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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?

Chris Plymouth says:
1 July 2010

It may be a shock to see how much power a kettle uses, but it’s not going to stop you having a cup of tea.


We all love a cup of tea, however the kettle often fill with excess water which is not utilised for the cupper..
Fill the cup/s and empty into the kettle before boiling to minimise wasted energy.

Richard says:
1 July 2010

I was a bit gutted when I realised smart meters would actually save my utility company quite a bit of cash while giving me, well, not much. Or anything!?

So onto energy monitors. Sounds lovely but no, they won’t stop me boiling the kettle. What one might do, though, is to show me how much energy different appliances use and so cost me. I have naff all idea of this at the moment. Think it would work particularly well at my parents’ place where they’ve got things they don’t have to run (e.g. dishwasher, tumble dryer).

But could energy monitors tell me whether it’s cheaper to fill two basins full with washing up water when doing a bit post-roast wash-up or to run the dishwasher?


I think I’d quite like to know how much energy my TV uses on standby, or my washing machine after one load. To then know how much hard earned cash that actually turns into, might make me cut back in the future.

Damn Young says:
3 August 2011

My Hotpoint washing machine takes no power at all. Not since I ripped all the electrical parts out of it, and attached a handle for manually turning the drum.

Aly123 says:
2 July 2010

I had an energy monitor and for a while it was fascinating watching how it would spike when certain appliances went on. However, the novelty soon wore off (particularly over a cold and wet winter when drying clothes outside isnt an option) – and then it ran out of batteries. I’m more interested in having appliances that are more economical to run – but with the latest increase due in VAT that’s putting up those costs as well…

Tom Ritchie says:
3 July 2010

If you look at the experience of the water industry, you can clearly see that households with water meters use significantly less water (about 30% less?) than those without. And this is happening despite the fact that you don’t get a monitor in the house telling you how much water you have actually used day-to-day.

I find it hard to believe that the introduction of energy meters would not prompt a similar cut back in energy use.

Liz says:
12 July 2010

I have some concerns about smart meters, but I’ve also come across people who’ve gone for many months with a (wrongly) estimated bill and then been hit with a massive one they weren’t expecting but still had to pay. I think this will stop with smart meters, so that is one thing in their favour.

Richard says:
22 July 2010

That is a very good point which I didn't know about.

Still gutted 'smart' meters are mainly for energy cos.' benefit, though not surprised.