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Smart meters, are they good or bad for us?

In this blog we will take a look at smart meters, what are they, what do they do and are they good or bad for us.

Up until recently we have only had dumb meters which simply show the amount of gas or electricity we have used. Bills are determined by the frequent reading of the meters either by us or by professional meter readers who visit us on a regular basis. This can lead to under or over paying in some cases and possible financial difficulties.

Several years ago some clever person came up with the idea of a smart meter, which is designed to automatically send meter readings electronically to suppliers, via wireless networks and more recently through a secure national communication network called the DCC. This removes the need for visits to people’s houses to read meters, and we should all receive accurate bills and not estimates.

Each smart meter comes with an in-home display (IHD), which will show you how much energy you use in real time, and how much it’s costing. So theoretically smart meters should help you to better control your energy use. The idea is that, when faced with their consumption, consumers will be more likely to switch off lights or electrical items that are on standby, or to adopt energy-saving measures. As a result the customers will be nudged into cutting their overall consumption – though early figures show cuts are surprisingly low.

The Government wants every home in the country to have smart meters, and aims to roll them out as standard across the country by the end of 2020. So far only 8 million out of 27 million homes have signed up to change. Just be aware there is no legal obligation for you to have one, by the end of this blog you may decide it is not for you – we at Ecofrenzy will not be joining the scheme!

Benefits of smart meters

Smart meters bring a wide range of benefits. For example:

  • Smart meters give you near real time information on energy use – expressed in kilowatt hours as well as pounds and pence. They also enable us to check weekly and monthly consumption.
  • During the installation process installers are supposed to provide you with energy efficiency guidance as part of the visit. These provisions are outlined in the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP).
  • You will be able to better manage your energy use, save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Smart meters will bring an end to estimated billing – you will only be billed for the energy you actually use, helping you with monthly budgeting.
  • In time smart meters will make switching supplier smoother and faster, making it easier to benefit from the best deals.
  • You will also be able to share data with third parties (such as switching sites) if you want them to give you advice on the best tariff for you.
  • In the future smart meters may offer improved ‘time-of-use tariffs’. These offer cheaper rates at off-peak times or when to smooth out national energy use through the day. You could time the use of energy sucking appliances such as tumble dryers to come on only at off peak times to help save money.
  • The end of having to remember to provide meter readings and/or have a stranger come into your home to read your meter.

Benefits for pre-payment customers

Smart meters can work in prepayment or credit mode. Prepayment customers will see some particular benefits from having a smart meter. For example:

  • Your energy supplier may be able to offer you new and more flexible ways of topping up your meter that don’t require you to visit a shop.
  • You’ll be able to see your balance on your easy-to-access In Home Display (IHD), so you don’t unknowingly run out of credit.
  • Your smart meter can be set to top up automatically, so that if you do run out of credit at night or when the shops are shut you won’t be left without power.

As with everything, the smart meter suppliers and Smart Energy (GB) like to give all the benefits of the scheme and conveniently ignore some of the realities occurring in the home and beyond. Here we give a more balanced view.

Cost of installation

We are told that a smart meter installed is free, however, you’ll pay indirectly through your energy bills. Overall, the smart meter roll-out will cost almost £11bn, and it’s estimated it will cost every home about £400 for 2 meters.

What if you decide not to have smart meters? We seriously doubt that you will be able to claim back your £400.

Earlier we mentioned that during the installation process installers are supposed to provide you with energy efficiency guidance. EcoFrenzy have carried out a very small survey in our area and not one person mentioned that at the time of installation they had been given any kind of guidance. It would be interesting to see the results of a much larger survey.

We should however mention that some suppliers provide information post installation that will help reduce bills.

In reality it is not in the interest of PLC energy companies to promote this idea, they have share-holders and reduced energy usage means lower profits.

Will smart meters help us save money?

Potentially yes, but so far not mutch. As previously mentioned, their introduction is set to cost consumers £11bn, but a report by Dr. Tania Mathias MP shows they cut average consumer energy consumption by just 3% or less. Consumers are also predicted to save money by being more efficient with energy used at home. However, smart meters will only save you money if you use and act on the information provided by your in-home display to cut your consumption.

