/ Home & Energy

Stop and rethink the smart meter roll-out

Last year your comments about the government’s plans to roll out smart meters leapt to our attention. Some of you clearly weren’t happy. Today we’re calling for the government to stop and review the roll-out.

Some of you were also upset with Which? – you wanted us to do more to challenge the government on its roll-out plans. Well we have.

We’re urging the government to rethink its smart meter roll-out until it has conducted an urgent review.

There were over 500 comments on last year’s smart meter Convos. Some of you stood up for the new technology and its roll-out into all our homes by 2019. But some vented your fury over the UK’s smart plan, with a key concern being the cost – projected to be at least £11 billion.

What a ‘smart’ community

As your comments poured in we decided to commission a thorough review. And while this research (carried out by the Centre for Sustainable Energy) was being put together we also made sure that other important bodies knew about your comments.

In one Conversation, someone said they didn’t think I existed! Well, I can assure you I do. Over the past few months I have attended meetings and industry events where I have stood up – not always to welcome attention – to say how many of you have told us on Which? Conversation that you’re concerned.

We also sent some of your comments to the Public Accounts Committee – probably Parliament’s most powerful committee of MPs – which has been investigating the roll-out. Industry and government reps have previously told me that it’s too early to discuss smart meters with the public, but I said that our Which? Conversation ‘smart’ community was well and truly up and running.

Energy suppliers read your concerns

One of the best moments for me was when I sat next to one of the top directors of a big energy supplier and saw him studying Which? Conversation on his laptop, rather than listening to the conference speaker.

He scrolled through cat avatars and the string of comments you had made. He would have read about your concerns that energy suppliers would benefit from the roll-out, but would consumers? He probably saw that some of you wanted more reassurance about health concerns and data privacy. And I really hope he read Chris’ comment:

‘I see no real harm in the concept of a smart meter, it’s this use for that £11 billion I’m not keen on, especially as times are currently tough. It would buy an awful lot of insulation.’

It’s time to press pause on the roll-out

Now Which? has said to the government that we think it’s time to stop the roll-out. The government’s current strategy is flawed and it must review its approach. We want the government to convince us that it will have full control over the roll-out’s costs, as we all have to pay for it.

And, as it stands, the roll-out is far too industry led, with the government seemingly crossing its fingers in hope that suppliers will install 50 million smart meters into all of our homes in the most cost-effective and responsible way. The energy companies need to be reigned in.

So, what’s the smart way forward? Stop the smart meter roll-out, government, rethink and demonstrate that you are leading this, not big businesses. As always, let us know what you think. We are listening.

Comments
Guest
David Torrens says:
19 August 2016

I was contacted this week by OVO and asked if I wanted smart meter.
I asked a few questions.
I was told:
the OVO smart meter is only compatible with two other suppliers systems at the moment so there could be issues changing supplier in the future
she did not seem sure but in future there may be a system for all suppliers to read any type of meter
I asked about how smart this meters would be, apparently their system at the moment only helps automate readings. It does not do anything else such as offer cheaper power at certain times of day or allow any other clever stuff to facilitae managing the power network
then in turned out the arrangement of my gas meter in a ground mounted box was not compatable ith the type of meters they currently have

CONCLUSION:
probably better to wait till next year or next time switching supplier as the gains from a new type of meter and a new supplier may well go together and work better when the technology and back up systems are more developed.

Guest
Ron Barker says:
26 August 2016

Today I received a letter from Lynda Clayton, Customer Services Director of Scottishpower asking me to arrange a date for a smart meter to be fitted. I phoned and had to wait 10 minutes until an operative was available. I asked where the smart meter would be located as our existing meter is outside, some 100 yards from the front door. I was told that it was not possible to relocate the meter, although nobody has done a survey!
Some years ago meters were deliberately put outside premises so that meter readers did not have to gain access to the premises. This is true of my current home, my previous home (an apartment where all the meters were on the ground floor although the apartments covered 4 floors) and my mothers sheltered housing (she is 101 and cannot go out to read a meter).
If we are to have smart meters then they need to be positioned in a place that is convenient to the customer.
In my case Scottishpower have cancelled the installation of the smart meter!

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Guest

There are two parts involved – the meter, which needs to go pretty well where your existing meter is (both gas and electric) and a separate monitor. BG say: ” You can check how much energy you are using in pounds and pence as well as your meter readings through your smart energy monitor – which you can keep in a convenient place in your home “.

