have most incentive to make use of cheaper rates. The present differential tariffs offering a cheap rate are inflexible, offering cheaper rates at fixed rates throughout the year, irrespective of when the grid has most capacity. We have been told that it will be necessary to move away from gas heating in future, which could be a bigger factor than the uptake of electric vehicles.

Many people do run appliances overnight despite the small fire risk. As I’ve explained so often, the move towards cases with plastic parts allows fire to spread rather than be contained. If that can be resolved then running appliances on cheaper electricity overnight will help balance the load on the generators.

At present, maintaining our electricity supply depends on bringing generators on line to cope with the fact that many kettles are switched on during the commercial breaks in soap operas. What concerns me more is that with the grid running at near capacity, there is a risk that a protest group could agree to switch on their kettles and ovens at a scheduled time and achieve a widespread if temporary blackout. In the 70s we had power cuts due to strikes and not helped by high oil prices. I would like the grid to have more resilience than it does at present.

When differential tariffs become available to the public I hope that we can find ways of using them to our best advantage. I expect and hope that most of us will become more aware of our usage of energy.

Malcolm – In the US, streaming is already taxed: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/24/states-are-imposing-a-netflix-and-spotify-tax-to-raise-money.html The amount of electricity used by the internet is huge and likely to grow.

Phil says:
13 June 2020

Your information is out of date; it’s now 10% and set to grow as ‘Cloud’ storage (a terrible idea) becomes more widespread. The internet now consumes more energy than aviation (7%).

Thank you, Phil – I didn’t have a reliable source for my figure of 6%; it was in a recent magazine article, again unreferenced.

Apparently the energy required for cooling the computers in the data warehouses is the big problem so companies are exploring new locations in Scandinavia and under the sea off the Orkney islands to eliminate the need for high-powered cooling equipment.

I expect 90% of the stuff in the Cloud is rubbish.

Maybe the topic of the energy use by the internet, the ongoing roll-out of fast broadband, unlimited tariffs and taxation deserves a Convo of its own.

We have recently seen the benefits of past improvements in that many have been to work from home, including Zoom meetings. Many others have been able to keep in touch with our families thanks to FaceTime, WhatsApp and Skype.

There were concerns that the mobile network would not be able to cope with increased demands imposed by working from home during the pandemic, and while there have been some problems, the network has proved more resilient than some had feared. I don’t know if Netflix has returned to normal speed.

If people have been stuck indoors they might have preferred to use their landline phones [where available] for improved communication. I have had to speak to people in a couple of local companies and they were working at home using their mobiles; the time lapse in dialogue and the variations in the signal became quite annoying.

BTW, why has the expression “working from home” become commonplace when what people are actually doing is working at home? “Working from home” is a completely different form of business activity and usually involves field staff doing a lot of driving to meet customers or clients at their homes or business premises.

I wonder whether working at home is taken to be doing personal jobs, like diy, whereas working from home means you are normally based elsewhere. Someone with a home-based job would fulfil the activities you described.

Many employees are provided with mobile phones provided by their company or other organisation. That means that when they are working at home they can continue as normal. I was discussing this with a friend who is a civil servant and deals with the public. He said that calls from his mobile were routed through via the switchboard and I have no idea how this works.

I don’t know if a domestic contract allows business use of a phone, and if it is you would want to withhold your number. You cannot make video calls and it can be expensive to call mobiles from landlines without a suitable tariff. In my experience, problems with sound quality are largely historic and better quality phones are good as long as you use them sensibly rather than wave them round.

I have been using ‘working from home’ because that’s what I have heard others say. Perhaps it’s useful for those in business to make the distinction but for the rest of us it matters little. Maybe the answer is to say something like: ‘working at client’s base’. Incidentally, the term ‘client’ has a different meaning to me. I would use the term as an abbreviation for email client, such as Outlook.

I confess to taking us way off topic so I must stop sitting here splitting hairs and go outside and get on with today’s work pile. I have a load of logs from recent pruning activity to saw up and deal with.

A repeated concern about smart metering is rightly the cost of the roll-out. There is the cost of the gas and electricity meters, the cost of their installation and that of the display unit. In modern homes, meters are usually easy to access but in the past some were put in strange places, adding to the cost of replacement.

We could question the cost of fitting smart meters, but bearing in mind the cost of having someone come to work on a faulty appliance, it is easy to account for part of the cost of smart metering.

What might be easier to question is the cost of replacing SMETS1 meters with SMETS2 meters and providing a new display unit. I am not aware that the old meters are refurbished. Why on earth not just have an exchangeable electronic module? The present situation is similar to replacing a smart TV because it has lost its apps. At least there are workarounds available.

