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back to article UK.gov threatens to 'pull plug' on smart meter rollout

Concerns were raised during a committee hearing in Parliament yesterday over the government's £12bn plan to rapidly roll out smart energy meters in the UK by 2019. A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers on lower incomes, the House of Commons Public Accounts committee was warned. "Poorer …

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But Smart Meters don't deliver for consumers...

I mean, knowing your total output every fifteen minutes doesn't really give you control, now does it? Smart meters (in their current form) are good for energy generators and for suppliers buying wholesale in the market, not for consumers.

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Anonymous Coward

When we bought our house earlier this year it had one in that told me how many kwh I was using and I was happy with that. Then British Gas decided to send us a new one, and I really had no idea what the fuck it was trying to tell me. I'm not sure why the picture of a house randomly looked very sad one day, and I don't know how it was working out some of the random costs.

Sure I could probably have read the manual and set up the costs and figured it all out, but then I could just not use it at all and continue to sensibly just turn shit off which doesn't need to be left on.

Guess which one I did?

It is now just sat in a box somewhere.

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FAIL

Oh yes

I take it you are referring to one of those little plastic things that have another little thing you clamp over the mains to tell you how much you're using?

I'm with you - they are complete waste of space. If I turn the oven off and I see my 'leccy consumption go up then ...well ...then what??? Bugger-all, basically. I can switch the oven off again to make the consumption go down, but that's not going to cook my pizza is it? Knowing how much you are using isn't going to magically make you use less. Common sense says switch the bloody oven off when your pizza is done; I don't need a little plastic box to tell me that!

I'm sure these things are handed out as just part of the fake eco/green bollox that companies try and get on the bandwagon of. In reality, of course, the production of these things is a waste of materials, almost certainly causes a fair bit of pollution (probably in China), and serves no practical purpose whatsoever.

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Anonymous Coward

Can be useful...

I bought myself one of these doodads and it sits on my desktop telling me just how much I'm spending.

Mostly, it's useless - it was an obsession of mine for a while watching exactly how much energy it consumed when I turned on the toaster, or fired up the lawn mower.

I still keep an eye on it, but mostly first thing in the morning, before anything is on and last thing at night before heading for bed.

At this point, it can be useful - if you know what your lowest reading should be with all non-essentials switched off, you can easily note if something is on that shouldn't be.

Ok, fair enough, it *Should* be pretty damn obvious if something that drains a lot of power is on - but it's those little things that add up.

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Focusing on failed government initiatives?

Gahd, she's gonna trawling *a lot* of documents...

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WTF?

Why should consumers pay for smart meter replacements?

Meters benefit utilities, they are there for utilities and they are sealed by utilities.

You don't pay for petrol meters, etc. so why can't the beneficiary pay for the meter as they have done in other jurisdictions.

If consumers pay for the meter, this infers ownership, as in you can take it with you when you move. I DON'T THINK SO!

This whole concept of bleeding the consumer dry is wrong. Let the utilities pay, they have plenty of ill gotten gains.

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FAIL

So who do you think pays for petrol meters? And where do they get the money?

So if the electricity companies pay for the meters, where do they get the money? Oh yeah, that's right, their customers pay extra, and the electricity companies pay for them. Doesn't mean you own it, no more than the power cables that run along the countryside to bring power to your house.

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WTF?

Bet you never paid for your 'dumb' meter

The gas.petrol metering is part of the cost of building a station, kind of hard to do business without some measurement device. You'll note they don't add a surcharge to your bill for using the meter.

Gas and electric companies have traditionally provided meters, part of the cost of running a pipe or mains feed into your house.

The power vendors gain from them as they can remote read, limit power consumed, even detect meter by-passing (fraud) or suspemd service. It's only since private utility companies have appeared on the scene have outstretched hands been begging from the government.

These are mandated changes that cut power companies overhead and I can almost guarantee you, as a consumer, will not receive penny one as a reduction in your bill.