That’s OK. Are smart meters worth the cost we will all have to pay through our future bills? Will Brexit work? I don’t know but I doubt many people will alter their energy consumption habits to affect our bills. I’d rather the £11 billion they’ll cost (plus????) was set against Brexit costs or given to the NHS.

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Guest

I though smart meters came with a monitoring unit that the consumer can use to see the meter readings and check consumption in various ways. This would obviate the need to physically visit the meter. I have been in many old houses where the meter is high up on the wall adjacent to the front door and impossible to read without climbing on a short step-ladder – putting a new smart meter there would probably be the solution adopted but providing a monitor would greatly improve safety and convenience. Be aware that power companies are rushing the installation of smart meters before a universal standard has been adopted and implemented across the nation; only a cynic would suggest that that could be an attempt to lock consumers into their service since a change of supplier might require a further change of meter.

Guest
D'raj says:
8 December 2016

Reading all the comments above , I feel like I am conned by my presant energy company. They have already fitted the electric and gas smart meters but no sign of the IHD unit. Upon ringing the customer service, they said it will take up to 4-5 weeks to arrive, some time in new yew year as they run out of the unit. There was not much info about pros and cons and compatibility of smart meter provided by the energy company. just an installation date and if I miss that appoint I occur a charge. My fix contract finishes in two weeks time to revert to higher variable tariff. I am not sure if i will be able to move to a better deal with another energy provider.

Guest
David Hunt says:
4 April 2017

I was contacted this week by my energy supplier SSE to ask if I wanted new smart gas and electric meters. Two years ago my then supplier British Gas installed smart meters in my home, but these cannot be read by SSE. Last year Eon, who supplied my energy, offered me new smart meters. As I use a community switching service every year to try to minimise my energy bills this means that I could have new smart meters fitted every year as my supplier changes and their system cannot read my existing meters. As, at the end of the day, we consumers will pay for the meters in increased energy costs this is another total waste of our money. The Government needs to wake up to this situation and force energy companies to install meters which can be read by all suppliers, or to create a central meter reading authority to read meters and pass the information to the relevant companies.

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Guest

Hello David , as you found out “smart meters are not all the same, some are wireless transmitted, some are transmitted through the house wiring. Those transmitted through the wiring produce “dirty electricity ” and can effect remote house wiring wi-fi links and other communications devices reliant on a good mains supply . Some transmit -minute to minute-daily/weekly/monthly its all down to saving money for the public utilities-ie-profit. Smart meters can turn off domestic equipment and all electrical equipment that is modified to do that so that whole areas can be turned off in case of emergencies , in the shedding of loads electricity can be set so high anyone’s smart meter appliance will turn themselves off as well as technically,political motivation can enter into it , it can be transmitted over a phone line/radio/cellular/power line /wireless network or electronic receiver transmitter (ERT ) van comes round area and picks up data with a small receiver . Info= Pricing information/pre-pay info/disconnect/reconnect /alarm/loadshed instructions /programming of meter /upgrade to software /date/time . First they came for your fait money (internet banking) , then they came for your power supply-( government controlled ), then they come for you, does nobody understand whats happening ?

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Guest

Since electricity supplies can be switched out remotely, immediately and instantly at the substation from the relevant distribution control centre, smart meters will not make any difference to this potential action, but it very rarely happens except when an external emergency disrupts supplies. So far as I am aware individual gas supplies cannot be turned off by smart meters as they would require a motorised valve to be installed in the supply pipe. As has frequently been said, there are a lot of legitimate concerns over the smart meter programme and the cost of it, but the notion that electricity supply companies would either be given the power to cut supplies, or would have any commercial incentive to do so, is unsustainable. Moreover, since the electricity supply companies have no knowledge of what electrical apparatus is in any individual home they would not be in a position to isolate any particular appliance even if they had the legal power to do so. At the moment having a smart meter is not mandatory but if people wish to have one they should not be frightened of doing so; they can choose whether or not, and to what extent, they will use the monitoring device that comes with it.

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Guest

I don’t know about all smart meters, but all prepayment meters, either smart or dumb, can (and do) cut off the gas or leccy when your money has been used up.

Smart prepayment meters do at least have the advance that, when “the gas has gone”, no frantic search for the gas key is needed, nor is any trip to the nearest open convenience store with a working paypoint. Instead, a simple internet transaction can be used to restore the supply (always assuming you have (or can borrow or otherwise obtain) the cash needed.

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Guest

Thanks, Derek. I have no personal experience of prepayment meters; obviously they are technically different to standard meters.

