back to article Watt the f... Dim smart meters caught simply making up readings

Some smart meters might more accurately be described as fake meters because they present false readings about energy consumption. A recent study from researchers at University of Twente (UT) and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) has found that three-phase static (electronic) energy meters, which are replacing …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Errrmmm....

    I thought the point of 'smart' meters was to do things like allow remote reading, clever monitoring etc. Why do they need to use a completely different method of measuring usage? Surely you just need to add a little module that reads the traditional meter?

    Or am I being naive?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Errrmmm....

    It's "alternative billing".

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Re: Errrmmm....

    "Or am I being naive?"

    Of course you are. They're digital devices. They must be right - it's all there in numbers on the display and we always trust measuring devices with numbers.

  4. John G Imrie Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Re: Errrmmm....

    People have gone to Jail over numbers, see the Post Office Horizon Scandle

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: Errrmmm....

    "...three-phase static (electronic) energy meters, which are replacing traditional electromechanical meters, can exaggerate energy consumption by as much as 582 per cent".

    Now we know exactly why suppliers, at any rate, are so keen to install those things.

  7. druck
    Flame

    Re: Errrmmm....

    Before anyone gets too worked up; all UK domestic supply is single phase, and won't be using these 3 phase meters.

  8. Paranoid android

    Re: Errrmmm....

    Analog meters are inherently more correct than digital meters. Ask any electricity teacher.

    Analog meters work on direct electromagnetism effects (integrating them over time), whereas digital meters perform sampling of voltage measurements over some circuitry (performing linear curve fitting and integrating that).

  9. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    Re: Errrmmm....

    Before anyone gets too worked up; all UK domestic supply is single phase, and won't be using these 3 phase meters.

    Right, so at worst they'll only exaggerate energy consumption by 194 per cent, tops.

  10. Stevie Silver badge

    Re: Errrmmm....

    You didn't correct for RMS.

  11. Dave Stevenson

    Re: Errrmmm....

    "Before anyone gets too worked up; all UK domestic supply is single phase, and won't be using these 3 phase meters."

    Nope. I have 3-phase at home.

    A previous owner had a swimming pool with a 3 phase heater (and presumably a huge energy bill!).

    Needing more than 24kW (100A single phase) is rare in a domestic situation, but not impossible. A friend is also looking at it - adding up electric car charging (7kW), induction hob (8kW), and air-air heat pumps (7kW) he's getting pretty close to the limit. Don't go boiling the kettle at the same time.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: Errrmmm....

    It doesn't matter, it's the same on single phase meters.

    And it's not JUST smart meters. It's any meter using an electronic pickup circuit of the type mentioned, and some of those models are 20+ years old.

    The 2 meters which under reported were the only 2 meters using Hall Effect sensors

  13. bangus

    Add a module to the traditional meter

    As the traditional meter had a small rotating disc, it would have been very simple to add a module that would simply count the rotations. I really have no idea whether the old meters were more or less accurate than the new electronic meters.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Working as intended

    "Two reported about 32 per cent less usage than actually occurred."

    So there were two faulty meters. The rest were working as intended.

  15. Sampler
    Boffin

    Re: Working as intended

    The real question is, if electric usage is on average 3% less with smart meters, how much is actual reduced usage (and therefore worthwhile the roll out of said meters) and how much is under reporting by faulty meters meaning that a switch in meter types makes a negligible affect on users energy consumption?

    I mean, it was in the interest of the meter makers that the outcome of testing users with new meters that reported electrical usage was down and therefore they get government mandated sales...

  16. DJ Smiley

    Re: Working as intended

    I believe - don't quote me - that the reduced usage comes from 'awareness' of how much power you're using. The smart meters allow readings every 30 minutes (it's never been clear to me why you can't get a minute/second accurate reading locally). Due to this, people tend to 'watch' the figures more - become more aware of usage and generally use less.

    Same thing is well documented with water metering...

  17. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: Working as intended

    As I have mentioned before, I am quite well aware of how much power I am using. On the one hand, I tend to notice what is switched on and what isn't. On the other hand, I also have my Owl meter which shows me from moment to moment how much electricity we are using. (483 watts at the moment, occasionally changing to 10 kw when someone has a shower or switches on all the white goods at once).

    On the gripping hand, it's entirely and only my business.

  18. Richard 51

    Re: Working as intended

    In theory meters can measure by the second but it was felt that this would give too much information about peoples private lives so measurement will usually be once per day. The utilities have to ask if they want to request more detailed information and even then they will probably not measure more often than once per hour as the message load on the network becomes significant.

