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

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

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  1. Thesheep
    Stop

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

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

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

      Guess which one I did?

      It is now just sat in a box somewhere.

      1. Rich 2
        FAIL

        Oh yes

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

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

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

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Can be useful...

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

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

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

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

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

  2. Silverburn
    Thumb Down

    Focusing on failed government initiatives?

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

  3. JaitcH
    WTF?

    Why should consumers pay for smart meter replacements?

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

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

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

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

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      FAIL

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

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

      1. JaitcH
        WTF?

        Bet you never paid for your 'dumb' meter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    2. Paul Tribe
      FAIL

      "Let the utilities pay"

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

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

  4. auburnman
    Alert

    Call me cynical

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And I will call you cynical

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

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

      The problem here is elsewhere.

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

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

      1. Mr Cheddarfingers

        RE: And I will call you cynical

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

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

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

      2. Colin Millar

        Not that much?

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

      3. auburnman
        WTF?

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

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

    2. Snowy

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

  5. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    There's no benefit to this

    What's this crap going to do for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. Stu_The_Jock

      What will it do for you ?

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

      1. A Known Coward
        Holmes

        Smarrt meters aren't the same as Economy 7 meters

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

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

        1. Richard Pennington 1
          Meh

          Many years ago, in a rented house,

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

        2. know it before you throw it
          FAIL

          The difference is.....

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

  6. paul_tanner

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

    1. know it before you throw it
      FAIL

      It's a Worldwide phenomenon

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

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smart

    Would you believe; partially intelligent?

    Would you believe; not so clever?

    Would you believe; stupid?

    1. Armando 123
      Thumb Up

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

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Flame

    What benefits?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. gerryg

      Ummm

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

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

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Ammendment needed

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

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

    There.

    I was going to put

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Happy

      Amendment needed

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

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

      There

  10. Herby Silver badge

    We tried these in California...

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

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

    (*SIGH*)

    1. Trygve
      Devil

      Getting the meters mixed up...

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

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

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or...

        stick a tone tracer on it.

        Not hard really.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        not that hard.

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

  11. 0laf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    What is the point?

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

    1. Dan 10

      Agreed

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

      Loving the name of your conference though!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Devil

    The sooner........

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

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

  13. mark l 2 Silver badge

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

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Meh

      @mark12

      Which they will take out of your bill anyway.

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

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smart how?

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

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

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

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

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

    1. Lockwood
      Megaphone

      "just how far out are estimates?"

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

      I gave them a meter reading.

      They asked for £2.63 after that reading.

    2. Dan 10
      Thumb Up

      Good solid rant you have there

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

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

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge
        FAIL

        Water meter...

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

    3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

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

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

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

  15. deshepherd

    @Herby

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

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

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think they're a brilliant idea.

    Just like getting rid of chequebooks.

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

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

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

  17. Tezfair
    Facepalm

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

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

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

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

    my house uses around 300w during the night

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

    1. zedee

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

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

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

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

  18. AaronG

    Hacked

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

  19. The BigYin
    Flame

    They want me to have a smart meter...

    ...OK. Show me the source code.

    I want unlimited indemnity from the meter being hacked and reporting false reading.

    I also want unlimited insurance from utility should the smart meter cause any problems with my own equipment (depends on how it is networked).

    The utility also must pay 100% of the costs of installing any cabling needed to the house.

    Until such times, go and meter a darkened orifice.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A really smart meter...

    ... that truly saves me money would be one that monitors the energy company prices and swaps me onto lower tariffs automatically, from moment to moment.

    To be fair, the 'meter' part of that is just a small aspect, but I bet hell will freeze over before the industry allows that to happen.

  21. David Pollard

    U-switch explains

    "Smart meters could also mean lower electricity bills, because they will help energy companies to run more efficiently. If energy companies have a more accurate picture of how much energy the country uses and when they use it, they will be able to make sure they have the right amount of energy at the right time."

    http://www.uswitch.com/gas-electricity/smart-meters-explained/

    1. Wize

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

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

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

    2. Full Mental Jacket
      Thumb Down

      I am 100% sure those savings will be passed onto the customer...

    3. Wize

      But will they really lower it?

      Its like the petrol price being hiked any time an argument breaks out between oil supplying countries. Does it ever go back down?

    4. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      The energy suppliers already know that information, and more accurately too. Imagine all the errors reading millions of meters and adding them, compared to the errors reading the few meters that currently measure the grid! In fact you can even see the power used by the country because the graphs are published online (can't remember where; try Google if interested)

      The only reason for these is to vary the tariff throughout the day (more than Economy 7), to turn-off the output for customers in dispute with their supplier, or to turn off peoples power in times of shortage (unless you are a member of the board of the elec company!)

      If you only use off-peak electricity then you might benefit compared to others, but the off-peak costs probably won't go down compared to now; the on-peak will jump up.