The point I was making is that the installation of smart meters in itself is not a threat to our supplies or our civil liberties because the grids already have ways of controlling supplies. With prepayment meters consumers enter into a contract with the energy companies that permits interruption of supplies in the event of non-payment. Making on-line payments requires either a power supply or a charged-up device, of course.

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Guest

I understand that prepayment meters have an emergency credit facility. In the case of British Gas, this is £5 for electricity or gas: https://www.britishgas.co.uk/help-and-advice/Pay-As-You-Go-Energy/Account-queries/What-is-Emergency-Credit.html

There is a big difference between a prepayment meter turning off a gas or electricity supply because of lack of credit and a smart meter doing this (if it is possible) when the customer has paid their bills.

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Guest

You can notify your electricity company of essential electrical equipment – such as medical devices – so that if selective load shedding is needed those with such equipment can be protected, hopefully. That would seem a very positive use for discriminatory switching devices, potentially preventing the need otherwise to take affected patients into hospital or, worse, putting them in danger.

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Guest

Is there any evidence that the network power operators (electricity) and National Grid (gas) are going to use the smart meters belonging to consumers’ energy suppliers for altering power distribution?

I agree that if load shedding is needed in electricity distribution it could be useful to be able to exempt critical users individually by means of a command to their smart meter, if they have one, but so far as I am aware there is no protocol for this, no criteria for eligibility, and no proposal from Ofgem to introduce such a facility which would require a high degree of cooperation between the relevant network power operator and scores of energy supply companies.

The purpose of the existing notification system is to enable the power supply network to restore supplies in the event of an emergency power cut in order of priority by area, and to enable alternative emergency provision to be made for those households where there is a notified priority user if a power cut is likely to be prolonged beyond the resilience of the equipment. I doubt if it would be practical in the foreseeable future to use smart meters to achieve those purposes and in any case power supply management is not in the hands of the energy supply companies. It is managed on an area basis through sub-stations covering numerous properties and is area-wide on or off. For each substation there would be a record of how many priority cases there are and the maximum tolerable duration of a supply interruption. This would allow for a planned restoration of power following an unplanned or emergency power cut, or a profiled reduction and restoration of power in the event of a managed power cut, but not selectively for individual properties.

I don’t know why it has been suggested that there could be some political motive behind selective interruption of power supplies and although, if realistic, that would be a legitimate objection to the roll-out of the smart metering programme I cannot see that as valid in the present circumstances. As I said before, the means to interrupt power supplies already exists at network level and smart meters do not make any difference to that contingency so people need not be concerned about it in respect of smart meters.

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Guest

Currently you can record details with your electricity company – the one that distributes the power in your area – if you have particular reliance on supply. This gives certain priorities. If a smart meter can disconnect a supply this implies that it could selectively leave certain users connected under particular circumstances – a system beyond capacity temporarily fir example. I see little merit in smart meters, unless I can be convinced otherwise, but this could be a positive boon to those many people reliant on medical devices in their home.

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Guest

As far as I know there is no intention of using smart meters to turn off individual consumers and I recall being reassured about this before the roll out started. Here is what British Gas has to say on the matter: https://www.britishgas.co.uk/help-and-advice/Meters-meter-readings/Smart-Meters/whats-different-with-smart-meters/Will-customers-on-smart-meters-be-disconnected-remotely.html

Those who are dependent on electrical equipment would be well advised to make appropriate provision in case there is a local failure, as was pointed out last time this was discussed.

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Guest

Malcolm – So far as I am aware the network power operators [like UK Power Networks] do not have remote access to the smart meters installed by the energy supply companies.

I also see little merit in smart meters, but some people want them and all owners of new properties have no choice but to have them installed at the outset. I don’t think such consumers should be told fallaciously that smart meters are going to be used by energy companies to disrupt their energy supplies when it suits them, or to be used for some unspecified politically-motivated purpose to interfere with their consumption.

In my opinion meters should remain passive consumption recording devices and should not be used for energy management purposes, and I expect Ofgem to protect consumers from any such creeping development.

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Guest

BG say ” On those extremely rare occasions when this is necessary it will be possible to disconnect the meter remotely”. In other words, they can disconnect you remotely (or presumably selectively leave certain properties connected in the case of an unusual event). But they are saying they won’t use it to disconnect non-payers remotely.

Should a family member be dependent medically upon continuity of supply, rather than give all of them stand-by generators which will need to start automatically – at great cost to the NHS – this seems one of the very few (what are the others?) possible potential benefits of a smart meter for particular circumstances. I suppose the £11 billion they cost might have been better used to fund the NHS?