  19. Dave 15 Silver badge

    Re: Working as intended

    Working in favour of higher profit for those sponsoring the mps in the eu-uk etc who voted to install these new meters.

    As for people monitoring use... you can do this today with the mechanical meters, watch how fast the disk spins... just as good and doesn't cost billions in change over costs (for meters largely made in China).

    And for those sad gits who do monitor use then good luck to you, personally if I want to put the washing machine on to wash my clothes then I put it on, I can't put it on 'slowly' to save energy or anything. If the damned thing could fillup with water from my gas heated hot water system like the old one 30 years ago managed then I could save some money but someone managed to squash that idea (apparently using gas to boil water in a far off electric plant, use that boiled water to generate electric, lose a load of electric down the wires and then use that to boil water in my washing machine is environmentally more friendly???? More profitable for the same sponsors of meps I think).

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Working as intended

    "Same thing is well documented with water metering..."

    No no no its not the same thing at all. -> [FAIL] Icon.

    With water its metered vs flat rate billing, where metered tends to be more expensive because the flat rate assumed consumption tends to be less that the actual, therefore metered billing tends to get people to reduce their usage due to the higher bills on an ongoing basis.

    With electricity, its metered vs metered. It has been documented that after a short honeymoon people the consumer tends to stop paying attention to the 'smart' meter, which means that any benefits from alterered behavior are only gained in the short term.

  21. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Re: Working as intended

    If the damned thing could fillup with water from my gas heated hot water system like the old one 30 years ago managed then I could save some money but someone managed to squash that idea

    I had the same thought when I could only find cold-fill machines. The explanation I was given is that modern machines use so little water on a fill compared to older ones that in most cases the valve would shut off before the water had started to run hot. It sounds plausible.

  22. Kiwi

    Re: Working as intended

    (apparently using gas to boil water in a far off electric plant, use that boiled water to generate electric, lose a load of electric down the wires and then use that to boil water in my washing machine is environmentally more friendly???? More profitable for the same sponsors of meps I think).

    Ah yes.. That wonderful "green energy" stuff.. Electric cars are one of my bigger concerns here in NZ,as in, if enough people adopt them then our mothballed coal and gas plants would suddenly be getting all hot under the collar so-to-speak :) And of course there'd be the required upgrades to transmission lines, street transformers etc, probably a lot of places would have to switch in extra phases (see post above re single phase limits) - a lot of costs and construction required if electric cars were to become more common (I am all for reducing waste, increasing efficiency and protecting the environment, but I try to make sure that something sold as "green" doesn't need a couple of extra coal power stations and a few billion hectares of deforestation to support it - that stuff's shit brown, not green!)

    Question though... Do you guys over there not have washing powders that work at least as well in cold water as they do in hot? I find that except for oil/grease from someone's engine, I don't have a need to do a hot wash. And if you do need the heat, can't you swap the in-feed to something from your water heater? Back in the old wringer-washer days we had a rubber hose we would push onto the tap we wanted to use. When mum finally got an automatic machine (actually sometime in the late 80's, when her 30+yr old machine finally packed up) she just used the same hose for the times she wanted a hot wash, saved money on changing all the fittings in the laundry by only changing the cold tap.

    But yeah, a lot of "green" stuff looks great at a glance but when you sit down and do the math... I was a fan of wind farms till I went to use the numbers to prove to someone how great they are, and found out they aren't.

    To those who wish to downvote based on my recent dislike of wind : Do the math yourself before downvoting, factor in backup generators, all costs of construction including transport of stuff to the site, developing/preparing the site (inc same for backup generators), replacement and disposal when the turbines fail at the end of their (often rather short) lifespan etc, and compare with modern nuke or hydro (very expensive build but very cheap for the next 100 years; we have stations in NZ that're in the 100yr region and several over 50yrs, that've maybe had turbine replacements and upgrades but no major work. One of the world's oldest hydro generators is still in use today on Mt Taranaki (in place since 1935 but built around 1901 and used elsewhere). Do some math, prove how great (or bad) wind is.

    Sorry, should've got more sleep last night...

  23. Kiwi

    Re: Working as intended

    The explanation I was given is that modern machines use so little water on a fill compared to older ones that in most cases the valve would shut off before the water had started to run hot. It sounds plausible.

