back to article Gov 'smart meter' plans: Sky box in charge of your house

The UK government has unveiled its plans for so-called "smart" energy meters, to be compulsory throughout Blighty in future. The proposed technology appears like excellent news for energy companies, offering them many options to cut costs and perhaps carbon emissions. Chances for consumers to be truly "smart", however, aren't …

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  1. The Dark Lord

    Regarding timed use of appliances

    Remember that, in spite of the 30 years' development of appliances since Economy 7 was phased out, the Nanny State would have you believe that if you run your dishwasher at night, you will all die in your sleep.

    I'm all for differential charging, so long as it offers opportunities for customers to reduce their bills. Usually, differential charging just means applying a massive price hike at the times you want to use the services. c.f. road tolls, telephone bills, public transport et al.

  2. Eddie Edwards
    Pirate

    A bit like Economy 7 then

    We're on Economy 7 and apparently we can save £200 a year switching back - which requires them to physically change the meter.

    I thought the idea with Economy 7 was to charge less at night, but apparently the main idea is to charge more during the day.

    Good luck getting anything more complicated to work in the user's favour.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    And once the infrastructure is in place -

    the "Big Brother" telescreens will quickly follow.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Sky at night, contractors delight

    I'm sure Crapita, EDS, and all the usual suspects in government tendering are rubbing their mitts in glee at the prospect of this big expensive government project.

  5. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Not sure about this one.

    "....perhaps with the aid of your trusty electric car as a power reservoir...."

    If you wanted a battery to store power, why buy one in a lushly appointed metal box with wheels on it? Surely you'd just get a battery pack? For one thing, it'd be far less likely to bugger off to the shops for a loaf of bread when it was most needed.

  6. Tom

    Sounds like a bad idea

    Does this mean your electricity meter will be able to crash and effectively cut your power supply off by accident?

    Will they be secure enough that only ther energy company can cut you off, rather than some script kiddie on the net?

    Do not want.

  7. Shaun Forsyth
    Dead Vulture

    Misleading title

    I was excited to see that my sky box may offer the smart meter service, so that while I’m watching TV I could get a warning to my power usage, or maybe view my remaining units (money prepay). But no, the title is misleading, its simply implying that the smart meter will be like a sky box (an expensive device, which we have to wait for the right deal to buy, and ultimately, be updated remotely whilst reporting what I’m using so much power on!)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Not sure I like this

    I like my current system whereby the energy company persist in sending round meter readers during the day, while I'm at work. This allows me to 'hedge' on my energy costs.

    Inevitably I'm out when the meter reader comes round (and my electricity meter is in the hall, and gas meter in the cellar), so no reading is taken. Therefore, my energy company asks me to kindly provide my own readings. Which I do. But the readings I want to give them. So, just when the announce a big price hike, I give them a massive meter reading to take advantage of the cheaper price. Then low readings until (hopefully) the prices come back down again. It's all worked very well (if, probably, a little illegally!) so far.

  9. James
    Stop

    Meter Readings

    When is the last time EDF sent an meter reader out to your house? I've not seen one in the 4 years I've been living in the UK. I have to tell them my reading.

    And there go my plans for a cannabis grow-op in my shed.

  10. Tony Black
    Dead Vulture

    off to a good start

    Have just sent an email with suggestions for functionalit to be included in the Smart Meters project to the address published at: http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/smart_metering/smart_metering.aspx

    After 5 minutes I recieved this reply:

    "This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.

    Delivery to the following recipients failed.

    smartmetering@decc.gsi.gov.uk"

    Bodes well for the project! Or are they just not interested in participation from the public?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    For once...

    the monopoly power provider in Northern Ireland is ahead of the game. I have a pre-pay "smart box" installed at home. Besides the fact that I get 2.5% discount for using this I can my power consumption at any given time or, historically, over days & weeks. Since some form of technology is there to communicate the "top up" codes & its value between the box & the network it would seem relatively trivial to harvest consumption data from the smart boxes into a database so the consumer could look at pretty graphs on a web page.

  12. Tim

    Presumably this is for taxes

    Currently the govt takes a lot of income from fuel taxes. If people move to leccy cars they will lose this income. So we need to have smart meters so that that "transport electricity" can be charged (no pun intended) with it's own special tax band.

    Tim#3

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    I'm not at all sure....

    I like the idea of a supplier being able to remotely disconnect me...

    They suffer a "blue screen of death" moment - no leccy for me... difficult recovery?

    I'm in dispute over my bill, they shut me off. Now they've got my attention! Whether or not it is legal.

    They decide to change the tarrif profile and very suddenly I pay more...

