back to article Shocker: UK smart meter rollout is crap, late and £500m over budget

Parliamentarians are set to haul civil servants in for a grilling after the National Audit Office (NAO) confirmed the UK will miss its 2020 smart meter rollout target, piling an extra £500m onto the cost of the £11bn project. The NAO said in a report issued this morning: “The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial …

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3G is not available everywhere. I have fibre. Half a mile from my house there's some mobile not spots where you're lucky to get Edge connectivity.

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Anonymous Coward

A complete waste of money, time and energy on insecure garbage. Smart meters do not save energy, I do by going around turn lights off.

Just how many wind farms could we build for £13bn and rising ?

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smart meter != reduction in energy consumption

A complete waste of money, time and energy on insecure garbage. Smart meters do not save energy, I do by going around turn lights off.

Indeed. I have long been puzzled by the idea that smart meters save you energy. They don't - they just tell you how much energy your're using.

If you want a smart meter, then presumably you have an inclination to being sensible with your energy use in the first place, e.g. only heat your house as warm as it needs to be, don't leave lights on unnecessarily, etc.

Therefore, by installing a new piece of kit which actually uses electricity, a smart meter could represent an *increase* in energy consumption.

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Re: smart meter != reduction in energy consumption

Exactly this ... unless they really do come installed with magic energy-saving pixies that do it all for you...?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: smart meter != reduction in energy consumption

If I want to check on the efficiency of a new piece of electric kit - then the wireless house electricity consumption indicator is too crude. I can switch devices off and on with no immediate feedback.

I use a portable monitor that can be inserted between a device and the wall socket. Gives me a far better idea of what it consumes and how I should ration it if necessary. Whether the monitor is totally accurate for things like switched mode power supplies is a moot point.

The non-mechanical supply meter that was installed last year could also have pathological error conditions? A Dutch system was found to give incorrect high readings for devices with dimmer controls.

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Smart meters do not save energy

Indeed. Smart meters were never intended to save money for consumers - the idea that people who had no interest in reducing their electrickery bill prior to having a smart meter will suddenly change their attitude after having one is entirely fallacious. People who do care already turn stuff off when not needed or in use.

Smart meters have many benefits for the suppliers though: it will enable them to greatly reduce their staff costs, remotely disconnect your supply, and sell your usage data.

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Alternative idea

They should have divided up the £13bn for everyone who had a meter.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

Not only do they not reduce your consumption but they actually increase it as they require electricity to work!

The only thing that can reduce your energy consumption is you! The only thing smart meters do is make it more visible to the consumer how much energy they are using (that and enable the energy companies to bill more accurately and fire everyone they employed to go out and read meters)

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FAIL

Re: smart meter != reduction in energy consumption

A Dutch system was found to give incorrect high readings for devices with dimmer controls.

The EWB (Basel utilities) company had to change a load of electricity meters a few years ago because all meters fitted in a certain time period were faulty.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

The only thing smart meters do is make it more visible to the consumer how much energy they are using

There is a depressing number of people in the UK who have to chose between food and heating in the winter; some people have even died of cold because of this. I can see how having a readout quickly available to them may make things worse.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

...remotely disconnect your supply...

What a load of FUD.

The regulations, in the UK, regarding disconnection that apply to dumb meters applies to "smart" meters as well. There are a number of hoops to jump through before disconnection. Finally, somebody has to physically disconnect at the property to ensure, for example, there is no life saving medical equipment is installed.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

Regulations can be changed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: regulations, meaning of disconnection

The UK has regulations re cold calling and similar stuff. Would you regard them as effective? I don't know anyone who would. So why should energy "regulation" work any better than cold calling regulation?

Once a worthwhile proportion of smaller electricity users can usefully have their supplies temporarily switched off (is that not "disconnection" in your world?) at times of maximum demand, then it will happen. Any resulting penalties will be a routine cost of business for the energy suppliers involved, just as the penaties for illegal cold callers are a routine cost of business.

"somebody has to physically disconnect at the property to ensure, for example, there is no life saving medical equipment is installed."

If I was looking after someone whose electricity supply was life critical, I don't think I'd want to rely on a regulatory authority to guarantee continuity of supply. Some batteries and a generator might well seem more appropriate than a Service Level Agreement or other document worth its weight in coal.

Wake up and smell the coffee (while it's still warm).

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DJO
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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

Not true, usage of smart meters can save a fortune in energy charges, if you are a very large consumer such as a hospital, factory or university campus.

You need to know where power is being wasted in order to cut consumption and comprehensive readings at least every 30 mins are invaluable in this context.

However for domestic use they are in 99% of cases a complete waste of time, money and resources.