    Eh what? There'd be all of a litre or two in the pipes, whereas the machine would be using at least 20 litres.. That's based on my experience of NZ homes, where most have the water heater in a cupboard in the laundry, often with the washing machine right next to it (so only a metre or so of pipe). Best home I was in had this stuff planned centrally, so kitchen sink, laundry and shower were all quite close to the heater. Having a shower take 2-seconds to get to the good stuff on a cold winter's morn was great!

    That said, do you need to do a hot wash very often? I've found most washing powders available here are at least as good with cold water, and I only sometimes need to do a hot wash when I have a bad oil or grease stain from an engine.

  24. KR Caddis

    Re: Working as intended

    No,that means that ALL of the others might be OVER REPORTING or, perhaps correct. More likely, in fact as they ALL may be incorrect (except in laboratory testing) and ONLY two were UNDER REPORTING. Sounds like a Precedent we have here. If there's money to be had, or people to be had, they MUST deserve it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Working as intended

    the machine would be using at least 20 litres.

    Modern machines use ~ 6 litres per kilo total, and maybe less than half that is hot water. In my case, with hot water tank many metres away in a garage I need to run 3-4 litres before I get really hot water.

    most washing powders available here are at least as good with cold water

    For dirt, yes. One interesting (in a scientific sense) problem that hotels are having is a resurgence in bedbug infestations. Cool washes don't kill insect eggs, you need at least 50C to do that.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Working as intended

    "Due to this, people tend to 'watch' the figures more - become more aware of usage and generally use less."

    For at least a couple of weeks. Until the novelty value wears off.

  27. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Re: Working as intended

    "That said, do you need to do a hot wash very often? "

    if you don't hot wash regularly you'll get a nasty biofilm buildup inside your machine and things start to _smell_. Those of us with skin conditions often get them aggravated by such things, especially when compounded by the lack of outdoor drying facilities in dense urban settings (Also, if you happened to live in central Wellington in the 1980s and were near the motorway, putting your clothes out to dry would frequently result in them coming in covered in sooty flakes. The same applies lots of other places)

    Besides, if you wash at 30-40c with a cold powder you can use less than half as much. The overall impact of generating the hotwater is lower than that of the extra detergent in your waste stream.

  28. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    What's the world coming to...

    ...when Kirchhoff wants his mark-up on all current flowing in and out of a node.

  29. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    The original ones were too good

    What's the point of a meter that will run reliably for decades without any maintenance. How can the makers profiteer offer a decent service like that?

  30. Loud Speaker Bronze badge

    Re: The original ones were too good

    How can the makers offer a decent service like that?

    Bribing politicians is a tried and tested solution to this.

  31. bitmap animal
    Facepalm

    Re: The original ones were too good

    Because it's far better to replace something reliable and well understood with the equivalent of an Agile Java app because it's new & shiny. ( /s obviously )

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: The original ones were too good

    Just as countries with 'Democratic' in their name rarely are, same with products that are 'smart'.

  33. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    > As a Rogowski coil results in a time-derivative of the measured

    > current, the measured voltage has to be integrated

    That's completely doomed if there is any significant DC component in the load, e.g. if there are devices with half-wave rectifiers, or full-wave rectifiers that are asymetric in some way.

    To be fair they do have significant advantages over current transformers, i.e. linearity. And a good electronic meter should be more accurate than a mechanical one. But a cost-reduced electronic meter can clearly be crap.

  34. Maverick

    this solution has NOTHING to benefit consumers, they can do one for me!

    the WHOLE point is reduce the ability to swap suppliers easily

  35. Electron Shepherd

    There's more to it that that...

    "the WHOLE point is reduce the ability to swap suppliers easily"

    I don't think that's the real rationale, although I'm sure the suppliers are working on making it hard to "switch meters".

    I think the real reason is to introduce time- and demand- based billing, something that's impossible with the present meters, since all you get is a total usage over a number of months.

  36. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    Aren't all transformer-based measurment methods providing a time-derivative ? I seem to recall that the induced current is proportional to the rate of change of flux in the core.

  37. Tac Eht Xilef

    >> As a Rogowski coil results in a time-derivative of the measured

    >> current, the measured voltage has to be integrated

    >That's completely doomed if there is any significant DC component

    >in the load, e.g. if there are devices with half-wave rectifiers, or

    >full-wave rectifiers that are asymetric in some way.

    Well, yeah, but in that case since the whole point of a Rogowski coil is to respond to the rate of change of the current (dI/dT) they'll tend to _under_estimate the current in the presence of a DC component.

