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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?


Why are consumers paying for smart meters when the energy suppliers will no longer need to employ meter readers. There for saving on wages. It seems to be a con. I can not see
how it can save energy as eventually we will get complacent and stop looking at the meter if you’ve common sense you switch things of when you you have finished with it. If they want me to have a smart meter they can pay me by passing on the savings. The only way to save energy is to go zero carbon. There by putting them out of business.

Hilary says:
17 March 2018

Am lucky because my meters are easily accessible just outside my front door and I read every fortnight – it takes about 1 minute. Have created a chart through the medium of paper and pencil and with a calculator I can work out my ongoing costs in about 2 minutes- my calculations for a quarter are usually accurate to within £2-3 for a quarter. I phone meter readings every 3 months. Have opted for quarterly cash account as I got fed up with monthly direct debit amounts being constantly adjusted.
I appreciate that this approach is not be feasible for everybody, but I really love the simplicity and control that it gives me- nothing that I have read about smart meters so far has given me any confidence that I personally will benefit and will resist until I am convinced .
Cynical ? Moi? …..Yes!

I fully agree with most of above. To sum up is simple. The following is attributed to Alec Young, which I fully agree with. In a nutshell,”.I know that hobs and oven use a lot of electricity; I don’t need a smart meter to tell me. What am I to do, not use them, eat cold food? So my fridge and freezer use a lot of power. Do I turn them off for a fortnight? Use them every other day? No I have the sense to turn off lights in rooms I am not using. I wear a sweatshirt or jumper in the house and keep the thermostat a little lower. I do not leave every appliance on “standby” I charge mobile phones in the car when driving. My smart meter can do none of these things.
Regarding software, to network all smart meters together. If its anything like the software in my computer it will, in time, untick the box that says “ keep supplying electricity to everybody” and black out the whole country. It’s all a waste of money. That’s money that could be spent insulating every home in the UK to a high standard. Your smart meter can’t do that either”

It’s all a BIG con, the only people who will really benefit are the energy suppliers and the meter manufactures and share holders.

Labour introduced smart meters because they thought they were being hip introducing technology into all areas of life, the only problem was and is the people in government whichever side they are don’t really fully understand technology (NHS computer system failure costing millions) and once a project is started will not stop as they don’t want to admit failure so wasting millions on follies.

If our representatives in government would occasionally admit to the errors in the decisions they have made and quickly pulled the plug on failing projects instead of throwing more taxpayers money at them I would have more respect for the leaders of this country.

Gary Tanner says:
17 March 2018

I have switched providers three times in the past four years. Each time I have needed a new smart meter.
There are two lying redundant in my garage!

Something not mentioned above is that smart meters are not compatible with solar PV panels.
Stated by BG fitter on arriving to replace existing v.1 meters with ones compatible with BG systems. So it must be true (?????????????) So yet more costs incurred by fruitless appointment – I wasn’t asked about solar pv.
The existing meters were installed by First Utility about 10 years ago and have survived (in ‘dumb’ mode) about 8 changes of supplier since then, no probs.

After two attempts, Scot. Power admitted my gas smart meter was not functioning as it was sited too far away from the electric smart meter to which it sends the information. Ongoing I am continuing to submit the
consumption figures on line. This will not change. No doubt the consumer pays again! Hands-up if you know what you are doing!

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Not so smart meters installed by not so smart installers for smart money grabbing companies.

Glen says:
17 March 2018

SHARK Meters? Nice big earner for the makers, and that is all they do.

I suspect families who fail to turn off surplus lights/devices are the least likely to respond to smart meters and reduce consumption.
Digital technology may mean you can be charged ‘by the minute’.
Being charged by the minute may mean that differential tariffs could be applied which a cynic might suggest could benefit power suppliers rather than consumers.
If Smets1 meters are not compatible with alternative electricity suppliers, why has production not ceased in favour of Smets 2 meters? Maybe someone has an enormous stockpile ordered before full compatibility was confirmed.
Finally, as I have solar panels and my meter is within a celotex/foiled lined room so data transmission may be foiled! I suspect this operation this operation for me is something of a charade…

Julian, the aim is to charge by the half hour, which smart meters will allow for. So you’ll pay more at peak times than off peak. How will people arrange their cooking, washing, heating, drying, to avoid the peak times (when presumably everyone wants to do it). If they all delay dinner by an hour it will create a new peak time 🙁 and we don’t want to run appliances when we’re in bed for safety reasons.

It does make sense to smooth out energy consumption peaks, of course, to minimise the need for excessive capacity but I do wonder whether most people will alter their habits when many show no real interest in switching to cheaper tariffs.

Do those who do want a smart meter realise when smart meters become common place the meter reader will no longer call to read your meter ,you have to read your own and inform your energy company of what it reads A reader will just come occasionally to check you reading are correct With my smart meter the still come and check at various intervals just to see if the correct readings have been transmitted More completely wrong estimated bills ? Again the choice is YOURS on having a smart meter

In theory, I thought smart meters would “phone home” to send their readings back to the mothership.