Why is it that most of the profit oriented North America is not charging for these meters? Simple, because they know customers wouldn't stand for it and the power utilities are the winners - by sensitizing users to cost and reducing demand.

Funny how cost-cutting Cameron slashes away at citizens benefits whilst propping up industry. Something wrong there.

BTW, next time you fill up, tell the cashier to keep the change as your donation for paying for the meter. That look on his face, registering what he thinks of you, is exactly the same pricipal of you buying your own smart meter - NUTS!

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"Let the utilities pay"

Who pays the utilities then? We do of course. We always pay in the end and it is actually cheaper for us to pay them directly than to introduce more layers of bureaucracy that skim a "handling" fee at every opportunity.

If you don't believe me, just ponder on Defence procurement for a bit...

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Call me cynical

Look at that, £12Bn sitting earmarked for a non-essential project that work hasn't begun on and the ministers admit there's time to kill it before the money is spent. Given how easily this dough could go on something more deserving, what's the bet that the smart meter project goes ahead, balloons to twice the price, takes half as long again as projected, and barely works?

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Anonymous Coward

And I will call you cynical

The project is with a 10-15 year span so the per-annum money is not that much.

Further to this, benefits to the economy in terms of job creation, etc during the roll-out are on par with other form of economic stimuli like let's say yet another road widening or something along the lines.

The problem here is elsewhere.

This continues to be a utility-centric and to be more exact retail arm centric project. The same infrastructure as used for metering can be used for alarms, security, device telemetry and god knows what else. Making it support all of these is probably under 5% incremental on top of the 12Bn and there is an immense benefit in doing so. In fact the whole thing will pay back instead of being a subsidy with a ROI in the hundreds of percents if done so.

However because the entire project is driven by "customer requirements" none of that is on the cards.

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RE: And I will call you cynical

"The project is with a 10-15 year span so the per-annum money is not that much."

Well, at £12bn then it's about £1bn per-annum then isn't it?

The math wasn't difficult, but your failure to state it probably also explains why you think that figure "is not that much". Because like many people in our sad country nowadays, you're not too great with numbers.

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Not that much?

Its still 12bn quid of other people's money on a project which will deliver no useful outcome.

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and then gets scraped and replaced by something thats costs more and does even less

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WTF?

One tenth to one fifteenth of $12Bn is not that much?? Maybe not in the wider scheme of things, but certainly enough to pay thirty two thousand people a £25K yearly salary for all those years. I'd be willing to bet you could do that and pay those thirty two thousand folk to twiddle their thumbs and still have the same or better level of economic benefit as this metering project.

You mention roads - let's dump the 12Bn into a UK-wide road fixing fund, or a fund to offer free/subsidised insulation upgrades to homes, or modernising parts of the leaky energy transmission network - anything apart from this waste.

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There's no benefit to this

What's this crap going to do for me?

Is it going to reduce my bills? No. I have the same options now as I will then - turn stuff off, or not.

Is it going to make the bills more accurate? No, I already input meter readings online.

I already have historical energy usage shown on the company's website, down to how much energy we use per day, both for gas and electricity. Its averaged over 3 months but thats good enough, I don't need real-time data to tell me I use more power in winter months - its bloody obvious.

Its another "green" scam - if you want a meter to show you real-time usage then go buy one, they're £15-30 or so and any idiot can install it (its just a current clamp anyway).

£12bn - what a load of bullshit, some politico has to have trousered a load of cash for this.

The only people benefiting will be the power companies - and we'll be paying for it as bloody usual.

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What will it do for you ?

Well as the idea of the "smart meter" is it allows HOURLY pricing (assuming it's the same "smart meters" we're getting in norway by 2015) so when demand is lower overnight such heavy items as washing machines can be set to run on timers to reduce your bills, or to charge up storage heaters (remember them) . . . However as they require a constant internet connection, maybe sorting out the ISPs with their "fair use" aka "trying to actually use the service you pay for" limits first would be smarter.