I don’t know if we are getting value for money with smart metering in the UK.

This explains smart meters:
https://www.energyhelpline.com/help/smart-meters-what-are-they-and-do-you-need-one
and includes
“Lots of customers have reported that after switching to a new energy supplier their SMETS 1 meter lost its smart functionality and became “dumb” meaning that it reverted back to being a standard energy meter…………

How will my SMETS 1 meter be fixed?
The government’s solution to the “dumb” SMETS 1 problem was to hire the DCC (Data Communications Company) to create one single unified smart meter network and port all of the affected devices over to it.

This DCC network restores the SMETS 1 meters smart functionality, once again allowing them to talk to suppliers and automatically submit meter readings, and ensures it won’t be lost if you switch suppliers in future.

When will my SMETS 1 meter be updated?
All of the SMETS 1 meters in the UK will have been switched over to the new DCC network by summer 2021.

Both my SMETS 1 meters were replaced and taken away. I still have the display unit that worked when I was still with e.on. It would be interesting to know how many of the old meters were scrapped before it became possible to perform updates. Whoever wrote the article could usefully have provided this information because that affects the figure quoted for the cost per customer, presumably double in my case. I have not managed to find any reliable information.

Assuming your smart meters can be upgraded and. you can continue to use the same display unit, maybe the cost will be little more than the cost of a home visit.

The roll-out of smart meters in the UK and some other countries is sufficiently far advanced that it might be better to look at the positives. It’s good that we can still decline to have them fitted. It will be interesting to see whether customers that have them make use of the perceived benefits or if they will pay more because of the variable pricing according to time of day.

I believe modifications to the communications network will allow SMETS1 meters to reconnect without the need for a home visit.

I understand Octopus Energy already offer an “Agile” tariff that charges half hourly for those who have suitable SMETS2 meters. I read somewhere they publish tariffs daily at 4pm so you can decide when to plug your car in, for example. There are times when the wholesale price of electricity drops below zero, so consumers are paid for the electricity they use. Apparently this happened 31 times over a 12 month period but it wasn’t stated how long each event lasted. @gmartin, George, have Which? looked into this and whether any other energy suppliers offer domestic half hourly tariffs?

Thanks Malcolm. Hopefully we can have new Convo about smart meter tariffs when they become generally available. My energy bill of £75 per month costs less than buying a daily coffee, and it’s not from the cheapest provider. If the early indications are good I would be happy to give it a go.

I suppose the next tactic to persuade us all to install smart meters is to introduce higher energy prices for consumers without them.

I wondered about that a few years ago. I hope Ofgem will ensure that it does not happen. There are a variety of benefits of smart metering to business beyond using feedback from the meters to improve management of generators. Customers who get into arrears are costly to manage. Gone are the days when those in arrears could be cut off fairly readily. Companies have to put in effort to help these customers to get back on track. That’s a lot easier if smart metering gives advance notice of problem so that they can be dealt with in a timely fashion.

I have not seen any declaration of intention to require customers to have smart meters fitted, though like removing water meters in areas where they are not mandatory, having smart meters replaced with dumb ones could be difficult and possibly costly.

Bulb is another company offering a smart tariff for electricity. Currently three hours in the evening is peak-rate, with electricity costing about twice the amount of the off-peak rate, which applies during the day and at night.

Richard Down says:
13 August 2020

I have just , in the search for a better deal on electriccity and gas switched tEON through Energy helpline. I am happy with the price I got but it has thrown up on issue. It appears that EON alongside others now wish us to pass meter readings to a firm called Morrison Data Services as well as themselves. It appears also that (I will call them MDS for short) will also be doing meter readings of theirown , presumably on behalf of EON.
Hitherto I had not heard of thes people and still have no idea as to what purpose this is for. I presume EON and others will pay them for this which begs rthe question. Correct me if Im wrong but surely the services MDS provide will ultimately be paid for by consumers through their tarrifs. If so why do we/they need this middleman

MDS is employed by many suppliers to read meters. They read my water meter.

Nowadays, gas and electricity suppliers often rely on customers’ own readings or information collected automatically by smart meters.

Many large companies now outsource routine functions to facilities management companies. One facility management company reading meters or inspecting services for a number of different suppliers can, by aggregating the work in areas, undertake it more efficiently and economically.

I don’t understand why Richard should have to submit meter readings to both E.On and Morrison. It should be sufficient to pass them to Morrison who would then notify E.On for billing purposes.

Morrison is also a general utility contractor in my area installing electricity, gas, water, telecoms and traffic signal control cabling.