    The flip side of that is the integrator (needed to convert the output to something proportional to current) needs a bandwidth-limited response, otherwise it'll tend towards infinite gain at DC & read all sorts of hash as load current at higher frequencies...

  38. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    The flip side of that is the integrator (needed to convert the output to something proportional to current) needs a bandwidth-limited response, otherwise it'll tend towards infinite gain at DC & read all sorts of hash as load current at higher frequencies...

    The numbers quoted sound like there is no circuit level integration. It is digital and the differences between the meters come from the differences in the sampling frequency and the measurement algorithm.

  39. Smooth Newt Silver badge
    Meh

    Re: There's more to it that that...

    I think the real reason is to introduce time- and demand- based billing, something that's impossible with the present meters, since all you get is a total usage over a number of months.

    If the devices displayed the electricity price in real-time, and made it available via some network protocol too, then there would be some small scope for time- and demand- based metering, but the British ones don't do that.

    It is only a small scope because people need to use electricity at particular times regardless of cost - they are hardly likely to get up at 3 am to boil the kettle for breakfast because electricity is particularly cheap then.

  40. Mage Silver badge

    Re: WHOLE point is reduce the ability to swap suppliers easily

    No, that's reason #2

    Reason #1 is to remotely disconnect you either because they THINK you didn't pay or because they need to shed load.

  41. boltar Silver badge

    @Phil Endecott

    "That's completely doomed if there is any significant DC component in the load, e.g. if there are devices with half-wave rectifiers, or full-wave rectifiers that are asymetric in some way."

    One would assume they'd be smart enough to put it through a high pass filter first that would remove any DC artifacts before any measurements were taken. Though I suppose if each meter needs to be built for tuppence in china then who knows how well the circuit is designed. Or not.

  42. Hans 1 Silver badge

    Re: There's more to it that that...

    >"the WHOLE point is reduce the ability to swap suppliers easily"

    WTF, we do not have to switch meters in France when we switch suppliers ... they all pump their current into the grid and we take from that. It would just be silly if the different suppliers used different incompatible meters ... who thought that one out ??????

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: built for tuppence

    "built for tuppence in china then who knows how well the circuit is designed. Or not."

    What makes people think that what's delivered on the boat from out East matches the design submitted to the manufacturers? As others have noted already, it's dead simple to leave out decoupling capacitors, protection components, etc, and the item will still "work", after a fashion, for a while.

    The story of the Raspberry Pi manufacturing initially coming back to the UK because of mysterious cost-reducing substitutions in Chinese factories has been reasonably and authoritatively documented, e.g. the network connector should have had integrated magnetics for reasons including EMC, but then they started arriving with the slightly cheaper variant without the integrated magnetics, and Bad Things happened, not just when RS/Farnell had them CE tested. Other manufacturers with other products may be less public with their details.

  44. boltar Silver badge

    Re: built for tuppence

    "The story of the Raspberry Pi manufacturing initially coming back to the UK because of mysterious cost-reducing substitutions in Chinese factories has been reasonably and authoritatively documented,"

    I have limited sympathy frankly. The Pi was extolled as being some british computer success story, wave the flag, god save the queen etc, but it seems that didn't extend to actually using british workers in british factories to manufacture at least some of them. Well you get what you pay for.

  45. DJ Smiley

    Re: There's more to it that that...

    Maybe, but your washing machine/tumble drier/dishwasher all have selectable 'wait X hours' modes which do allow for this kind of usage.

  46. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Re: @Phil Endecott

    Any "DC" component is a result of a fault in the integration circuit - a small offset there could cause issues but since the construction of the coil has no direct connection to the incoming wiring I don't see any way that this could be caused by the way that power is consumed (unlike the old meters).

    My guess is that it's a cheap integration circuit at fault.

  47. druck

    Re: built for tuppence

    @boltar: The Raspberry Pi is built in the Britain, but world wide demand was so high, they had to open a second source in China.

  48. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: @Phil Endecott

    "One would assume they'd be smart enough to put it through a high pass filter first..."

    Why would one assume that?

  49. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: There's more to it that that...

    Although the manufacturers of the dishwasher and washing machine do warn you explicitly not to leave their machines running unattended.

  50. The First Dave

    Re: There's more to it that that...

    And when the supplier decides to 'shed load' through my smart meter, the washing machine will forget the schedule, and remain powered down. Possibly with a drum full of water that will rush out all over my floor the next time its opened.

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