If operating on prepayment, they are also supposed to receive top ups automatically.

Sadly my friend’s Utilita meters now seldom do that.

Instead, top up requires long numerical codes to be keyed in manually.

With a standard smart meter, no-one needs to read the meters since usage is transmitted to the supplier, as Derek has said.

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I’m referring to standard meters rather than pre-payment ones, Duncan. As with mobile phones, smart meters are not viable in some areas. Landline phones do have their uses.

Duncan, what’s supposed to happen with Utilita is that, when you top up, the smartmeter network is used to credit your meters. So, there’s no need to (find and then) carry physical gas or electricity meter keys or keycards to and from the corner shop and internet tops ups are also possible.

As a backup, every top up receipt comes with an 8 or 16 digit code. This can be entered directly onto the tiny key pad on the relevant meter, or via the touch screen of the wifi enabled smart meter tablet, if the latter is in communication with its meters.

It’s a great system when it works, but correctly keying a 16 digit sequence onto the tiny buttons of an external meter can be a chore, especially if it’s nighttime and the weather’s lousy.

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Duncan, when first installed, my friends meters always topped up automatically. These days, not so much.

Mike G says:
18 March 2018

Smart meters enable the supplier to monitor your consumption whenever they wish to do so. If they can do this, what is to prevent unauthorised access? For example, thieves may be able to tell when you are away from home. Given the record of these companies, how secure are smart meters likely to be? Also, once they can monitor your consumption by the minute, one can foresee pricing varying by the minute, making it well-nigh impossible to compare tariffs. Can they turn off your supply remotely and hence threaten customers who are in dispute? If they can do this maybe others can as well. There are a lot of pitfalls and very little discussion of the issues.

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I presume that the same rules apply for disconnecting a supply remotely as for doing it at the premises.

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An advantage of turning off supplies remotely is you can leave vulnerable people connected – for example those who rely on electrically-powered medical equipment at home in the event of a general supply problem when load has to be shed,

Barbara Kingsley says:
18 March 2018

I am a pensioner and I have a smart meter I check mine daily and where in the past when we have had cold weather I would just put my heating on and not think of the cost. I have noticed that during the recent cold spell (beast for the east)I have not used my heating as much as I can see what I am using. I know they are supposed to make us more aware of what we use but at what cost, I get £200 fuel allowance but I am finding I am more reluctant to put my heating because of the smart meter, if I am like this then i’m sure others may be doing the same.

I expect that most people with smart meters do look at them regularly, Barbara. I certainly do, and it makes me more aware of what I am using. Those on lower incomes are more likely to find them useful: https://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/news/2017/02/17/81-of-people-recommend-smart-meters/

I wonder if U-switch is independent enough to give a fair view? Just wondering. They make no mention of any of the downsides of smart meters, partly their cost and the very long payback period (probably never if they only last 10 years). They also mention “time of use” benefits that might save money. What they don’t mention is those who must use energy at peak times, or who don’t change their habits, are likely to be paying significantly more for their energy.

Ian Savell says:
18 March 2018

After reading all this I realise that being unable to have a smart meter is a blessing. I can’t have one because the one supplied by the installer is too big for the space in my meter cabinet. largely because the comms module is enormous. It basically does much less than what a smartphone does but takes up ten times the space. Also, as my mobiles have no signal in that location a smart meter would be useless!

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Just before the last round of the London Energy Switch, our previous supplier arranged for a third party to install smart meters. The installer arrived late and, looking at our externally-mounted, easy to read meters, said that he couldn’t do the job as he hadn’t been supplied with the right kit. He said I should contact the firm. I replied that they could make the effort to get in touch since it was for their convenience. (I’ve read the blurb, but I can see no benefit to this customer.)
Shortly after we changed suppliers. Subsequently, the new supplier has raised the matter of smart meters but I’m disinclined to co-operate.
What I would like to know is a) does the new meter use my phone/mobile line to communicate with its base? b) What happens if I discontinue that phone supply? c) is there any guarantee that if I change fuel provider the installed meters will work?

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We cannot prove that anything is safe and when microwave ovens and mobile phones appeared on the market there was concern about public safety. I still have a government leaflet giving advice on the use of mobile phones. There is official government information about the possible risk of smart meters here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/smart-meters-radio-waves-and-health/smart-meters-radio-waves-and-health If there was good scientific evidence that smart meters were dangerous I think we would know by now.

Smart meters in UK are designed to operate under the Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications SMETS1 and SMETS2.

Thanks, duncan lewis and wavechange. You have provided a key piece of information that I think affects the (presumably )large number of customers that take advantage of the London Borough’s Energy Switch. I guess that Government, being keen to make the energy companies pay, decided not to insist on a standard methodology that would benefit switching customers. Usual crass inaction from a “business friendly” government. Our bills are generally lower than average – probably due to having a small, modern house and not liking hot rooms – so I can’t see any harm in doing precisely nothing until they make us an offer.
PS The old saying about “weighing a pig won’t fatten it” seems to apply here. Being able to see precisely how much that inefficient boiler is using doesn’t help unless you can take action to stop it. Perhaps “a watched meter still costs money” might be a handy phrase…

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Duncan is right. The gas engineer who checked my 19 year old boiler suggested that I should keep it because it was likely to be more reliable than a modern one. It might cost a little more to run but in the current cold weather, reliability is important to me.