    5. David Pollard
      Joke

      U-switch nonsense

      Oops, it looks as thought some readers may have taken seriously the paragraph I posted from the U-switch site.

      Apologies to those who did. I thought it would be immediately obvious that it's complete rubbish.

    6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Alert

      @AronG

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

      And why exactly would any UK utility company care about that?

    7. peter_dtm
      FAIL

      but but but

      they already KNOW how much we use - its the total they have to generate ........

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The problem of smart meter hacking is serious and real

      Ross Anderson wrote a paper on this, which can be found here:

      http://www.lightbluetouchpaper.org/2010/07/26/who-controls-the-off-switch/

      In summary, the problem is real and has major national security implications.

      The abstract in full:

      "Abstract—We’re about to acquire a significant new cybervulnerability.

      The world’s energy utilities are starting to install hundreds of millions of ‘smart meters’ which contain a remote off switch. Its main purpose is to ensure that customers who default on their payments can be switched remotely to a prepay tariff; secondary purposes include supporting interruptible tariffs and implementing rolling power cuts at times of supply shortage.

      The off switch creates information security problems of a kind, and on a scale, that the energy companies have not had to face before. From the viewpoint of a cyber attacker – whether a hostile government agency, a terrorist organisation or even a militant environmental group – the ideal attack on a target country is to interrupt its citizens’ electricity supply. This is the cyber equivalent of a nuclear strike; when electricity stops, then pretty soon everything else does too. Until now, the only plausible ways to do that involved attacks on critical generation, transmission and distribution assets, which are increasingly well defended.

      Smart meters change the game. The combination of commands that will cause meters to interrupt the supply, of applets and software upgrades that run in the meters, and of cryptographic keys that are used to authenticate these commands and software changes, create a new strategic vulnerability, which we discuss in this paper."

  22. Tatsky

    RE: We tried these in California...

    The same thing happened to my father and his water meter.

    He lives on a shared drive with 2 other houses, and the water meters are installed at the end of the drive way.

    He realised after 5 years he had been paying for the water at the neighbours house. He only realised this after we (his kids) moved out but his water bill increased, at roughly the same time as the neighbouring house was bought by a family with 3 kids.

    Turns out the meter numbers had been mixed up, so he was paying their bill, and they were paying his.

    <sarcasm>

    Of course once this was proved it was easy to get it sorted......

    </sarcasm>

  23. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  24. Nick Carter

    Cost reductions

    Yes, it would allow some cost reductions by firing meter readers. Whilst I sympathise with those losing their jobs, do we really need to provide employment by keeping things inefficient?

    Also it would be possible to allow the consumer to configure their smart meter (via the web) to switch between alternative generating sources (i.e. renewable, nuclear, coal, gas) according to the relative spot price of each source rather than (or in addition to) 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).

    This would cut costs by getting rid of the administrative burden of price comparison/switching web sites and the legions of doorstep (mis)sellers, But again, that would mean job losses.

    Proper regulation is needed to get rid of the plethora of confusing tariffs, and cap unit prices to pass on cost savings to the consumer. Maybe re-nationalise the whole edifice and cut out the administrative duplication of dozens of chief executives, sales teams, head office buildings etc.

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. Ragarath
      Pint

      Changing for a normal meter

      Changing a pre pay for a normal meter was easy, when we moved in they asked us if we wanted to change to a normal meter.

      We did so they changed it. Free. Several leccy companies we asked would do this for us as they preferred the monthly DD.

      This was 6 years ago though.

      Have a pint.

      1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          SSE - Rang Head office, no charge, sorted within a week.

          EON - Rang Head office, no charge, sorted within a fortnight.

          Forget the call monkeys ring up head office switchboard and ask for "CEO's* office**".

          EON was 3 calls to get passed to head office and not to the callcentre though.

          *Google the CEOs actual name, saying CEO will get you the call centre.

          ** The important word is office, it shows that you probably aren't an irate customer.

    3. The BigYin

      @Nick

      "Also it would be possible to allow the consumer to configure their smart meter"

      DANGER! DANGER! DANGER! Do you really want your meters web accessible? Really? No way in hell, buster. There is no way I would trust them to have enough security to make things safe.

      "to switch between alternative generating sources (i.e. renewable, nuclear, coal, gas) according to the relative spot price of each source rather "

      Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

      It's an ironic post! Oh, that's a good one Nick!

      1. Nick Carter
        Happy

        @The BigYin

        I suppose I'm naive enough to think that one day we'll have secure web login without relying on passwords only (like when I use my card reader for internet banking). Maybe you think that's impossible. You are obviously confident enough to reply to me using just password security.

        As for spot price switching, yeah I know it's laughable with the "free" market system we currently live under but I like to dream.

        1. The BigYin

          @Nick

          Err...this account is in no way as critical as my gas meter, so a reasonable password is good enough. For a gas meter I would expect it to be using signed keys protected by passwords and physical access being required to update the keys (which will be amusing as most gas meters are external to the property).

