back to article BT signs first smart meter deal

BT has joined the gathering feeding frenzy around smart metering of utilities with its first ever deal to provide the necessary internet connectivity, to a minimum of 10,000 meters. The firm's BT Redcare division, which operates a network for security devices including alarms and CCTV, has signed a deal to connect up smart …

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  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    Secure ?

    So, is it still possible for any 14 year old oik to power down my house, or have they gained a clue in the last few months ?

    I only ask, because otherwise their may be some difficulty pinning me down for a date to gain access to my meter to 'upgrade' it...

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Sadly

      They don't need to pin you down.

      The law (I've forgotten which statute) permits them to gain entry by other means, so long as it's essential to continue to provide a service, and so long as they've tried to contact you.

      I only know cos I tried the same thing (not with a smart meter though) and received a letter notifying me of such. Unbelievably when I went to OPSI to verify, it was true!

      Same goes for the waterboard IIRC

      1. Tom Chiverton 1

        essential

        It's clearly not 'essential' that they upgrade my meter, however,

        Or, to put it another way, it's not obvious it's essential, as the power will keep coming in regardless of the smartness.

        1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

          But

          They'll claim it's essential, and the Court will believe them and issue the relevant warrant.

          It'll be along the lines of;

          It's essential to our business to get all customers on this meter, Tom's refusing, but we can't afford to support both the new meter (with all it's benefits) and the old one that has to be read manually.

          Whether or not you agree with it wont come into it. You'll be lucky if they even tell you they're applying for a warrant in all likelihood

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re water board.

        I used to work for local water board, I think they can install water meters just inside your driveway. Any more and they have to get permission from the owner of the property.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Essential?

          Meters have to be changed or at least checked every few years to ensure they are accurate and safe. So once your meter reaches a certain age you are required by law to allow the supplier to swap it out. And if you don't they can cut you off.

  2. Martin 47

    benefits for consumers will be

    Dearer electricity, gas and water so that they will not be able to afford as much, so will use less and save the planet, or something like that

    Oh and the reassurance that consumers will never again have (be allowed) to query a bill as they will just turn your power/gas/water off instantly till you pay up.

    Then there will be loads of different tariffs depending on the colour on of the moon and availability of rocking horse shit, purely designed to make it impossible to compare charges, so that's another worry off the consumers shoulders.

    Of course the main benefit will be that some bloke in Nigeria will be able to tweek it so that all your gas/electric/water is free

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder...

    I wonder if the conspiracy loons are going to come out in force for this topic...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      From one loon to another

      Why don't you get back in your glass 'I've got nothing to hide' box and let the grown ups talk?

      People taking an interest in their civil liberties (and the opportunities that arise for companies and govt. to abuse them) isn't 'loony' - and BT aren't exactly conspiracy proof either - or do you still take a Broadband connection from them?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Err...

        I do have things to hide, it's just that things which are already known by the energy companies (ie: how much energy I use) aren't those things. There are laws in place to stop them cutting me off and BT won't be snooping the data in the same way that our network connections at work are provided by them, but aren't snooped by them.

        Smart metering isn't a civil liberties matter by any stretch of the imagination, especially compared with stop-and-search, ID cards, regulation of sexual activity amongst consenting adults etc, etc... You also get many advantages such as automating the collection and processing of how much energy you use, switching of high loads (with prior agreement) to change grid demand, provision of accurate time-of-day related dynamic pricing etc. etc.

        Short of the meters being horribly insecure, which is unlikely at best, why would I not want to do this?

        1. Ned Leprosy
          Thumb Down

          Smart metering

          So someone with SAD potentially getting a rude letter to turn off their lights isn't a civil liberties issue? 100 watt incandescent bulbs are already considered contraband, so ludicrous though it sounds, it isn't an unreasonable concern.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Eh?