Also SMETS1 is a fuck-up, it should never have been rolled out except as a technology test for smart meters.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

The primary benefit to the supplier is the ability to introduce Uber-style surge pricing.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

DJO but these are for domestic plants and are utter shit. I'd love one if, in the middle of the night without me going looking for it, it could tell me that the price has dropped to 2p a unit where I would know its OK to turn on electric heating/hot water etc and actually save me some money over (say) gas for heating the same.

I have a feeling these things were rushed out before someone could implement that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Smart meters do not save energy

@FlossyThePig

I say good sir can I introduce you to "the future"

Power plants going offline. No new plants to replace them. Nuclear fuel a fiasco. Lots more house building.

Demand goes up, supply comes down.

What could possibly happen? Rolling power cuts? That won't do, especially not for people that matter. Lets use the smart meters to target certain areas. Current laws mean nothing when there isn't enough power because you aren't cutting someone off you are temporarily preserving the supply to those that matter.

If you think that won't happen then you don't really understand how government works. I'll give you an example, 30 hours free childcare. Who benefits from this? It certainly isn't the people on low pay because you have to supplement it due to the cost to providers so they can't afford it anyway, those that can afford it get a nice bonus from the government they don't even need. A bit off topic but that's how it all works and I don't expect the choices when cutting people off to be any different.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

> What a load of FUD.

It's FACT, not FUD. You're referring to permanent disconnection because of non-payment.

In contrast, smart meters can disconnect individual users for short periods (load shedding) when failure to build sufficient generating capacity means that there won't be enough electricity to go round. It's what they'll do when eye-watering Time of Day pricing (35p/kWh or more) hasn't worked.

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Anonymous Coward

Energy Savings

How much EXTRA energy is required to run the previously unnecessary wireless networks and automatic data collection, etc?

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

In contrast, smart meters can disconnect individual users for short periods (load shedding) when failure to build sufficient generating capacity means that there won't be enough electricity to go round

Ah. So the UK is predicted to have a cold winter, with prolonged periods of little or no wind. That's on top of summer having calm periods as well. So no wind, no electricity from wind turbines, which may then require load shedding for a few days or weeks.

So it's turtles all the way down, stopping with Ed Milliband's Climate Change Act. Written for him by Bryony Worthington, who's now part of Tempus Energy, who've just successfully challenged the UK's capacity auction system, meaning even less power.

So the UK jumped into 'renewables'. They're intermittent and unreliable (not to mention expensive). To deal with the intermittent nature, we need some form of demand management. So we're 'investing' in 'smart' meters that for the consumer, don't do any more than current meters.

But nobody cares about the consumer, who just wants cheap, reliable power. If 'smart' meters came with a rates feed allowing instant switching to the cheapest electricity biller (I mean provider), then more households might have installed them. Instead, we've installed meters that stop working if a customer switches provider.

For UK energy, the lunatics truly are in charge of the asylum.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

Smart meters only enable surge pricing if the changes in price can be communicated in real-time to the meter. If the increase doesn't get through, the supplier loses out. If the relaxation back to the normal value doesn't get through, the customer is defrauded.

Since this is an obvious possibility to anyone technically minded, I would hope that a court would take the view that the company simply could not prove that ANY of their leccy had been supplied at anything other than the lowest price offered during the billing period in question and therefore ALL bills to all customers should be recalculated accordingly.

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Unhappy

Re: Smart meters do not save energy @Gerry 3

Don't need a smart meter for load shedding, South Africa has been doing it for decades with hot water heaters. They are fitted with a device that switches the water heaters off via a ripple put through the electricity supply and a similar ripple turns them on again; was used mostly for peak demand time like cooking dinner. Now they just blackout whole areas*.

*Since the ANC's energy ministers famous "Why do we need these extra giga-watts when we have so much more mega-watts now?" comment! It has become standard practice for rolling blackouts during the winter months as a load balancing method. Eskom (state supplier) publishes the time table of when you need to light the candles.

Old joke - What did Zimbabwe use for lighting and cooking before candles and paraffin burners? Answer - electricity. SA is headed the same way. So damned sad.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Smart meters do not save energy

"if you are a very large consumer such as a hospital, factory or university campus you need to know where power is being wasted in order to cut consumption, and comprehensive readings at least every 30 mins are invaluable in this context."

Maybe so. But why do these end customer readings need to be managed centrally at grid level (it's obvious why Gridco and friends would want them to be managed centrally, less obvious why end customers would want them managed centrally).

Back in the 1990s, a UK company with an HQ in Milton Keynes, a company whose name I forget, used to provide a remote meter reading service (every 15 minutes, iirc, but may well have been Half Hourly) to those larger consumers of electricity (larger seems to have equated to 100kVA meters and upwards?). [did it perhaps turn into IMserv?]