    In introducing these "Smart" meters were is the incentive for them to be more efficient?

  14. Oliver Mayes
    Joke

    Next wave of trojans

    "able to switch between suppliers by simply pressing a button - or perhaps under the control of a simple home computer program".

    Then the scum start writing trojans that switch you to a premium rate supplier to make themselves loads of money. A bit like the old premium-rate diallers that circulated back in the 90s.

  15. Skavenger
    Black Helicopters

    Trust

    Connect it to my HomeNetwork? are they kidding. Talk about a security issue inside your own network that you have no control over. If I did have to connect it then i would have to put it outside of my firewall.

  16. Owen Williams
    Pirate

    Frankly, I love the idea

    No one will ever come around to my house to read the meter. I can run a cable from before the meter to the loft where my 2 200watt servers run all the time. Big savings ahoy.

    I could become an energy supplier for the street...

    Remote cut off...denial of service attack anyone? Jacqui's home addressES?

    Did I just say that out loud?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It has its merits

    If the majority of the savings from all their laid off meter readers and billing staff are passed onto the consumer and not just pocketed then I wouldn't mind having one.

    On the other hand, how much will all those laid off employees be costing me in dole money?

    Swings and roundabouts.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How will the comms work?

    Does this mean everyone will be forced to have a phone line?

  19. Steve Bennett

    uplink?

    What's the intended uplink for these meters to talk back to Big Brother?

    Is a BT line going to become a requirement for electric and gas supply? I ditched my phone a decade ago.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And..

    Also an oppertunity to further screw the poor, I wonder if the cut off fee will reduce as it will only cost them oohh approx tuppence ha'penny to cut them off (plus a letter perhaps), so those living on the breadline will not get any advantage? This country is a joke, where can I leave feedback? I could not see a link on the page? Which mp could I contact, any suggestions?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    @A bit like Economy 7 then

    You are correct - however things have changed.

    One upon a time in the UK, there was a manufacturing sector and a lot of heavy industry which required lots of electricity. The government (energy was run by the Government) had options - upgrade the infrastructure (i.e. power lines that could cope with more current), curtail demand or load balance.

    Load balancing was the favoured option. So you (domestic consumers) use energy in the evenings (when industry has ceased) and allow industry to use that capacity during the day. In exchange, you get cheaper electricity in the evening for 7 hours. Hence the invention of storage heaters. It was always the case that the standing charge was slightly higher but because the rate was lower, as long as you did use a high proportion of electricity at night it was cost effective.

    The game has changed - reduction in the manufacturing base means load shifting by consumers is not a priority. Also, we're not willing to use such dire things as storage heaters.

    I run my dishwasher, washing machine, bread maker etc. at night but I'm also now told the standard tariff will cost me less. I don't have a plasma TV, I have gas heating and cooking so I think this may be the case with many households.

    Smart Metering was devised by the energy companies for their benefit. There is very little benefit for the consumer and the energy companies want us to pay for it. They DO NOT want it to be easy to switch, the innovative scenarios in the article would be dire for them.

    These meters will be with us for many years. If you care, do provide feedback to the government via the link else it's no point in complaining for the next few decades. The meters should be configured to allow for switching to the best rate. Of course, there are significant implications for the industry, particularly with regard to billing. One area is not a concern - retail has been separated from transmission so you'll be able to get a fault repaired no matter how the retail arrangements work.

  22. Steven Jones

    Intelligent devices

    To make this work needs intelligence in the electrical appliances - expecting consumers to rush round plugging and unplugging devices as the unit rate changes isn't going to be very practicable. Some of this is going to have to be very dynamic indeed as inherently variable generation like wind & wave comes more and more on strream.

    What is needed is something like freezers that can adjust power consumption according to the cost of electricity. It's perfectly possible in the short term to use cheaper electricity to cool the contents of the freezer more than normal and use the "thermal intertia" effect to cut power consumption during expensive periods (as sort of reverse energy store). Similarly, all sorts of other types of devices could have energy stores. Clearly batteries (albeit that's expensive), but the ultimate would surely be when it is integrated into electric transport. It's perfectly feasible to imagine the battery in your electric car "smoothing out" the demand on the grid at peak times (albeit I think this is only acceptable with "plug in" hybrids to avoide being stranded if your battery has been drained because you boiled a kettle at peak rates).

    As everybody realises, the real problem is that nobody has cracked the problem of storing large amounts of electric power in a cheap and efficient manner. The person that cracks that will deserve riches which even Bill Gates couldn't dream of.