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Holmes

Smarrt meters aren't the same as Economy 7 meters

Here in the UK we've have what are called 'Economy 7' meters for decades (7 hours per night at reduced cost) =. They employ a simple RF switch to toggle between economy prices and normal rates. The smart metres they are rolling out now don't really offering anything beyond the functionality we already have.

Economy 7 is a joke anyway, most providers actually charge more for daytime usage if you accept an Eco7 plan, you are more likely to pay more overall. After all you can't move most of your usage - you won't be cooking or watching TV at 3 a.m. The washing machine/dishwasher is about all that can be scheduled to a late night slot - assuming that they don't make so much noise that it would prevent you sleeping. Even then you're limited to washing one load of clothes in the 'eco' period unless you want to get up early to start another, a family home would generally produce multiple machine loads a day.

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Meh

Many years ago, in a rented house,

I had an *inverted* Economy 7 supply ... it did cheap rate during the day. I was there for a year and it was still the same when I left.

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The difference is.....

"Smart Meters" will be able to charge extra for "time of use" FORCING you to EAT outside "prime times". With 1/2 hourly billing, it's exactly the same as eco 7. But in 1/2 hour increments. To force people out of consumption between 16:00 - 19:00 the price will be raised. So in effect Eco 7, but Eco 24 in reality.

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They're right to be nervous. I see no evidence of proper consultation on this. Most of DECC's input seems to be coming from an industry with little or no experience of a project of this kind. Sure, the industry people know what they're doing but, as (apparently) envisaged, is it in the public interest? Let's have proper consultation and a range of sensible options. Without that we're heading for yet another big project failure at public expense.

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It's a Worldwide phenomenon

These muppet meters are in every nook and cranny of the planet, and we will be slaves to them forever. Years ago, if you didn't pay your water rates, nothing could be done. With water meters now, they can "trickle feed" your supply, so that you get a bath full per day. Without metering, that's impossible. Not that I don't pay my water rates, I have to, as I am a Bailiff for Utility Companies. I just see things from both sides, and would NEVER allow a "Smart Meter" inside my property.

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Anonymous Coward

Smart

Would you believe; partially intelligent?

Would you believe; not so clever?

Would you believe; stupid?

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Would you believe we need to use the Cone of Silence?

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Flame

What benefits?

Bear in mind this got included because some energy company paid one of their Lordships to *have* it included in the relevant legislation.

It (in principle) eliminates *all* meter readers (which they like) and facilitates remote cut off (which they like) and lets them change the tariff your on in near real time (which they like).

And they will probably not be too expensive as they will get the ones the US have been using with some changes to quote in metric units. Of course they won't have the security issues already found in the US meters because well they will meet the relevant UK standards (not sure what they are exactly, much like those insulin pumps El Reg has reported on ).

So what's in it for the UK consumer? Well they *could* be designed to shift you to the best fit for your choice of tariff (cheapest, most "green", most energy sourced locally etc). No actual *promise* to do so, just a possible capability.

BTW Those nice "whole house" energy displays were (and AFAIK still are) *optional* (and 3rd party units can do the job just as well). So might not get one even if you liked them.

UK gas meters are *designed* to be +/- 2% correct *except* the ultrasonic digital types which are allowed -2/+3%. A design dating from the 1850's can be 1% accurate (not a transistor in sight) but they could not make it work with with the materials technology of the 1850's.

I'll take a wild guess that 150 yrs later it would be possible *if* the British Standards required that level of accuracy.

Britards, perhaps it is once again time to put pen to paper and suggest the relevant BS should be tightened (It's greener and with gas prices at an all time high fairer) and make your feelings on "smart" meters known to your elected representatives.

They don't have to do much and it saves HMG about £12Bn (who else do you think will be paying for this govt initiative).

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Ummm

"...it saves HMG about £12Bn (who else do you think will be paying for this govt initiative)."

er, the taxpayer? the bill payer? Y'know - us

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Unhappy

Ammendment needed

"A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers on lower incomes,"

"A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers"

There.