            @Ned, did you even think before you wrote that? Noone is going to be getting rude letters asking them to turn stuff off especially for the want of a hundred watts. You may have a company send you a letter offering energy saving tips, you may get them asking if you want to install Fridges or Air con equipment which can be remotely powered off, but they aren't going to get nasty with people for the want of a few hundred watts.

    2. Circadian
      Grenade

      @Fraser

      No conspiracy - these are private companies that are *by definition* out to get as much money out of you as they legally can (or can place the burden of proof on their "consumers" to try to prove otherwise). So unless there can be shown a clear benefit to me, I will continue to think that this is just yet another way of ripping off the customer.

  4. Craig 2
    Thumb Down

    For suppliers not consumers

    This will only benefit suppliers since they will be able to charge more for supplying less. Imagine if everyone suddenly used only 50% of their normal electricity. Would suppliers be happy with 50% revenue? Of course not, prices will rise. There is still the benefit to the enviroment in that less nuclear power stations need to be built, but don't believe the `saving you money` hype!

  5. Shady
    Stop

    One way benefits.

    If the utilities employ anti-competitive measures, as suspected by many a member of the public, then after the potentially large HR cost savings (no more meter readers, call centres, far fewer technicians) our bills will..... stay the same, there will be a lot of meter readers and call centre operatives on the dole and the utilities will be posting higher dividends to their share holders, once more widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

    As I pointed out in the last smart-meter related story I posted on, the consumer should have potentially fantastic benefits, at low cost of implementation, such as instant switching (from your desktop PC) of suppliers - even schedule this sort of behaviour for day / night tariffs - but we won't be allowed to do anything like that, will we?

    As Martin 47 says - by far the biggest, perhaps only the sole benefit could be the ability to hack the meter.

    Gawd, I'm depressed :(

    1. nobby

      instant switching?

      fools.

      "switching" suppliers is a painful process behind the scenes, there are at least five different parties involved (meter operator, data collector, data aggregrator, old supplier, new supplier) and you have to get your details right with all of them to make it happen - the electricity industry has a clear process you need to follow and you're not going to make it happen quicker just by having a fancy meter in your house.

      1. Ministry of Truth
        Boffin

        Well fools is a bit strong

        There are a few potential benefits to smart metering, but most of them will be difficult to implement.

        While I agree with your assessment of the complexity of the Chang of Supplier process, a couple of the main sticking points will be smoothed by having meters which can get poled for information:

        The change of supplier reading will be easier and cheaper to obtain, and less liable to gaming by customers who change their suppliers frequently.

        The metering details will be potentially at the click of a button away, meaning that your change of supplier process will be far smoother and there will be less data attrition.

        We're not going to see loads of people suddenly out of work over this as there is still a legal requirement to eyeball the meter at least once every two years to make sure no one has tried to tamper with it, no wires are hanging off etc - this cannot be done remotely.

        You'll still want to get a regular read or so to make sure that what the meter is sending you is correct.

        Hard to get to sites or sites which have high cost to serve such as providing "wind ons" on pre payment meters when some pikey has forgotten to charge their meter on a bank holiday Friday, or obstructive paranoids who won't let the meter reader in to the site will become far less burdensome. At a site visit cost in excess of £50 a throw, this means lower costs to the people who are on more standard tariffs, as currently ofgem rules prevent these costs being passed through to the people who cause them in most cases.

        Time of day tariffs are a lovely idea, however, there is a peak in demand for a very good reason - are you going to say to your kids "oh hang on til 10pm for your dinner kids, cause that's when the power is cheaper!!" - that said, you could offer significant benefits to consumers who reduce their peak consumption and pass on the benefits that the supplier will get if they can PROOVE it.

        The UK energy market is divided into 6 main suppliers, a handful of distribution network operators, a transmission network operator, various "agents" such as the Data collector, data aggregator, meter operator etc. and the settlement agency. The upshot of this is that you have a lot of legacy systems out there (OMG an IT angle!) which are frankly unable to cope with having high granularity settlement for the 26 mill households in this country. Having time of use billing may not have any relation to having time of use settlement - unless the suppliers sort this out there won't be many benefits for them to pass on.