  23. Mark Greenwood
    Thumb Down

    They're not listening

    I've just tried the link at the end. It timed out. This bunch of self-serving cretinous control-freaks will do whatever they want anyway, so I'm not surprised they don't care to hear our views.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rights of Entry (Gas and Electricity Boards) Act

    Currently suppliers have to obtain a warrant from a magistrate in order to enter the property and disconnect the supply. This will presumably still be the case with these meters - hopefully it won't all be done automatically by some system linked in with their crappy SAP billing engines?

  25. tony
    Thumb Down

    waste of money and time

    so we are in a recession, and lets cut the meter reading jobs, great idea.

    Spend the money on supplying me with a couple of solar panels, and a water heatexchanger on my roof, i'll let the energy comapny fit the unit to send extra power back into the national grid if they want.

    then i can save money and save energy.

    got to be cheaper then building and running a nucleur power station that nobody wants next to them

    remote cut off, just like when BT decided to put me on paperless billing, without asking me, then we get a call, from a foreigner asking for our card payment details or we will be cut off.

    Guess what, we didn't give it, and yes, got cut off.

    3 days arguing and we got put back on, and charged for reconnection. eventually refunded!

    that wil be fun mid winter with gas and electric !

  26. jason Silver badge
    Stop

    In years to come - Power rationing!

    Yes its a new round of taxation and monitoring. 'Carbon Limits' will be set for houses and if you go over certain limits you'll be charged a carbon tax etc.etc. Thats a given.

    And then when we dont have enough power for the country as a whole, it will then allow monitoring of power rationing to homes and penalties for those that break them.

    Oh joy.

    As for Economy 7, my parents swapped to that a couple of years ago. Why I have no idea as they knew full well the hassles my Nan had with it in the 80's. So yes they now have to 'live' at night rather then during the day to actually make any savings. Its a barmy system. I did tell them.

  27. Kevin Williams
    Thumb Down

    As usual the government are not interested

    Well I tried to email my observations on the smart meter proposal but sending my email to smartmetering@decc.gsi.gov.uk (the email address given on their website) I got an undeliverable email bounce back. Obviously they're all too busy working out how to screw us for more money now we've rumbled their expenses rip offs to be bothered with reading emails on this subject.

  28. Allan Dyer Silver badge
    Coat

    secret technology

    But, if they get rid of the meter reader, they'll have to write off the investment in "showering consumer detection" technology. That's why they always call when you're in the shower - my meter reader told me.

    Is there more information on the "exported" electricity option... like how is it priced? Does the credit for that vary in-line with the tarrif changes for peak/non-peak? That would offer an good incentive for consumers to become producers, perhaps installing solar or wind generators, or getting the kids onto exercise bikes with alternators when East Enders comes on... A greener, fitter Britain?

    Mine's the wet towel.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    What's needed

    is a cheap box with the unit-o-meter output split between a secure, non-company-touchable output (like an RS232 serial port- ultra-simple and able to connect to anything) and the "proper" company interface. That way we can't be screwed over by falsified measurements as we can record exactly what's being read. A monthlong datalogger wouldn't go amiss either given the minimal increase in cost and complexity (recording the previous hours total once a month with a 32-bit register for each reading means about 24kbit (3kByte) of storage required) as it'd mean even non-techie people can defend themselves in court.

    Also, no power company should own the box- it should be owned if not by the householder then by a government funded independant body that has no links to the energy market.

    No disconnections should happen without evidence- and ideally the involvement of the police; if these companys believe you're stealing electricity or gas from them, surely that's a matter for the cops? And with the new Smart Meters it'll be even easier to make a case against the alleged thief and easier for the innocent to defend themselves.

    It should be possible to connect to your smart meter and change immediately (with a sensible limit, say once a week or once a month) who supplies your electricity / gas. Ideally this would be possible using an ATM-style multi-button option screen (cuts costs compared to a touchscreen on the device) or using a computer hooked up to the device.

    The device should be designed so that it's absolutely impossible to be taken over by a script-kiddie or other non-utterly-world-class malcontent. And yes, it can be done- and yes, it could be done pretty cheaply.

    Anything over about £20 worth of cost to the consumer for a "smart" meter is utterly unjustified (if it's rolled out country-wide).

  30. Osiris
    Thumb Down

    RE: jason

    "Yes its a new round of taxation and monitoring. 'Carbon Limits' will be set for houses and if you go over certain limits you'll be charged a carbon tax etc.etc."

    They could always learn from the ISP's and offer an 'unlimited' service.