Last time I was involved in this was back in the 1990s, around the time the UK electricity supply industry was piratised. It may well have changed since then.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

The regulations, in the UK, regarding disconnection that apply to dumb meters applies to "smart" meters as well. There are a number of hoops to jump through before disconnection. Finally, somebody has to physically disconnect at the property to ensure, for example, there is no life saving medical equipment is installed.

The difference here is that disconnection CAN be done remotely. How touching that you trust the big energy suppliers to get their billing correct, that they won't accidentally decide that you have an old debt of several gazzillion quid and disconnect you for bad credit, that they won't accidentally hit the wrong key and disconnect you instead of someone else, etc, etc. The regs means SFA when it comes to corporate incompetence.

And the remote disconnect facility has been in the specs from the outset - EVERY "smart" meter has the facility, because it's needed for the second stage of the demand management they are being put in to provide. The first stage is price rationing, the second stage is rolling power cuts like we had in the 70's - but done on a more granular level.

BTW - the "smart" gas meters also have the remote disconnect facility - but they cannot be remotely reconnected. For safety reasons, the user has to manually turn the gas back on.

In theory someone with medical equipment etc can be put on the vulnerable person register. While this may affect decisions by the DNO about maintenance and exclude the property from rolling power cuts, I can't see it dealing with corporate billing cockups.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

Smart meters only enable surge pricing if the changes in price can be communicated in real-time to the meter.

It can, it's a basic part of the communications network - at least when it's fully rolled out.

I would hope that a court would take the view that the company simply could not prove that ANY of their leccy had been supplied at anything other than the lowest price offered during the billing period in question

And you'd be disappointed. The meters record usage for every half out period of every day - and the price charged at the time. So yes, they can show that you used several units at £1/unit because you dared to want to eat dinner at dinner time when you get home from work.

This is one of the objections, that very detailed usage information is send back to a humungous database which we have to trust will remain as secure as we are being told it will. Not that any large government (or Crapita, or ...) system has ever had a security issue - oh no, government (and it's contractors) IT is perfect :D

It would have been sufficient for billing purposes to tally up usage with a register for each rate used - but they decided not to do that.

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Unhappy

"Regulations can be changed."

Exactly.

Like this nonsense inserted by a "Cash for clauses" peer of the realm.

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Unhappy

"love one if, in the middle of the night..it could tell me that the price has dropped to 2p/unit"

I think it's called "Economy 7"

I'm not sure it's still available to newe customers in the UK.

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Thumb Up

""around the time the UK electricity supply industry was piratised.

Hmm.

Might be a typo.

Might not.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

In contrast, smart meters can disconnect individual users for short periods (load shedding)

I have an old dumb meter. I don't know how many of my neighbours have smart vs dumb meters. But we all get disconnected depressingly frequently. It's called power cuts.

A smart meter wouldn't change my usage much. But I can envisage a future world in which my dishwasher can be set to run when the supply tells it is cheapest overnight. Those who have electric cars will have a similar situation on a much bigger scale.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

"In theory someone with medical equipment etc can be put on the vulnerable person register. While this may affect decisions by the DNO about maintenance and exclude the property from rolling power cuts, I can't see it dealing with corporate billing cockups."

Indeed. When I pointed out the matter of vulnerability to an energy supplier (something I'm generally loath to do but I'd experienced a lot of ongoing problems) they blithely replied that they had no idea: though I'm not sure which protocols would inform them, *I* had certainly informed them. Repeatedly. Anyway okay, they claim to be entirely ignorant, well that makes everything magically alright then since we all know ignorance is a defence as enshrined in English law, or something. By the time they replied I was an ex-customer anyway but I suspect it would've never been worth pursuing.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

spending 13bn on windfarms is a silly idea. There is plenty of generation but not necessarily dependable generation at peak demand. 13bn would be better spent on hydro storage schemes that can be reverse pumped at shallow cheap demand and forward run at peak demand. Paired with windfarms that could generate at 3AM would be great (or nuclear that cant really be shut down).

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Re: smart meter != reduction in energy consumption

"Gives me a far better idea of what it consumes and how I should ration it if necessary."

Funnily enough, my turning off of an electric appliance is governed by me no longer needing it at the moment. Whereas if I do, it will be on, even if it blacks out the other half of the city. No smart meter or dumb meter for that matter is of any help with doing that.

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Re: Smart meters do not save energy

@DJO "Also SMETS1 is a fuck-up"

Agreed, although a mate of mine is co-ordinating Smart Meter rollout for Eon, and said SMETS1 can be upgraded to give the tarif handover capability between providers, and iirc that can be done over the air, so there could be a save there.

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Mushroom

What an absolute fucking waste of time and money.

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TRT
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One wonders about the size of the emissions footprint for all the people driving around installing them.

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DECC Eds

What an absolute fucking waste of time and money.

That's one way to describe Eds Milliband and Davey. So I've been reading the report. And found this nice, WTF? moment..