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Guest

From the BG article:

“Will customers on smart meters be disconnected remotely?
No. With smart meters, energy suppliers have no more powers to disconnect than with a standard meter. On those extremely rare occasions when this is necessary it will be possible to disconnect the meter remotely but for customers in payment difficulties, we will always look for alternatives to disconnection. With smart meters it should be possible for us to help customers having difficulty paying much earlier.”

There is no intention to use smart meters to turn off supplies to some customers.

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Guest

I said this above. However it seems the supply can be disconnected remotely, as the article says. So the potential positive use of smart meters exists. I wish there were more.

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Guest

In a street with 100 properties and, say, three priority supply protection cases each supplied by a different energy company, I don’t know how practical selective exemption from a power outage would be to achieve given that once such a system was introduced [and people no longer had standby equipment] it would have to be failsafe and swing into action reliably every time. We discussed all that some months ago, so to some extent this is a red herring, but since Duncan introduced the prospect of routine load-shedding and politically-motivated power cutting by use of smart meters, which might cause some anxiety, I considered it helpful to consumers to nail the point that it will not happen. I can appreciate the potential positive aspects of selective exemption from planned power shut-downs and for priority restoration of supplies after any power-cut whether planned or unplanned, but as I said previously there would need to be a protocol, criteria and a methodology worked out and approved by Ofgem before that could happen. None of those events are on the horizon.

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Guest

Smart Meters – not!
Over the last fortnight (from 3 May) there has ben extensive media promotion from various agencies exhorting people to change to Smart Meters. We have had Smart Meters for some time now and the following issues have come to light after having them installed:
1) Ours were installed by British Gas. The remote readout device showing your current and historical consumption, meter readings, etc., only works if the meter is communicating with the mobile phone network used to supply the data to your service provider, which in BG’s case is VodaPhone. Where we live, this signal is variable in quality (hence we left VodaPhone to go with the more reliable EE some time ago) and as a result we have found we are without the remote display information sometimes for days at a time, other times for several hours. BG tell us they are only concerned if they cannot get a reading for more than 14 days.
2) If you want to change supplier, there is a high chance of the new supplier either not being able to take over the meters for some considerable time (we have heard one case of 1 year+), or not being able to take them over for a significant amount of time leading to ‘estimated’ bills, something Smart Meters were supposed to put a stop to. Reading Smart Meters, to provide your supplier with readings, is not as straightforward as the old digital (or even cyclometer) meters – it requires some button pushing to get the values (you won’t get then from your remote display because it isn’t working due to lack of communication!). Am I being cynical in regarding this as a ‘stitch up’ to persuade you not to change supplier?
3) We found that the data supplied by the remote display didn’t actually provide us with anything we didn’t already know about our energy consumption. Our bills haven’t changed because we were already being careful.
4) Recent research in the Netherlands (University of Twente) indicates that some Smart Meters may be over charging when low consumption devices, such as LED illumination, are being used, especially if in conjunction with dimmers (note: at least two suppliers offer control packages with these). We have been unable to discover from BG whether our particular Smart Meter for electricity supply is one of those tested and found wanting so are reluctant to proceed further with plans to change to LED lighting.
My advice, don’t bother with them, instead focus on being careful what appliances you use and how you use them in order to save money and the environment.

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Guest

Thanks for the info on BG using cell-net communication plus using Vodaphone OD . I know there are several types of “smart meters ” working on different communication principles , some using the electricity cable or a van picks up a locally transmitted signal. , for example , and that each provider has their own particular meter. You have a point ( depending on the meter ) as to the pick up of ring-main induced interference due to switched mode control of lighting causing problems for smart meters.

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Guest

Just had a further thought – what about ‘new builds’. A new house/flat needs to have gas and/or electricity in it before sale. Will this mean that buyers will find themselves ‘stitched up’ by having to stick with the builders choice of supplier (no doubt from a ‘deal’ negotiated with a supplier) in order to get supposed benefits from a smart meter, or will they have to put up with the inconvenience of ‘estimated’ bills or providing their own readings to pay foe their usage? Another idea enthusiastically promoted by Government without it being thoroughly thought through by people with the expertise to understand and foresee actual or potential problems?

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Guest

After repeated efforts on my part (i.e. repeatedly ‘spelling it out’) I have finally extracted this statement from BG:

‘ The Smart meters record the energy usage exactly in the same way as the standard credit meters. The only difference is, they are able to provide us the readings automatically and you don’t have to submit the readings manually.
So, there should be no issues with the meter recording the energy after you upgrade your old CFLs to LEDs.’