    The fine print shall read thus: "Boil a kettle before 2am and you will be throttled to a single dily glowing blub. If you turn on said bulb you will be cut off completely"

  31. Sillyfellow
    Stop

    is this really safe?

    i think not. consider:

    connectivity: 'they' intend equipment fully under their control to use your comms, at your expense (and probably designed to connect to your home network also, to monitor you closely. for your own safety of course. i mean, think of the children. ffs).

    hackers: will have a field day with systems like these. fire sale anyone? hehe.

    disputes: as said previously, any minor dispute or misunderstanding (read human error) will result in immediate disconnection. we will more and more be at the mercy of corporate/politicals.

  32. Paul

    I do feer

    that there will be alot of people cut off. Working in credit control I know that you do get people (mostly little old ladys) that will send a cheque for there bill to the company.

    It will be In an envolope to the head office, marked "To Paul" or whoever the talked to last.

    It will have no infomation on it about who its from or what its for, just "Mrs Smith" as the payer name.

    These people will be hit hard if the changes to meter disconection go through, as the companys will just cut them off without looking for there payment. Yes these people are a pain (They think that everyone in a company with 200,000 cusotmers should know who they are when they phone up saying "Hello. Its Mrs Smith." and get anoyed when you don't) but they are cusotmers, and you should try and help them.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time We Switched to Microgeneration

    If everyone installed solar panels, wind turbines, ground heat systems, etc. then we could i) ignore the electricity companies or ii) sell power to them! Working for a contractor who works for a power company I know that they are rolling in cash. They query many bills we put into them and to the consumer bill them a huge uplift on top of the work we've done. My mother also recently found we were in credit to our electric supplier by £400, though they suggested we up our payments to £200 a month. Power companies are just ripping everyone off.

  34. Phil Cooke
    Boffin

    @ Steve Bennett

    All the main mobile telecoms companies have been doing work on smartmeters with embedded SIMS, so these are the most likely route for the connection.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    ESP comms perhaps?

    Surely a lot of premises don't have phone lines and a lot of meters are in situations where wireless won't work (e.g. cellars).

    In my modest home I have a phone line, but it's not in the garage where the meters are and I don't exactly relish my energy company making the necessary "modifications" to my property. In any case, I might well dispense with a landline in favour of a mobile on the timescales involved here.

    As for wanting to graph my energy usage on my PC. You're kidding surely? I've got better things to do with my time, like comment on El Reg... err, OK, forget that.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @AC 10:05

    "I wonder if the cut off fee will reduce as it will only cost them oohh approx tuppence ha'penny to cut them off (plus a letter perhaps)"

    If they're anything like TIcketMaster, they'll impose a $15 (sorry, I'm american) 'electronic disconnect convenience fee'.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Business as usual

    Why bother responding? The government will make sure that the bumper profits continue to roll in for those all important party donors. Instant switching of suppliers? Not short of a 'heads on poles at the tower' revolution, I think.

  38. Tom Chiverton
    Unhappy

    Remote shutdown !

    There's no way I'm letting someone into my house to install a remote controlled cut off switch for some spotty oik to hack into. No way.

  39. Sillyfellow
    Black Helicopters

    could it be...

    this article has spookily reminded of a recent article about the military seeking 'local building scanning tech'. perhaps like imaging technology using the power wires routed all around your house... could this 'smart meter' be related to that by any chance at all?.. oh, of course not. pure random speculation.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Useful...

    Say your car could recharge in 2 hrs at 60amps or over 8 hours 15 amps now you plug in your car 10 hours before you need to go to work... an intelligent meter could know that its better for the grid/cheaper not to charge until 4am then whack 60Amps for 2 hours the problem is that it MUST charge your car no matter what. but how does it know when is best for the grid? likewise they cant all wait till the same moment or the grid would collapse..

    its all well and good using an instant electricity price and cost trigger but can it work cooperativly and get you the best price AND make sure your car is fully charged???

  41. The BigYin
    Flame

    Why consult, the decision has been made

    The system will be implemented to maximise the profits of the companies (as that is where MPs will get the cushy directorships etc) and there will be no regard for the public.

    Just like every other decision ever taken by any British government in recent history.

    "Fuck the public, show me the money!"

    Bastards, the lot of them.

  42. Alan
    Thumb Down

    Comms

    Communication with the smart meter would probably be over the power lines supplying the premises, not using the customers' phone line.

    No, I don't want a smart meter with a remote cut off switch, I could do without a power cut due to the thing suffering a BSOD or at the whim of a script kiddie!

    I had my meter moved to a box outside the house so readers can get access when I'm not at home but in fact I still get estimated bills, the meter is only read once a year.

    Alan

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comms

    There are as I understand two main proposed methods of comms for energy companies to be able to remotely read your meter and cut you off if you haven't paid them, ADSL & GPRS.