I was going to put

A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers other than energy bosses", but realised they most likely don't pay taxes anyway, so was a little pointless.

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Happy

Amendment needed

"A gap exists in communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers"

"A gap exists between the ears of those communicating the benefits of smart meters to taxpayers"

There

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We tried these in California...

Our local utility (investor owned Pacific Gas and Electric) did this in the last year with terrible results. The biggest problem is that when they install all those meters, they occasionally get the numbers mixed up. This results in higher bills for some and corresponding lower bills for others (does your neighbor use more or less than you do?). Those that get the higher bills complain, and the others hare happy. Those that complain are VERY public and have willing ears available.

Of course, with a "proper" PR campaign in advance of the rollout with the participation of the the mouthpieces of the complainers a whole bunch of things could happen. The problem is that there is no political will to educate the public, given the "take it or leave it" attitude of those involved (government AND utilities).

(*SIGH*)

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Devil

Getting the meters mixed up...

Is pretty much 'situation normal' in the UK - I've lived in several places where a large property had been broken up into flats, and there's a cupboard full of meters with no indication which flat they belong to. The owner's don't know, and neither do the utility company - just adopt one you like the look of, and pay the bills for it. The only excitement comes on the rare occasions when some meter-reading pleb turns up and allocates a reading to each flat at random. Then you spend 3 months getting the reading from 'your' meter reallocated to your account.

If you want it sorted out properly their suggested solution it to arrange a day when everyone is going to be home and a meter reader can turn up - with a view to switching on all the appliances in each flat in turn and seeing which dials spin faster, and then labelling the meters with a flat number. Oddly enough this hardly ever happens, since getting a bunch of people to coordinate a day off work in order to be (almost certainly) stood up by the meter reader is rather difficult.

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Or...

stick a tone tracer on it.

Not hard really.

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Anonymous Coward

not that hard.

turn off everythin in *your* flat: see which meter stops spinning. Turn everything on in *your* flat: see which meter starts spinning. Obviously easier if you chose a quiet time of day when everyone else is out.

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Mushroom

What is the point?

I know I want to use less power the quarterly ,ever rising, bills tell me that much. I've switched all the bulbs to energy saving versions, nothing gets left on stand-by. We only heat the house enough to the keep the baby alive. What the fuck else is a smart meter going to do for me? Other than increase my bills yet further and make some prick of a politician feel better at the next Climate Increase/Decrease Drama Panic International Cock Waving Conference.

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Agreed

Since moving in 5 years ago we've implemented almost every energy-saving measure available (even including a new boiler), and the house is miles easier to keep warm, but the bills have still gone up faster than I can get the insulation etc down.

Loving the name of your conference though!

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Devil

The sooner........

They kill the miss begotten plan to hand even more taxpayers money to the energy companies the better.

There are many, many ways to better spend that sort of money on energy saving. The only benefit I can see is that it will allow them to rip us all off with the excuse of higher charges at peak times. You can bet it doesn't get cheaper off peak though.

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Since the main benefiters from installing smart meters will be the electric suppliers then make them pay for having them installed. After all they are the ones that will save money in the long run by firing off all the meter reading employees.

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Meh

@mark12

Which they will take out of your bill anyway.

Now if you say "Take it out of their *profits*" that might cool them off a bit.

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Anonymous Coward

Smart how?

Perhaps I'm missing something, but how does a smart meter improve people's lives, especially the poor, which is the general suggestion I've been perceiving from people pushing these things?

The only benefit is that the utility companies can sack all their meter readers and pass the savings onto the shareholders, not the customers. Bills won't go down.

They use stupid claims such as estimated bills resulting in poor people over-paying and being robbed of their money, but just how far out are estimates? You're as likely to under-pay than over-pay, and you still only pay for what you use in the end, either when your meter is finally read or you phone the number on the card they leave you and supply your own reading.