        That said, the suppliers that CAN offer effective time of use tariffs will be able to offer highly competitive rates to those consumers who are able to manage their consumption more carefully.

        Smart meters have a cost, and have benefits that are not directly available, but get a grip:

        If you are prepared to be a good little eco-bunny, you might just stand to see some serious financial benefits for it. If you aren't going to change what you're doing, you won't get stomped on that hard, ofgem won't let them do it.

        Plus - 10k sites out of 26 million plus - not really a problem now is it?

      2. Steven Jones

        Smar Meters will facilitate faster supplier switching

        "you're not going to make it happen quicker just by having a fancy meter in your house."

        Of course it will help make it happen quicker. A smart meter would allow for instant remote reading so it it then a matter of the back end systems getting their house in order. Of course there is a transactional cost involved in this, and a sudden change in supplier by millions of people using the retail equivalent of a spot market isn't going to happen. The promoter of this is talking moonshine - spot markets work on relatively large volumes as market and prices have to be adjusted. Retail would just generate far too many transactions. I suppose it might just be possible for a supplier to offer limited volumes of units at a fixed price in the way that Ryan Air offers a few cheap seats, but that's never going to work for zillions of little transactions as untold numbers of retail customers automate their buying of electricity on an hourly basis using some form automated software hunting out the cheapest prices. It would be highly unstable and retail relationships of this sort tend to have to be necessarily long term.

        However, that extreme aside, the presence of a smart meter is a big enabler for faster switching of suppliers. It may not be that I can chooses who is cheapest to provide my next 10 units of electiricy over the next few hours, but it will be quicker.

      3. Jan 0
        WTF?

        Confusion

        How can I switch suppliers? Surely you mean billing companies?

        My supply is provided by EDF, I'm not aware that any other company has, or plans to lay,

        cables in my street. I am aware that I could choose from a raft of billing companies.

        The one I use seems unable to communicate with the 'data collector', but it's clunky web interface happily accepts my own readings.

        I have no idea who actually generates my electricity.

        1. Steven Jones

          Confused

          @Jan 0

          I'm not surprised you are confused. You are mixing up the term supplier with the owner of the local distribution network - it's not even the complete distribution network. There's the grid to take into account. Use the standard industry terminology and it helps.

          The ERA represent the electricity (and gas) suppliers in the UK. In their words

          "The Energy Retail Association (ERA), formed in 2003, represents the major electricity and gas suppliers in the domestic market in Great Britain. "

          http://www.energy-retail.org.uk/members.html

          Note there are minor suppliers too. Technically a billing company just does that - billing. There are several that will provide billing services for many retail operations, but you won't see their name on the bill - just the retail operator which iit is usual, in the UK at least, to call the supplier (same for gas).

        2. Nick Carter

          Spot price tariff switching

          Perhaps it might be possible to allow the consumer to configure their smart meter to switch between alternative generating sources (i.e. renewable, nuclear, coal, gas) according to the relative spot price of each source rather than switching between supply/distribution companies.

          Those keen on renewables, for example, could set their meters to only switch away from the renewable tariff to one of the others when the non-renewable tariff is 80% of the renewable tariff (or choose your preferred generating source and price premium). The user configuration would be done via the web (First:Utility already allows online monitoring by the customer).

          I suspect that the 'smart' meters we get won't be capable of this though.

  6. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
    FAIL

    Sir

    Didn't BT hear that their Labour masters are no longer in power - so this kind of shit is no longer necessary?

    Joke? No, I don't think so, not this time - after all, they have Phorm.

  7. nobby
    Go

    tits.

    Look, currently you're lucky to get a domestic meter read every two years; you're talking estimated bills in between which can go wildly out of kilter. Smart metering removes that - your readings are automatic and continuous. Large industry already uses "half hourly" meters that sign home daily and those are a godsend not an infringement.