    ADSL would be easy for the end user to disconnect, but turning off the GPRS modem would mean physically breaking into the meter, which would probably be illegal if not against the terms & conditions of the electricity supplier's contract with you.

  44. Dave Silver badge
    Alert

    @Owen Williams

    Better still, swap the in and out wires, so that the meter always runs in reverse. This used not to be possible, but with the advent of Micro-generation, you should be able to earn a healthy profit just by watching the telly!

    Might be a good idea to stick some fake solar panels on the roof though, just in case you ever get a visit.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Ok

    So someone wants to put a meter into my house that could be controlled externally and remotely without my knowledge.

    That leaves them completely open to any accusations of fraud - I would want a second physical meter, outside their control, monitoring my use as well. Any disagreement, it would be up to them to prove that I'd tampered with the meter, not up to me to prove they were messing around on their end.

    Seeing as they're money-grubbing liars on the fiddle at the moment (I won the case, I can say that), we need some safeguards in place before any such scheme is implemented.

  46. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Joke

    Good idea

    Anything which allows me to connect to the lamppost ouside and sell their electricity back to them has got to be a good idea.

  47. Dan Paul
    Flame

    What happened to Internet over Power Lines?

    Warning: There is no need to have any significant technology investment.

    The Utilities and Government are trying to rape the Public promoting the lie that this is complicated and will take billions in development costs.

    The technology is already here, the "smart" themostats for HVAC systems already exist and only cost a couple of hundred US dollars.

    We have had "drive by" water and electricity metering via radio here in my community (just outside of Niagara Falls NY USA) for a couple of years and all that is required to eliminate the driver is for our electric utility (National Grid, seemingly we all suffer together world wide) to institute digital communications over the power lines.

    If they had any brains or Ethics, the utlities would just recognize they could make huge money on the internet communications and offset the cost of both the technology and the cost of electricity.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Perhaps contrary to my usual position

    Speaking as someone who never lets anyone in to read the meter I actually welcome this - particularly the part about remotely accessible meter readings. Suits me fine.

    I forsee a future in microgeneration anyway.

  49. Camilla Smythe

    Easy Switching?

    Didn't read too hard but that seems to be one of the 'touted' benefits. Chances are it will go full rail and the middle men will get cut out. If energy, in particular electricity, is bought from a central pool then the next (i)logical step will be the customers will become a similar pool. You won't be with a 'named' entity as your supplier. Someone will sit at a trading desk bidding for customers from the customer pool, on the basis of lowest offered price, to be supplied with energy sold into the supply pool. Market economics at its leanest and best/worst. Naturally 'poor' customers are still open to penalisation it just becomes more finely grained.

  50. Matthew

    they won't be that smart...

    Surely these 'smart' meters will be no different from existing half-hour meters that are mandatory for large supplies to commercial/industrial buildings?

    They're no different from normal ones other than they phone up the energy provider and inform them of how many KWH's you've used. They have no visibility of how you used the power only how much.

    In order to gain visibility of what appliances you've been using and for how long would require substantial rewiring to folk's homes which would cost a fortune. Therefore all that could happen is the meter is changed to a half-hour type of unit (they look largely the same bar the phone cable).

    The only savings the energy suppliers will have is that they won't need to employ meter-readers and it will eliminate usage estimates that may be too low.

  51. Colin Millar
    Thumb Up

    Intelligent metering? - its intelligent consuming thats needed

    True intelligence would involve applying knowledge not just of current market conditions - spot price - but also of predicted market conditions.

    In the car charging scenario you will probably never get a hindsight best buy but you should be able to prioritise elements within the decision i.e. Prioritise getting a full charge by time XXX, prioritise getting per unit lowest cost using predictive modelling etc.

    The ability for consumers to make choices about how they buy their leccy and the priorities within those choices should be available but I'm not sure that smart-metering would be the tool - it needs to be further downstream with smart-devices and smart consumer control. Its the consumer control unit (fuse box) and appliances that need upgrading for this to happen. What we need smart-metering to be is designed to provide consumer useful information that is accessible by consumers and not just the energy companies and also access to data on energy prices that will allow for predictive pricing models to be developed. The ability to integrate with home networks is vital because consumers will be running this software and consumer control themselves - all the leccy companies will be doing is (a) varying the price and (b) restricting supply.

  52. N Silver badge

    @ AC

    "I'm sure Crapita, EDS, and all the usual suspects in government tendering are rubbing their mitts in glee at the prospect of this big expensive government project."

    ...To cock up like the others!