58 Part Three Rolling out smart meters

Benefits 3.5

The Department is not systematically monitoring the energy savings consumers achieve with smart meters.

So.. We're spending £20bn or so to install a system where electricity usage can be monitored remotely. We've been sold on this 'investment' on the prospect that it'll save us money. Yet the Department hasn't been looking at the billing data to see if savings are real.

How do these people still have jobs?

I guess you could argue that the early adopters are the most keen and may have been motivated to make the largest savings. Or if the current installed base shows customers aren't saving any money/reducing consumption, then it's best not to look at the data...

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Re: DECC Eds

"Or if the current installed base shows customers aren't saving any money/reducing consumption, then it's best not to look at the data..."

You can't lie if you don't know the truth.

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The only measurable saving to consumers is that the best tariffs will only be available to smart meter users.

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@LarsG >>>The only measurable saving to consumers is that the best tariffs will only be available to smart meter users.<<<

-> By the imposition of punitive rates to the the non smart households.

Once a high enough % have the new meters utility companies will start varying the tariff rate through the day and users without the full (hourly readings + rate applied) data set will be clueless as how to compare other supplier tariffs.

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How are these supposed to save energy

I can see from my smart meter that I am using some electricity so what do I do?

Turn off some lights - that might save a few pence.

Turn off the TV - nope I am watching it.

Turn off the fridge and freezer - not a good idea

Turn off the oven - I only turn it on when I am cooking

Turn off the heating - I only turn it on when I am cold and if I forget to turn it off the thermostat does it for me.

I am really struggling to see what else I could do as everything else in the house that uses energy only does so when I need it to.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

The theory is that by seeing how much energy you're using, you'll realize how much energy each appliance uses and will either minimize its use or buy a more energy efficient model.

In practice, people will go "Meh" after five minutes and never look at their smart meter again.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How are these supposed to save energy

"[...] you'll realize how much energy each appliance uses [...]"

In my experience a single point metering of the house supply - with a wireless remote monitor - is far too crude to judge the consumption of most individual devices. I found that the "current" values would often not change when a device was switched on/off.

I use a portable monitor that goes between a device and its socket when I'm interested in the specific consumption.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

..buy a more energy efficient model.

Where this falls down is the payback period for replacing a device vs. the energy saved may exceed the new device's lifespan AND the scrapping/wastage of a functioning device whose resource/manufacturing costs are already incurred anyway.

In this latter case if it's sold to someone else then they will encounter similar efficiency issues UNLESS they have scrapped an even less-efficient device and the net energy saving will not be helped...

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

Also you are unlikely to run a washing machine/tumble dryer overnight (to take advantage of cheaper tariffs) since fire safety advice is generally not to do so.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: How are these supposed to save energy

I avoid using the electric oven unless a meal really needs it. At the same time things can share the oven - with some of them destined for the freezer and microwave reheating when needed.

The electric kettle has been replaced by using the microwave to heat a cup of water for a hot drink.

All the house lights that were tungsten or CFL are now LED. Even those are the "filament" type which are more efficient radiators of their light as they have no bulky obstructions in their structure.

Only the kitchen still has fluorescent tubes that are rarely switched on for jobs that demand maximum illumination. Most of the time the illumination comes from a LED fitting. When the tubes fail again then LEDs will replace them. However - the last tubes lasted for 30 years so possibly not economic to replace them just for the sake of it.

The lounge has sufficient light for most purposes from a 4w LED table lamp. The ceiling spots are used when maximum illumination is needed. These were once 6 x 50w halogens - now they are LED equivalents using a tenth of the power and are still dimmable. You literally feel the difference when they are switched on - the body being surprised that so much light is apparently cold.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

@a/c

Congratulations, you've achieved ongoing minimum running cost by the simple expedient of thinking through the issue and applying one-off spending as required.

I'm guessing the total outlay for these changes was well under the £374 cost for an new meter.

Once all of the one-off cost savings have been made the only thing left to cut is home heating & regular bathing.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

"The electric kettle has been replaced by using the microwave to heat a cup of water for a hot drink."

Kettles are incredibly efficient at boiling water, as long as you don't overfill them. A quick Google suggests that microwaves are only 65%-odd efficient. Thus you should be better off using a kettle.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

The only conceivable way I can see that they could ave money is indirectly. Meter readers get laid off, usage stats get sold = more money for energy companies that can be passed on as saving to the customer.

Yeah right! Big bonuses for the top execs more like.

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

@Steve K

But we all know that reality and science and engineering principles mean nothing in the debates about energy use. All that matter is that you are seen to be doing the right thing, however wrong or misguided. Hence the Toyota Pious

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Re: How are these supposed to save energy

"Kettles are incredibly efficient at boiling water"

And not as likely to scald you as water heated in a microwave which can 'bump'*

* lab term for a superheated liquid that suddenly boils violently.

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