    Think about the cost of having a person come round your house and read your meter on a regular basis? That's every house in the country, ideally every quarter.... There's a definite cost there that can be removed by smart meters.

    Oh, and 'leccy and Gas can't be turned off at a domestic property (that's your house dodo) without court orders and a clear indication of inability to try to pay; whether its a "smart meter" or not they have a right to access the meter, so if you're due a de-energisation its going to happen no matter what your meter is.

    1. Martin 47

      your 'aving a laugh

      currently consumers (although generally only the poor, so that's OK then) are having their meters turned off all the time without the need for a court order, If you cannot afford to top up your 'pay-as-you-go' card your meter stops supplying electric/gas when the money runs out

      No need for inconvenient things like court orders, I for one would not bet against 'smart meters' working on the same principle

    2. Sillyfellow
      Stop

      no it's not

      ..it's absolutely not going to happen at my house.

      i paid for and own everything on my property, including the meters etc, so it will be my decisions what gets changed. my decision alone.

      if some company claim that some statute allows them, or anyone else, the right to gain entry to my property without my permission, then they can just try it.

      a statute is not a law. these are 2 different things. it's called a court of law, not a court of law and statutes (nor even a court of justice).

      i can also choose whomever i like to supply my gas/electricity, based on what ever criteria i like, including if they 'require' a smart meter or not.

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Hmmmmm

        Here we go, quick Google later

        The Gas and Electricity Boards act 1954

        So it's an Act of Parliament, i.e. a Law (as opposed to a regulation)

        You can indeed choose who supplies your gas/electricity, whether its based on use of smart meters or even whether you like their logo. But answer me this - what are you going to do when they all use 'em?

        On principle, I'd completely agree with having the right to deny permission, but the law says afterwards. You'll probably also find that the meter remains the property of the supplier, you've paid for it in service charges but not actually bought the rights to the device.

        Slightly related, it seems some time ago an leccy board broke in to change the meter. The problem? The homeowner was with a different board;

        http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23427930-electricity-firm-breaks-into-house-to-change-meter---even-though-homeowner-is-not-a-customer.do

      2. nobby

        you don't own the meter

        electric and gas meters are not yours, they belong to someone else...

        how dare they leave their property near your house!

        you should make them remove them immediately.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        @Sillyfellow

        "..it's absolutely not going to happen at my house."

        Laudable.

        I think you'll find it's called a "Statutory right of entry" and a surprising number of UK bodies (many of which are now public companies but were part of the state) have it.

        OTOH if you were arguing that being forced to place an insecure, remotely overarideable power or gas controlling device in charge of your household utilities would threaten your safety you might have more of a point.

      4. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
        WTF?

        @ Sillyfellow ...

        "A statute is not a law"? What are you talking about? Assuming you are living in the UK, then you are very, very, very wrong!!!!!!! [Breathes, and decides to stop overusing punctuation]. A statute is very definitely law in the UK - it is law that comes from Parliament. In fact it is the primary source of law. I suspect you are confused by the "common law", which exists for things that statutes don't, and which often gets rolled up into statutes.

        For instance, try telling a copper that you can't be arrested for burglary because the relevant law is a statute, or the local hospital that they can't exist because the statute they are set up under isn't law.

        Does anyone know if Sillyfellow's opinion is widespread - if so I can feel a paper coming on!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      Tits?? .. where??

      "you're talking estimated bills in between which can go wildly out of kilter."

      No most of us get a paper card which we use to report the reading online or by phone, works great. if yours is widely out of kilter maybe you just can't count.

      "There's a definite cost there that can be removed by smart meters."

      Of course this cost will be returned to the customers as a saving... really.. you think so.. ?

      Not to mention the stats which will be collected on usage patterns etc.

      1. nobby

        interesting

        so.

        let me see.

        you condone a mechanism whereby the payment-shy will simple continue to lie about the meter reading until such time as the meter is physically read?

        fascinating.