  53. Britt Johnston
    Unhappy

    3rd world solution

    People have been predicting for a while that GB might be the first state to make it back from developed to underdeveloped. This looks like a key step on the way.

    When the installation doesn't work, or the utility OS is down, attach your house mains to the grid, bypassing the broken bit. Don't forget to wear insulated gloves.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wacky Jacqui's idea?

    No doubt the next phase will be to fine people for using too much gas or electricity.

    All energy usage will naturally be added to a huge database, tracking people individually even when they move house.

    I think this technology originates from 1984...

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Disappointed

    They didn't call it a plan with three phases...

    Shocking.

  56. RW
    Flame

    A & B (plus C)

    A. It won't work. Guaranteed. Whatever cockamamie IT scheme the UK gov is involved in, it won't work. Not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow, not any day, never.

    B. Greed or stupidity? I vote for the latter, given the endless dimwitted initiatives that have emanated from UKGov Pty these last years.

    C. General analysis of what's wrong with modern society: management, government, and executive ranks are filled with sociopaths. There is no other viable explanation of the blatant lying, manipulation, and thievery that goes on so shamelessly.

  57. peter Silver badge
    Alert

    @Comms #2 (the one after Alan's)

    If I'm about to be cut-off for defaulting on my bill, I'm not gonna be worried about breaking the sodding T&Cs.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't know about over there

    However on this side of the Atlantic the plan Lewis is proposing would never work. It's far to reasonable and sensible. Not to mention the primary reason it would never come into effect, that is the power companies don't really give a shit about their customers. And the plan he proposes is far to customer focused and gives us peons choice and allows us to make informed decisions that are in our best interest but not necessarily in the power companies.

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Dear Citizen 295214-b ...

    ... In accordance with EC Directive 33924, we are writing to notify you that you have breached your "carbon contract" for this month.

    Our records show that you have overfilled your dustbin by 5kg. The black box in your car has informed us that you have driven 17.3 miles over your allotted quota. Your electricity and gas meters are currently reading 12% above average for the size of your house.

    We note from our ID card database that you live in a house of multiple occupancy, and from ContactPoint that you have three children of school age (one of whom was admitted to hospital with a suspicious injury last week). The size of your family has been taken into account when performing these calculations.

    Incidentally, according to our ISP monitoring program "Mastering The Internet" you spend far too much time online visiting subversive sites like The Register. Switching the computer off will certainly bring down your carbon footprint.

    Should you refuse to comply with this directive, an Environmental Enforcement Order will be taken out against you. This may include random punishments and impositions as we see fit, without recourse to the courts. Your electricity and gas will be rationed at source.

    Sincerely,

    The Home Office

  60. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Nope ...

    It isn't happening here. There's no way I'm going along with that.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A return to the dark ages?

    > 2) allow "remote ... software and firmware changes"

    > 4) The ability for energy firms to cut off supplies remotely.

    Sound suspiciously similar to me knowing the propensity for people to outsource development to the lowest bidder and rubber stamp testing/QA to save money.

    No thanks!

  62. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Matthew re half hour meters

    Well spotted. As you noted, large electricity users already have meters which record both energy usage in half hour intervals and the maximum power demand in the same period.

    However the meters being proposed here allegedly do more than that - eg the consumer gets access to instant power figures as well as the accumulated totals, and (in principle) they come with the ability to "load shed" non-essential loads on command.

    It's all hype though, and doomed to failure in so many different ways.

    Again as you note, the vast majority of today's users have no practical way of distinguishing between essential and non-essential loads.

    And so much classical stuff that used to appear to work for "demand management" by reducing the voltage to reduce the energy consumption no longer works in the era of switched mode power supplies (they just eat more amps to achieve the same power consumption) and kit with thermostatic controls (things like cookers, immersion heaters, fridges, etc will just stay switched on for longer).

    The one thing I do expect will be behind this is the government wants to get ready for when our electricity demand exceeds supply, which it will before too long, either because we haven't enough generating capacity, we can't pay for our imported fossil fuels, or the worldwide gas demand exceeds supply and we have no native supplies and no friends, or none of the suppliers want to be paid in sterling. When (not if) that happens, the government will want to be able to keep what power there is available for the essential services (police, military, City financial services, Commons Expenses office, etc) whilst remotely switching off non-essential demand (joe public's homes, offices, and shops) and this technology will greatly simplify that task.

  63. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    See also: May 2008

    See also the comments on the article from a year ago when the unexpected shutdown of 3GW worth of generation (one 1GW nuke and one 2GW coal) caused concern (to put it politely) at Gridco. Just think how much easier it would be to shed 3GW of non-essential customers (nb we're talking about disconnecting **customers**, not individual equipment) if customers mostly had smart meters.

