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Smart meters – will you use yours?

Smart meter

It’s hard to believe we wouldn’t turn off our gadgets if we knew how much cash we’d actually save by doing so. Why then does new research say we’re not interested?

Don’t you want to know how much that extra boil of the kettle or TV left on standby costs? PassivSystems’ latest research says two-thirds of us wouldn’t act on the information provided by an energy smart meter, even if we had one installed.

But this is at odds with our latest research here at Which? – only a quarter of you said smart meters wouldn’t make a difference to you at home.

What exactly is a smart meter?

I’d strongly suspect that the recent glut of research taking it in turns to lampoon and applaud the smart meter roll-out is more a reflection of ignorance about smart meters than pure apathy.

Confusion about the differences between smart meters and energy monitors is rife. Fact: smart meters don’t tell you how much you’re spending on electricity, energy monitors do.

Smart meters were designed to send real-time energy usage data directly to energy suppliers, heralding an end to ‘getting the meter read’ and the horrors of estimated bills. But in their basic form, smart meters don’t provide any meaningful information about actual energy costs to the consumer at all.

Only through using an additional energy display will you see your household’s real-time energy use and costs. Which? has successfully campaigned for these displays to come with smart meters, since they let you see how much energy’s been used whenever you want. This information could help guide you to the most cost effective energy tariff and help work out where you can cut energy use to save money.

Results muddied by dubious motives

The negative vibes from the folk down at PassivSystems are likely due to the fact that they’re in the business of energy. I have no doubt that they’re aware of the differences between smart meters and energy monitors. But it’s in PassivSystems’ interest to fan the flames of confusion and scepticism.

It is, after all, a company that specialises in selling pricey smart technology to turn your heating appliances off for you. The last thing it needs is for us to believe that turning off electrical gadgets ourselves is all it takes to save money and feel environmentally upright.

In the press release that accompanied its results, PassivSystems CEO Colin Calder was scathing about government plans for smart meters, saying “smart meters are not an attractive or compelling proposition for the end-user”.

But perhaps it’s PassivSystems that should be worried. If three-quarters of people wouldn’t act on energy data, how many of them are going to splash £400 on an intelligent energy control system?


New meters, not “smart” meters.
Please stop calling the new type of kWh meters smart, they are not smart. The only thing about them that is smart is sales spin intended to sell the idea to the largely uniformed public. The main gain is for the supply companies to reduce the cost of meter reading and so increase their profits.
Regarding the comments on monitors, they should be called volt ampere monitors unles they compute true watts by measuring actual volts, amps and power factor.Your experts comments regarding power factor is not strictly true, in the case of a washing machine the power factof may well be 1 during the initial water heating phase but the next phase invoves a motor to drive the drum and pump water out during the washing and rinsing phases. The motor will have a power factor much less than 1. It would be interesting if you can publish a recording of the kW versa time during the complete washing cycle for a machine.
It would also be helpfull if you could gather all the comments on meters, bills, tarrifs and OFGEM on the same or adjacent pages instead of being scattered across the existig 14 pages.

Damn Young says:
3 August 2011

They should have been called ‘Invasive Meters’, but that would be bad spin.

I’m not sure that it is worth mentioning power factor on a non-technical forum, especially since there is not much users can do to change the electrical load characteristics of their washing machine. All that the average user needs to know is the how the cost of running different washing machines compare, and hopefully the ratings on new appliances reflect the cost.

What concerns me more is that gas price is now shown in kWh. Electric heaters can be nearly 100% efficient but that’s certainly not the case with gas. Fortunately, most of the general public are well aware that electric heating is relatively expensive.

Last year my energy supplier sent me free of charge the energy monitor rated by Which? as their Best Buy. Being a bit of an anorak I decided to find out the consumption of every appliance and electric light circuit in my house and started by switching everything off and pulling all the fuses in my consumer unit.
I was therefore very surprised to find a large usage of electricity when I plugged back in one of the fuses associated with my lights, because none of them were switched on. I eventually traced the problem to an old strip light in the garage which had no lamp fitted. The fitting was drawing so much electricity I calculated the annual cost to be £210. An energy efficient light was fitted in it’s place immediately.
Informing my friend Harry of this he used a similar energy monitor at his house and had a very similar experience. Also in his garage he had a separate spur consumer unit. With everything in his garage switched off the garage was drawing a huge amount of electricity. He looked at this unit during the dark and the rear of it was glowing red which could easily have caused a fire if it had not been discovered. This led to a new consumer unit being fitted. We estimated the annual electricity being wasted to cost £1200.
I would therefore recommend to anyone to obtain the energy monitor recommended by Which? and carry out a thorough audit of their energy consumption. In both mine and Harry’s case it has saved us a fortune.