If the savings are a mere 3% of an average £1300 gas and electric bill per year then you could save £39 per year. That represents a gross saving of just over £1 billion across all 27 million homes in UK. That doesn’t seem like a great return for the consumer, so it’s not surprising that doubts are being cast on the scheme. To make it worse in the short term, smart meters may actually cost us money. Scottish Power and SSE blamed their 2017 price rises partly on the cost of installing smart meters.

This is where EcoFrenzy comes to the rescue! We provide a huge range of ways to save you energy and money with simple lifestyle changes. Have a look, and if you use some of our ideas you will quickly see the power consumption and cost reductions on your smart meter display.

Smart meters will need replacing around every 10 years – this is more frequently than current gas and electricity meters. We can only assume that we will see permanently higher bills to constantly renew these meters?

If you are worried about a smart meter then you can buy a low cost energy monitor and install it yourself. This is a device that you simply clip on to your power cable to give you a good estimate of the amount of electricity you are currently using.

Switching supplier

All of the Big Six energy companies, plus smaller firms including First Utility, Ovo, Utilita and Utility Warehouse, are installing smart meters in customers’ homes, but what happens when you want to change supplier?

Long term, smart meters should make it quicker and simpler. In theory, they can be instructed to send information about your energy use to a new energy company instantaneously. However, in the short term, smart meters may actually be a barrier to switching. If you already have a first-generation (SMETS1) smart meter, it may turn ‘dumb’ if you switch energy supplier or in some cases switch tariff with your current supplier. This can happen if your chosen supplier is unable to operate your smart meter. In this case, you’d need to send meter readings again.

It is estimated that currently 866,000 of the 8 million smart meters installed could be operating in ‘dumb’ mode. On a more positive note it is hoped that by the end of 2018 any first-generation meters already installed will be upgraded remotely so that all energy suppliers can operate them.

Unfortunately, this will not help one group of customers who have found that their meter could not supply readings because the mobile signal in their area was not up to the job. Maybe a test to check local signal should be part of the installation process.

Finally if you are one of the more recent recipients of a meter you should have received a second generation (SMETS 2) meter, this can talk to the 40 or so energy providers that have signed up to the scheme, job done!

Impact of meters on health

Smart Energy GB say ‘Public Health England’ has tested equipment that comes closest to the specification set out for smart meters. It says that the evidence to date suggests exposure to the radio waves that the equipment produces doesn’t pose a risk to health. There will be further research on the actual equipment that will be installed when it becomes available.’

Sounds very wishy washy to us

If you want to find out more then we suggest you visit Stop Smart Meters. They give evidence that smart meters each give out more microwave energy than a mobile phone by between 160 and 800 times. They also discuss some of the 5,000 studies showing that artificial electric fields such as those produced by smart meters are harmful to us, but this information is being suppressed at a high level.

Who really benefits?

So why are we installing smart meters? The power firms love them because, in theory at least, they do away with meter readers. They should also lead to fewer billing complaints – a huge problem for suppliers – which tend to be caused by human error.
With your consent they can also use your data for marketing purposes.
Your data can also be sold to other companies.
Win win for the suppliers.

Are smart meters secure?

Ministers have been warned that smart energy meters will leave householders vulnerable to cyber attacks. The threat is so great that the mass roll out of second generation smart meters (SMETS 2) has been delayed.

The intelligence agency GCHQ is said to have raised concerns over the security of the meters, which could enable hackers to steal personal details and defraud consumers by tampering with their bills.

In some foreign countries hackers have already attacked smart meter networks to defraud customers. The cyber criminals are able to artificially inflate meter readings, making bills higher. They then try to intercept payments, and if they simply skim off the difference between the real reading and the false reading, energy companies will think the bill has been paid normally.

Another potential problem is the meters being used as a ‘Trojan horse’ to access other computers and gadgets around the home if the meters are able to ‘talk’ to the other devices. That would potentially give hackers the ability to steal personal information that could be sold on to other criminals.

There are also fears that countries such as North Korea might carry out a state-sponsored cyber attack to create a power surge that would damage the National Grid.

We are already seeing an uncontrolled rise in cyber crime and if the manufacturers and suppliers of smart meters have not taken the threat seriously then maybe we should. Who will be responsible for thefts from individuals? Will it be down to the energy suppliers to repay the customer?

If you are worried by the above then you have the right to refuse a Smart Meter. Remember, they are not mandatory. 

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