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/05/29/blighty_leccy_crisis/comments/

    Woodstoves. Flames. Nice for heating and maybe cooking.

  64. John Smith Gold badge
    Thumb Down

    Please respond to their request

    But don't use email to do so.

    Governing types are usually the product of a non-technical education. Lots of lawyers and journos (no disrespect to the scribes of The Reg. Long may your organ be mighty).

    They tend to view email the way Reg readers view Twitter posts.

    Note these bozos accepted ID cards and the IMP partly because they were presented well enough (and convincingly enough) that they did not look deeper to see the BS underneath. It all looked *so* plausible and who would disbelieve those nice men from IBM, EDS, CSC, Thales etc?

    I will be responding. It will be on paper. Other readers might like to consider doing so as well.

    So far this is all about what the supply companies want.

  65. Ricky H
    Go

    smartmetering@decc.gsi.gov.uk

    no bounce just yet....

    keep this up people, i've mentioned the important things here in that email.

    switch between suppliers easily

    ability to buy energy units ahead of time

    ext bunch of units at spot-plus-lowest-offered-margin

    the smart meters should be made in the UK

    cheers

  66. Herby Silver badge

    Smart Meters, Stupid Users, etc...

    While there is a cost of delivering electricity to customers, at times the "cost" of generating it varies WILDLY. In fact, on some power grids (at the proper time), the "cost" of power can be NEGATIVE (they pay you to consume it). While it doesn't happen much, there are times when this is the case. Unfortunately the "market" of electricity isn't that developed, and there is no over supply (the system needs about 10% over peak demand to have a proper market). These "smart" meters are as everyone has pointed out just a way to charge users more, and give them less.

    Yes, a side benefit might be to remotely turn off the dead beats, but that is a secondary function. I will note that in some jurisdictions here in the USA, it takes a couple of people to turn off power, including an off-duty policeman "packing heat!".

    Smart meters are nothing new. I worked on some examples over 20 years ago.

  67. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    (untitled)

    I appreciate this article pointing out a downside (apart from sacking loads of meter readers that is). I hadn't realised the extent of the control. I don't think that sort of control should be available to any utility supplier. Any that feel the need to cut folk off from essential supplies are basically admitting that their system has failed. No one in this country should be in a position not to be able to afford essentials. None of us should not be in a position where we can be cut off at a moment's notice. Reading a consumer's use for billing purposes is one thing, control is quite another.

    And why does anyone think giving a consumer more ability to monitor is going to make much difference? I use the energy I feel I need to live comfortably. If I wish to go monitoring in order to live less comfortably then I can already do so; but life's too short to make it uncomfortable for the sake of a few pennies. The example that was given on morning TV was ludicrously untypical. How often is someone going to leave on a light in the loft, and notice it because the meter was slightly higher than expected when they were going to bed? Once in a blue moon? And in any case, it was just a lightbulb, at what, 100W at most? Well that was a big saving to the country.

  68. John Smith Gold badge
    Happy

    AC@19:57

    "..an Environmental Enforcement Order will be taken out against you. "

    Ah, to think that a little while ago I suggested "eco-crime" as a fertile field for Mr Straw's minions to draft laws in.

    From telling you what light bulbs you can use to cutting off whole households in just a few short months.

    The pace of change in this new millennium is breathtaking!

  69. Lukin Brewer
    Unhappy

    We had a similar thing...

    ...in the form of our United Artist/Telewest/Virgin set top cable boxes. Roughly two times every year, one or both of our boxes would stop receiving any channels. We would make a service call, and, once we'd worked our way through the system, someone would confirm our boxes' serial numbers and reactivate all our allotted channels remotely down the cable line, while we waited. I would be highly wary of the same sort of thing happening with the smart meters: random termination signals going out in error, shutting people off. Possibly in the middle of the night. Possibly in midwinter.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    legislation "bought"

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/4389589/Lords-fiasco-Lord-Truscotts-meetings-with-minister-and-officials.html

    Seems that the "smart meters" legislation was bought and paid for. I'm sure the whole legislation will now be re-examined..

    Or not.

  71. John Smith Gold badge
    Jobs Horns

    Had a meter reader round today

    Said at least one firm has bought its meter reading back in house.

    Replacing digital gas meters back to mechanical. It seems 5 years from a button cell is *still* not enough as it mandates a visit. Never understood why they won't even look at a small fuel cell for this. The actual average power drain must be minuscule.

    May be looking at semi passive meters with RFID type power systems.

    Number of meters to be replaced is *huge*.c12million households at least.

    That's a lot of CORGI's.