    4. JP19

      The Cost

      I can get a van driver to come specially just to my house to pick up a parcel and they move it half way across the country then drive specially to someone else's house to deliver it at a starting price of about 6 quid.

      So being generous give them 3 quid to read a meter. Do you think BT are going to hook up a meter to the internet for 3 quid a year? There is no cost saving and significant cost and expense installing a smart meter which will never be recovered.

      We are getting smart meters because the previous government (and probably the current pack of wankers) love the idea of forcing us to install and pay for household guilt meters. The love the idea of reducing peak demand by increasing prices to compensate for their failure to invest in viable generating infrastructure. I can see a smelly future where people can only afford to wash themselves and clothes when it's effing windy.

    5. Circadian
      FAIL

      @nobby

      ...and of course all this technology will work perfectly, there will be no wrong billings, the security will be unhackable, and every employee involved at every stage will be whiter-than-white.

      Oink, flap.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Circadian

        So, just like now then?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Related material

    This link might be of interest -

    On the security economics of electricity metering

    http://weis2010.econinfosec.org/papers/session5/weis2010_anderson_r.pdf

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Related stuff

      You beet me to it.

      I'd already read that and was going to quote it.

      It's a very good description of how we got here and why it may be of use.

      And those estimates of data storage look like they will need a whole new comms infrastructure as well as a fair few disks.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Data storage

        The data storage wouldn't be a gigantic problem, at my company we have about a third that amount of online data hosted on EMC disk alone. You would put in a hierarchical storage system and stage it off from fast disk, to slow disk to tape as required. Multiply this up by say three or seven years and you are still only looking at about 27PB (for 3 years) for the whole country, which is around 35000 LTO4 tapes - This could easily be stored nearline in seven STK L5500 libraries. My previous company had seven of these hooked up together, they're big but are a surprisingly high data density.

        This data would probably not be permanently stored at the collection agency, but spread out over all the supply compaines. Personally, I'd be happier if it were stored at a central collection agency, but that's just personal prefrence.

  9. Dave_H
    Thumb Up

    Smart Meter

    I've had an Electricity Smart Meter from First:Utility for some time now. I can look at my account on-line and can see my energy usage per 1/2 hour.

    Personnaly I love the accuracy of billing and being able to bend the kids ears regarding their proflogate use of the energy. (It's much higher when I'm not following them round turning off lights in room they have left, etc.)

    Why on earth does BT eventually catching up with what has been done via SMS so far warrant a news story?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I would ne a *lot* of assurances...

    ...before I would have one of these things. e.g. separate recorders in case of dispute (e.g. I can keep my own, separate, log of usage if I so desire), infinite liability should they be responsible for a breach of my personal network or information, their data not to count towards my usage cap, no requirement for me to pay for a landline internet connection if the sole use is a smart meter; and so on.

    In short, these things need to have a lot more features that benefit and protect *me* before I would have one in my house.

    1. Trevor 10

      BT Network

      Since they are having to sign a deal with BT to connect the smart meters up to the BT Redcare system, it doesn't sound like they will use your network at all.

      These aren't wifi enabled meters which latch onto your hotspot and report back via your broadband connection, they use their own communication lines.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    How it will be done

    Simple

    26 million meter replacements by 2020 is 2.6 million a year

    That's *quite* a lot above the annual replacement level give IIRC a 30 year minimum life expectancy.

    So they'll buy off the shelf models like those rolled out in the US market.

    Some of which *have* been tested by security researchers (although it has become a *lot* harder for them to get meters in for testing) and found to be *very* hacker friendly.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    "compensate for their failure to invest in viable generating infrastructure."

    Er, I don't know if you noticed, but UK Government abrogated their responsibility for energy supply infrastructure some considerable time ago, in the Thatcher era (and Saint Tony carried it on just as She would have hoped).

    Obviously unleashed and unregulated market forces driven by the need for short term profit are the best way of guaranteeing medium term energy security, right?