Concerning the comments made by a few people above regarding power factoring I fell foul of this when using the energy monitor recommended by Which? as their Best Buy. It is the type which has a transmitter that wraps around your house’s main power cable and sends readings to a display you carry around with you.
I had my house fitted with energy efficient LED bulbs which the manufacturer claimed to use only 4 watts of power per bulb. But when I turned a bank of these lights on my energy monitor told me the bulbs used an average of 8 watts each. I brought this to the attention of my supplier who kindly went back to the manufacturer for an answer. The answer was that the lamps have a power factor of 0.5 which I wasn’t taking into account.
I believed I was being spun a yarn to get rid of me. But at the same time I was given the type of energy monitor that plugs into a wall socket and directly monitors the power consumption of an appliance plugged into it. I wired up some LED bulbs to a 13amp plug and this monitor correctly gave me the power consumption of 4 watts per bulb and is in fact accurate to 0.1watt.
If you really want to measure accurately the consumption of an individual appliance I suggest this is the more accurate type of energy monitor and will in fact tell you the total amount of energy used by a washing machine or dishwasher over the complete wash cycle.
However I agree with Which? that their Best Buy monitor is ideal in that it is fully portable and you can see in real time what effect switching an appliance on or off has from anywhere around your house.

George Wood says:
18 January 2012

Smart Meter Roll-Out, Questions to Chris Huhne, DECC 18 January 2012, 14.30 hours

1.What are the true costs of the smart meter roll-out programme?

2. Two years ago I looked at DECC data and figures of £10-billion for 2010 and £10.75-billion for 2011 were quoted. This clearly didn’t happen and now a figure of £11.1-billion is being quoted which is just over half the original quotation. Is this lower cost of roll-out because any additional connections to appliances in the home will become their own responsibility. Surely, the total cost of smart meters will in the end fall on the electricity consumers.

3. How can a figure of £11.1-billion be charged to consumers with no perceived or stated benefits?, apart from more accurate meter readings.

4. You say benefits of £18.1-billion will accrue from the roll-out of smart meters over time. What benefits are these? Can they be defined and evaluated in an unbiased way.

5. Do such benefits actually exist?

6. Are the £18.1 billion of benefits derived as a result of demonstrating that you are saving on the capacity costs of building new power stations and infrastructure at the margin? If so security of supply is being compromised.

7. Are you intending these smart meters to be switchable?

8. If you are intending to use smart meters for switching loads in homes, offices and manufacturing to avoid the marginal capacity costs, then it should be classed as a demand disconnection plan to stop the lights going out.

9. Please state your purpose for the massive £18-billion savings roles that you quote.

10. Would it not be better to invest £11.1-billion in new CCGT power stations that can ensure the countries security of supply is met?

Claire says:
10 October 2012

I think smart meters are a really great idea.

George Wood says:
10 October 2012

Smart meters will cost around £20-billion to roll-out across the UK, as a whole.

That’s £600 per household. All though originally DECC initially listed about £15-billion for the whole country. Its a bit like HS2, smart meters are being foisted upon us without the facts being spealt out to us and then voted upon.

There is no real cost-benefit, all though DECC claims that we will save £17-billion. Yes DECC claims we will all be better off from having them. Well you will be charged $600 per household for the privilege hrough your electricity bill over time.

This is all pie in the sky as the real benefit to each and everyone of us is miniscule. But we are all being hoodwinked into believing we need a smart meter.

Make no mistake this is all linked to the ‘Energy Market Reform’ where the market will eventually stir the capacity cost of generation into the instantaneous half-hourly market price. Do you really want to be frightened into switching your electricity off just when you need it the most, on a cold dark winters night at about 17.30 hours towards the end of January?. Well thats what the outcome is being planned to bee!!!

The market will say the price is approaching £100/kW through your smart meter and you will panic and switch off all electrical appliances and sit in the dark. The people that wise up before the event will buy a little standby petrol or diesel generator for about £500 and switch over to that instead of taking electricity from the mains when the price starts rising, even above £1.00/kWh.

This is the way most of the major power companies are envisaging the ‘Energy Market Reform’ to take.

So now you need a £500 standby Generator and yet you will still be lumbered at paying for your smart meter at an average of £600 per household.

This is what is termed ‘free market enterprise’. Now do you really want that gimmicky ‘smart meter’ because this is what is being channelled as the eventual outcome.

George Wood