    Still looks like a solution that gives plenty to suppliers/government and very little to consumers.

    Customer hardware, impossible to change core software. Inflated prices. I think I know just the man.

  72. John Smith Gold badge
    Flame

    +/- 2% accuracy

    That's what mechanical UK gas meters are rated at. According to Ofgem of the c1500 meters they tested, because their readings were questioned, 36% could not manage to be even this accurate. However they also reported that their are 22 million UK meters (which of course would all need changing)

    It seems the digital ones are -2/+3% inaccurate. While the mechanical design dates from c1850. The design they replaced was more accurate but used a gas/water seal which could leak. we could do better today.

    We're talking 6 bit accuracy full scale (or worse).

    The level of accuracy is set by a British Standard which does not seem to have been revised for a while. I doubt the electricity meters are any more accurate.

    Still what's 2% on the average UK gas or electricity bill?

  73. Jeremy Wickins Silver badge
    Flame

    Only two thoughts I haven't seen so far:

    As so many have said, this is needless, intrusive technology, with no advantage to the end user. The only thoughts I've had so far that no-one else has mentioned are:

    1. If it is based on wireless tech of any description, what is to stop manipulation of the signal? From simply masking the signal (from a Faraday cage for part of the day, or radio-jamming), to actively intercepting the signal and changing it (we all know it will be possible), it is open to abuse.

    2. People living in cities will be at significantly greater risk of being cut off (accidentally, legitimately, maliciously, or through equipment failure), and especially those living in flats, and to a slightly lesser extent terraced houses, which I reckon, in the UK, disproportionately means those lower down the socio-economic scale. People in larger houses outside high-density areas tend to have more chance of generating some, and maybe a significant proportion of, their electric (roof area and garden).* Flat dwellers/terraces have little (roof area to dwelling ratio very low, no gardens). This means that my semi with front and rear gardens cushions/protects me (if I have invested in micro-generation)** from the risk of being cut off in a way that some people will not be able to have.

    Flames, cos nothing sparks riots quicker than a lack of power ...

    * I am tending towards the idea that gas in the home will soon be a luxury/unavailable, so electricity will be the only option.

    ** Unless the meter craps that up as well - though I'm sure a switch in the line somewhere to divert around the meter will be an easy fitting.

  74. Charles Manning

    Using leccy cars

    Rescheduling charging for 3am would be good for cheaper electricity but that would have to be under customer control. You would want some flexibility to get a charge if you were a shift worker.

    You really, really don't want to use a leccy car as a battery bank. This is a very daft idea. Batteries are designed for purpose. leccy batteries have to meet a very different set of demands (lightness, collision resistance...) to stationary battery banks. Each time you use a battery dings its lifetime and using a leccy battery for this will mean you have to replace the leccie's battery sooner. Rather pay for a stationary battery.

    But then local storage isn't particularly efficient either. Charging and then discharging a battery and reconstituting mains is pretty inefficient (60-70%) making you wionder whether it is really a good idea in the first place.

  75. John Smith Gold badge
    Happy

    @Jeremy Wickins

    "I am tending towards the idea that gas in the home will soon be a luxury/unavailable, so electricity will be the only option"

    While we source it from one of Dobby Putin's cronies and measure its consumption with +/-2% accuracy you're probably right. However IIRC the price of gas has been dropping. You may remember the Reg story on anaerobic digestion of waste from a meat pie factory. It was running a generator to make electricity to sell to the grid (and you know how inefficient small scale combustion can be) but in Denmark (or Sweden) it is normal to pipe it straight into the gas network. There appear to be provisions in the relevant Acts to do this in the UK. The estimate was that this and other sources IE waste water treatment, could source 50% of the UK gas supply. Optimistic perhaps but we should be able to a lot better than present, and it would be carbon neutral if anyone cared.

    In my home the gas CH is the biggest single appliance (30Kw). I doubt *every* single light and appliance running flat out simultaneously equals that level of energy use. My, and my friends experience of electric central heating has been unimpressive. Unresponsive and prone to starting fires sums it up. Look at how sheepish estate agents are at telling people a flat or house is fitted with it. My main annoyance with GCH is that no one has built a boiler which can supply the energy to run the water circulation pump, ignition, thermostat and timer. The last three are trivial but the pump is a Kw sized unit even for small homes. I think putting a fuel cell inside the boiler itself might be the way to go. Ionic conductivity is important in FC's and gets a *lot* better at modest temperatures. Not micro co-generation. Just enough power to keep the water moving and the washing up done.

    Mine will be the one with a copy of "Alternative Energy Without The Hot Air" in it.

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