    No, not right, but never mind, nice big bonuses for the directors will keep the lights on won't they.

    Flames, 'cos in ten years or so that's what'll be keeping our houses warm in the UK.

    Thanks, Margaret. I wonder how many Watt-hours she'd burn for.

    1. JP19

      market forces

      Come on, the market will respond with whatever it takes to make a profit short or long term.

      What the market can do depends entirely on what government lets them which is why we have no new nukes and loads of new useless windmills made profitable by huge subsidies the government force us to pay.

      1. Red Bren
        Flame

        And what about the nuclear subsidies?

        The Fossil Fuel Levy and the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation from the Electricity Act of 1990? The nuclear industry did rather well out of it as I recall.

        If nuclear is so good, why isn't the private sector clamouring to build, run and decommission the things without subsidy?

  13. AndrueC Silver badge
    Go

    O M G

    The paranoia is strong in this thread!

    People monitoring your energy usage - Oh noes!

    Companies whose business relies on supplying you with as much electricity as you want will deprive you of the supply just because they can - You what?

    Some random prat in a foreign country will cut you off - how? It'll be a private network.

    I will say though that the benefits to the consumer are minimal and I agree with those who suggest the 'savings' are more likely to be used to increase profits. But all this paranoia and angst about smart meters - that's just daft.

  14. dephormation.org.uk
    Big Brother

    Pity any BT engineer

    ... who knocks on my door expecting a warm welcome.

    And I'm not going to provide my electricity company with a free ride on my communications infrastructure, so how is this device going to communicate back to its masters?

    As for home networking, if the smart meter provides an opportunity for the untrustworthy thieving filthy bastard spyware criminals in BT/Phorrm to walk all over my home network, profile my family, and push advertising up my nose, that's simply never ever going to happen.

  15. Matthew 17

    Hopefully these will be wireless

    Don't have a phone socket anywhere near the meter in my house, there would be no way to install one without ripping up my kitchen floor, not going to do that.

    This will cost the utility companies a fortune, what's the benefit to them other than to save costs on sending people round to read the meter?

  16. Weeble
    Black Helicopters

    Redcare Incompatibility

    Last time I looked into Redcare (for burglar alarm monitoring) I was told you couldn't have it on an ADSL line. So perhaps to 10,000 users of which BT speak are those to whom they will never be offering a broadband service. The rest of us will no doubt be forced to do it some other way.

    Personally I fear smart metering, as currently prososed for two reasons:

    1) Richness of billling options as offered by mobile phone industry. i.e. You can never work out if you're on the best tariff.

    2) Real time feedback. I don't want some lowlife in the control centre phoning his mates when the meter tells him there's no-one home. For that matter, would you want the 16Amp spike at 4pm alerting the aforementioned lowlife's paedo associate that you 14 year old daughter has just come home from scool and is now in the shower.

    Conclusion: energy charges will rise, but you won't know why - and it's just another means of spying on you.

    Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get me.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Broadband required?

    I always thought that data transfer to/from a 'smart meter' would be over the electricity supply cable that enters your house. So as long as your gas meter is in the same cupboard as your leccy meter, there is no need to rip up your house to enable connectivity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think...

      I think (not really sure, though) that substations sometimes have red care alarms, could it be that the 'last mile' to the house from the sub station would use over mains communications and the red care alarm system in the sub station will be used to communicate with the wider network?

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Its not about YOU

    Wrong end of stick grabbed here it seems. Smart Meters aren't about You, they are about the Grid. They're about ensuring future supplies don't have to be bought from the russians. They're about ensuring supply matches demand in a world of renewables and nuclear. The energy cos already know that you come home, put the dinner on and watch TV in the evening. Stop being so paranoid about it.

    You'll be gagging to get one once the brown-outs begin and you can't use your USB coffee warmers.

  19. R J Tysoe

    blah

    Perhaps it would be cheaper to read my meter if they didn't send someone around to read it every 2 weeks...

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