Smart meters are the utility company equivalent of self-serve tills, and I bloody hate them too. I'm yet to go through one without a problem occurring, usually it freezing which requires a dribbling Neanderthal to come over and reset it, or a bottle of wine raising an alarm, requiring the same Neanderthal to come over and check whether I'm 18.

Oh, and another claimed 'benefit' of smart meters is that I can check my usage in realtime. Wowser! How boring my life was before this. The irony being that I have to go online to check my realtime usage - which burns even more electricity, allowing me to watch my own virtual meter ticking over as I burn electricity watching it tick over... Time to contact a stockbroker and buy EDF shares, methinks.

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Megaphone

"just how far out are estimates?"

British Gas sent me a series of rude letters wanting about £250

I gave them a meter reading.

They asked for £2.63 after that reading.

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Good solid rant you have there

I had to call over the 'dribbling neanderthal' to authorise a pack of party poppers, if you can believe that. Apparently spoons are also on the list, because (I'm not joking) "junkies use them to brew smack"!

I refuse to have a water meter fitted - my bill in my (metered) 1 bed flat (I was hardly ever in it!) was the same 6 years ago as my 'rateable value' on a 3-bed house now - no way am I having a meter.

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FAIL

Water meter...

Hear Hear! I also refuse to pay for food based on the quantity of it I use...

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In addition to the utility companies sacking all their meter readers, they can also sack all the connectors/disconnectors and still change you for the privilege. That way some idiot in a call centre can disconnect the wrong person, although sending out a twat to disconnect you at the meter doesn’t seem to work either

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3826915.stm

After all, there's no point in ripping off the wealthy, they have education and lawyers, much easier to go after a soft target like the poor, there's probably some charitable organisation willing to pay the reconnection charge out of their limited resources so that some poor person doesn’t freeze to death in the middle of winter.

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@Herby

But assuming PG&E have not changed in the 12 years since I was in California then before "smart meters" you would have had accurate bills because they come round to read your meter *EVERY* month (seemed to be no concept of an "estimated" bill) .... side effect of this was in the house we rent was that we had to leave the side gate to the house unlocked at all times to ensure PG&E had access to the meters ... fortunately this didn't matter as in Cupertino crime seemed non-existant (well, apart from one armed robbery at the bank at the end of our road!)

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Anonymous Coward

"... in Cupertino crime seemed non-existant (well, apart from one ..."

I'm sure there's potential for an Apple/Steve Jobs joke here somewhere...

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Anonymous Coward

I think they're a brilliant idea.

Just like getting rid of chequebooks.

What's wrong with China shutting down our entire finance system when chequebooks go?

What's wrong with China destroying our national grid, and throwing the country into darkness, by overloading power stations, by switching off all the residential electricity demand in the middle of winter?

I think it's a great idea, there are too many old women in old people's homes. A good bout of pneumonia will clear a few out.

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Facepalm

I've got one of those plug in monitors...

..and all it tells me is that...

my flat screen TV uses 3 times more electricity than my old analogue TV

strip light fittings use as much electricity as the actual tube (eg, 60w = 120w consumption)

my house uses around 300w during the night

It does save me money though - the batteries went flat in it and I have not replaced them!!

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Some plug-in watt monitors are very poor at accurately detecting low power use especially the ones which clamp around your house meter cable.

E.g. my LCD screen uses 150w according to the gizmo that NPower sent to me.

I went and bought a £3.99 watt monitor from Clas Ohlsen which you plug your appliance into directly, rated for a minimum current of 5w, and on that my LCD screen uses 38W. Its rated at 40W max on the back of the screen so seems more accurate.

Better monitors exist which start at 1W, at about £25.

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Hacked

Surely the main reason this project should never happen is that it will be a field day for hackers. How long until the security is bypassed, weeks, days, hours?

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Even if the units don't have a remote kill...

...someone buggering about with your total units used is going to cost.

It has the incentive for a hacker to ramp yours up while he ramps his down to keep the numbers adding up at the source.

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