Sounds good, but my question actually was ‘Is my meter one of those tested and found wanting by the University of Twente?’ Doubt I’ll ever get an answer to that. So I still don’t know if their will be problems with using LEDs with dimmers in my house.

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Guest

To get the new house up and running the builder will have an energy supplier. As soon as the buyer purchases the house they can change to a different supplier.

As I understand the current generation of smart meters, they should be “universal” – usable with any supplier that supports smart meters.

I not only doubt the cost benefits of smart meters, but get increasingly irritated at the TV advertising promoting them – at no doubt considerable cost to us all and perhaps even mis-selling.

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Guest

If you have an electricity smart meter you can use the display to show the instantaneous demand in watts of whatever is switched on at the time. Turn off everything else and it is easy to check how much power an individual item uses. Just remember to switch the fridge and freezer back on afterwards.

As far as I know, all new houses will have smart meters. I wish Which? would point out to readers that no-one has to have smart meters and push for the industry to make this clear in the advertising that the public is currently subject to.

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Guest

I’d take some convincing that many people will bother to check their appliance power using a smart meter (their instruction leaflet also tells them) and to just what use they would put that knowledge. Would we really permanently alter our energy usage by looking at a smart meter? We use what we use from necessity, not choice.

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Guest

My comment was to explain to Old_Deuteronomy that it would be easy to do a rough check that would establish if a smart meter was seriously in error.

Many use tumble dryers on sunny days like today, when they could hang their washing in their garden. Others could turn off the radiators in rooms that or not used or get rid of incandescent bulbs. I know some people who are very economical with energy but more who are wasteful. I carelessly left the heating on last night and the smart meter display was flashing red this morning to remind me.

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Guest

There you go, technology marches on! If a front page report in today’s issue (6 May) of The Daily Telegraph is to be believed ‘Technology failure makes smart meters ‘go dumb”. Many (majority?) installed smart meters are incompatible with the new national communications network, an issue described by Martin Lewis (Moneyexpert.com) as a “c**k up”. Who will pay for all this bad promotion? The consumer, of course, through higher bills to rectify the mistake, by being ‘stuck’ with a poor deal if wanting to maintain features of smart metering, or by paying ‘estimated bills (unless submitting their own readings which, as I said above, are not as simple to obtain from a ‘dumb’ smart meter compared with an ‘unsmart’ meter). All this was supposed to save money, instead it costs more money. Plus ça change …

Guest
DavidBD says:
23 May 2017

Not sure if I’ve seen all the comments, so hope I’m not repeating: Does anyone have experience of whether smart meters will integrate with my solar panels?

Guest
dispondent says:
24 June 2017

Ridiculous situation. Having recently changed my supplier I am now into my third smartmeter installation.
1. Old elec meter became time expired and replaced with smart;
2. Changed supplier and had two new smarts installed (mainly for convenience of not having to struggle with reading every month);
3. Changed my supplier again and now awaiting installation of new smarts (due incompatibility) – this was never mentioned when previous installation occurred. I am accepting new meters because the existing are almost impossible to read due viewing angle/light reflection/lack of contrast/rapid scrolling of display. I want the convenience of automatic reading.
The cost of all this must be horrendous- and we consumers finish up paying!

Guest
TonyA says:
3 July 2017

I have had a smart meter from Ovo for five months and whilst I have had some doubtful bills for gas I have not yet received a bill for electricity. I can see on my smart meter display exactly how much energy I have used and what it has cost and I can login to my online account where I can also see my usage and the associated cost, so why cannot Ovo give me a correct bill?

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Guest

Tony relating to OVO there have been many complaints which have reached the national newspapers on “smart ” meters -quote-not being set up properly resulting in exactly the problems you are experiencing. Having said that on another website where the poster complains about not receiving a bill with a “smart ” meter a statement was obtained from OVO that it should not take 3 months , although a subsequent email from them said -quote – it would take up to 16 weeks and that it wasn’t their fault but they had to wait till the National Data base was updated .Another poster said their staff was overworked but OVO replied and said -send an email to- : socialmedia@ovoenergy.com another poster was told it would take 3 months for the remote to show the CORRECT information.

Guest
Louise says:
25 August 2017

Thanks David for very useful OVO comment! OVO contacted me this week wanting to install smart meter, I put your argument to the guy and he agreed better to wait til 2018 when 2nd generation smart meters, likely to be compatible with other suppliers, are due out.