I’ve found some modern boilers have incredibly complicated controllers. I’ve found these difficult to use, if I’ve been able to browse a copy of the instructions, and completely impossible otherwise.

Luckily, my modern boiler just has a simple rotating segment timer that is easy to use. As regards reliability, everything has worked fine for the last 6 years, except for the timer, which failed a couple of years ago. But, thanks to a very well insulated house, when I need the heating on, I can get by just running the heating “on constant” but varying the boiler output by means of the digital room thermostat.

I have a digital room stat and do the same, even though I have a sophisticated seven day programmer on the central heating. The programmer is only of use for those who have a fixed schedule.

We installed a condensing boiler in 2006 and got a notable saving in heating cost. Yet I am unsurprised at you guys’ scepticism and your non-use of the sophisticated heating controls. Because the boiler-makers don’t make the electronics, their engineers are generally no more knowledgeable about how to set them than the public are! Our o9ld-style east end heating firm certainly didn’t know ho wto fit the full installation and had to be nudged via their trade disputes body to finish the job. Just for the record, we were fortunate in having insisted on a Vailant boiler whose engineers do at least know how to keep them working.

I appreciate that modern boilers are more efficient, Paul, but knowing the cost of replacement and that some new ones are not very reliable I see no point in changing mine. I know that the circuit board is the main weakness of my model and that spares are still available.

I can programme my CH controls without a problem but having to adjust them to suit when I get back home is not worth the bother. I just turn on the heating when I get home. Like you, I’m not keen on hot rooms and it’s not a problem coming back to a cold house.

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Since when did a government altruistically spend billions of money (paid for by us from future bills) in order to allegedly reduce our annual energy bill by just a few hundred pounds? With “Smart” meters there is the possiblity of turning off the supply remotely, let alone closely monitoring customer usage and using that data without permission – maybe even selling it to third parties for profit? The whole thing reeks of a Big Brother operation under the guise of us saving money. Furthermore it adds to the considerable Wi-Fi smog already adversly affecting our health (e.g. reducing fertility, oxidative stress), even if we don’t realise it because the symptoms for most people (but not all) are very subtle. Wi-Fi in schools is being replaced back to cables in some countries as the science increasingly shows how it is damaging humans. My energy supplier is now bribing me with Amazon vouchers to get a “Smart” meter installed – and why would they go this far if all they want to do is help me save money? They’ll have to offer me literally thousands before I even consider consenting.

I emailed the following to Which? after their recent magazine article on the topic of Smart Meters.
Cost is neither the only nor the main thing you shoudl all be worried about…

Dear Which?

I found the article in the March 2018 issue of Which?, pp36-39, interesting and informative.

However, I believe you have a serious omission from your analysis, and I would strongly encourage you to address this in a response or future issue.

I spent a decade of my life working at the forefront of smart technology implementation for a major British company, and so I know a thing or two about what can be done with real time data streams, such as domestic energy smart meters provide. Phenomenally detailed analysis of the behaviour of a system can be extracted from data like this. Your energy provider could in principle figure out your shift patterns, when you are away on holiday, when you have guests staying, if you are ill, how many children there are in the household, the list is endless…

Your article only makes the briefest of references to this capability in the “A Smart Future” side box, with an example of monitoring the elderly. That’s right – but did that really not ring any alarm bells for you?

What worries me about smart meters is what will the energy providers seek to do with the data streams they gather from their customers? Currently, this is not getting mentioned in the press, advertising or approaches to customers. There is no transparency over what is being retained, how that is being kept secure, and who has what rights of control and usage.

I’ll be utterly gob-smacked if they don’t try to profit from this data by selling it on, and they’ll have no problem finding a willing market in on-line advertisers and retailers. Energy savings for customers are peanuts compared to what could be generated through unfettered usage of this data. There are operational benefits for the generators and distributors, but the real value for the many suppliers we deal with as customers is in what they can do with our data.

Personally, I am, and will continue, resisting the installation of a smart meter until either I have adequate transparency over data control and usage, or, as I suspect might happen, they force my arm up my back with unfair differential pricing.

Please, take the lid off this for your subscribers and the public at large. It would significantly enhance what was already a good article.

Some people worry about thing that might never happen ? Smart meters the choice is yours ?

For seven years I have commented on the Debacle that is the smart meter “roll out”
Just to add to the fiasco , The Smart Meter , version 2, has been made incapable of measuring the export of electricity to the grid from a PV or windmill installation.

This is the decision of Capita not the manufacturer of the smart meter , who advised me years ago it would only take a small programme change to make it so
The Smart Meters are a complete con