Smart Meters – what’s it all about?

If your electricity supplier told you they were going to replace your meter with a new one that contained the technology to directly communicate your meter reading, so that the meter no longer had to be physically read, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. So, what’s all the fuss about Smart Meters?

Big Picture

The ‘big picture’ is that Government wants to drive the more efficient use of energy and, if electricity and gas suppliers have real-time measures of how much is being consumed, generation, extraction and importation can be managed more effectively. By ensuring that every home and small business have the new meters by 2020; adding a display that enables the consumer to see how much energy they are using and therefore take steps to reduce their usage, then everything is wonderful.

However:

The first version of a smart meter would only work to the provider who supplied it and could not be ‘switched’, as we are all encouraged to do.

A mobile phone signal is needed – not good in parts of Devon, or through granite and cob walls.

Not compatible with domestic green sources of power.

Minor glitches not managed well and exaggerated in the press.

Some consumers were led into endangering their welfare, by cutting use in response to the display unit readings.

We are creatures of habit and the expected savings, that would have offset the cost of the programme, have not been realised.

Not all suppliers were geared up to install meters. Some will install "on-demand", whilst with others, you will have to wait until they are ready.

Some small suppliers have gone out of business, having installed meters.

The roll-out is running a long way behind schedule and over cost.

The National Audit Office is not impressed.

A brighter future?

The second generation meters are now being installed and these go through an intermediary that can facilitate changes of a supplier.

“Other issues are being addressed.”

What works?

With real-time metering there is no need for estimated bills and payment plans can be set more accurately.

If you have a second generation meter, switching suppliers can be accommodated.

If you struggle to read a meter, then they are a good idea.

You might change your habits and save some money.

There isn’t a charge (but we all pay in the end).

You don’t have to have an in-home display unit.

The installation process is usually quick and efficient.

They’re fun if you are a ‘techy’ person.

The government have backed-off of compulsory installation, but our view is that in the end the government and the industry will get it somewhere near right, systems will improve and really there is nothing to fear. In fact, if estimated bills or reading a meter is a problem for you, then it’s worth a call to your supplier to see if you can get a second generation meter; otherwise, wait until your supplier gets in touch.

Some quick tips on ‘Switching’.

If you really don’t want to leave your present supplier, then at least make sure you are on their best available tariff.

If you use a comparison web site, make sure that you select the all-providers option otherwise, you will be directed to companies that they have a financial relationship with.

Beware of exit fees on fixed term agreements and more particularly, check what tariff you are being offered when the period ends.

Using an agent to manage your switching is paying someone to do something you can easily do yourself.

There are a number of charitable organisations that will help you compare and switch if you need help.

If there is a significant change in your levels of use e.g. more or fewer people in the house, installation of a green energy source, change of heating system etc., then it’s wise to monitor your use for a while and then use the data to compare again.

A number of providers have gone out of business; don’t worry – the ‘safety-net’ arrangements work and don’t cause too much inconvenience.

 

Martin Rich

 

 

Community Projects Advisor

www.devoncommunities.org.uk
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