          And even if that were done, I rather doubt the majority of the pubic are educated enough to use such a system properly.

    4. Stu_The_Jock
      Facepalm

      Switch between sources ?

      Not going to happen, because it's against EU rules. Norway (Not EU but EEA, kinda like not getting to choose the food but getting the a share of the catering bill) uses almost exclusively hydro power . . ie almost NO carbon emissions, but our electricity has the same carbon tax and the rest of the EU "to be fair" as the power has to theoretically go to EU land be mixed with french nuclear and come back. . .

  25. Flatpackhamster
    Facepalm

    Hello from Brussels!

    EU Directive says that 80% of households should be equipped with smart meters by 2020:

    http://www.energyefficiencynews.com/i/2376/

  26. David Kelly 2

    No benefit to consumer

    I have designed smart meters which are in production and my boss didn't understand why I wouldn't let one of my meters be placed on my house. Answer is simple, because it did nothing for me.

    Smart meters pay for themselves in locations which are difficult for a meter reader to reach every month. Smart meters with cutoffs really pay for themselves on customers who are "slow" to pay their bills. Once they experience how easy it is for the utility company to turn their power off they somehow find priority to pay their bill.

    1. David Ramsay

      Illegal, Illegal

      European Convention on Human Rights - Right to life, switch off electricity, then no heating or cooking then death.

      It is illegal for the electricity company to disconnect anyone.

  27. riparian zone
    Megaphone

    card meters anyone...?

    It seems that everyone has forgotten that 'poor people' have their own method of monitoring their gas and 'leccy usage through those beloved card based readers - why would they want another machine to bring it home further that they pay over the odds? Indeed you do when you have one. Even now when the costs have risen, per monthly bills have not exceeded what I was paying on those devil's armpits. Not quite the same is it I know, that the machines are *only* dumb enough to mug you in your home, but again, why?

    We should also look at the Ewgeco which is Scottish, made in the UK.

    http://www.ewgeco.com/

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cheaper price??

    You can see it now, we all get these "smart" meters installed, start saving money and the energy companies put up prices to compensate for their lose in revenue.

    Just like the tariff con where you pay more per unit for using less until you reach the limit where you start getting the discounted rate for using more units.

  29. haloburn

    First the meters, then the fines for energy "misuse", energy targets and more and more taxes and energy price hikes.

    Why not take the 12bn and develop cheap energy in the UK by exploiting our massive shale gas fields under Blackpool?

  30. Milkfloat

    I have have had a smart meter for a year and a half for both gas and electricity. it provided some amusement for the first few weeks, but after that I stopped looking. It was only fitted because it came free with the cheapest tariff at the time. The only benefit to me is that I am not overpaying each month so the utility company can sit on my cash. My consumption has not changed at all.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    surprises?

    Poor people are less engaged with suppliers because generally their experiences are of being harrassed.

    From example I tried to persuade a friend to come off key meter, they wouldn't because of fears of harrasment if their incapacity benefits couldn't strech to cover and because billing is out of kilta with the benefits system and its hard to save money for a month- 3 months when your family is hungry and you get less than an average days pay each week.

    Because they felt that the result of the difficulty matching benefits to monthly/quarterly bills had left them being victimised through credit referencing and they would be refused.

    Because it provided a less stressful life if they could micro manage their micro funds.

    There are much better things that could be done much cheaper.

    1. align billed and keyed energy prices, penalising key meters is directly penalising people with little money.

    2. review the lack of judicial process in credit referencing, remove fees for checking files (in line with stated intent of DPA, where politicians assured us it would not be allowed for companies to use charges as a business model (as experian do))

    3. show some 'king compassion, a company with a multi million turnover does not need to agressively chase the hard up for £20 and take such actions as to cause severe life changing problems (a#3 HRA)

    Smart meters, rubbish. The turnaround for govt projects is so long these will be obsolete before they're approved. Spend the money on renewable energy or an allowance for solar fittings for those on benefits (with feedback rebate payable to HMRC)

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  32. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That might have something to do with 2 little appreciated facts.

      1) Prepaid electricity units were 2x the cost of regular metered units.

      2) They can be set up to deduct a proportion of your arrears from the cash on your smart card before they start letting you have any new 'leccy.

      1 for them, 1 for you, at twice the going rate. So that's about 4 units of cash for a new unit of electricity.

      Neat, eh?

  33. Downside
    WTF?

    £12bn??

    I bought a smart leccy monitor, hoping it would help me shave ££ off my bill.

    Then I found out that I use b**ger all anyway.

    Switching off a TV that was in standby? Sod all difference.

    Switching of a STB or PVR in standby? Sod all difference.

    Unplugging a unused phone charger? Sod all difference. £ per year? What, 2 quid?

    Heating via Electricity is where the cost is. I don't need a smart meter to tell me that and the country could sorely do with £1B a year spent on more useful efforts, such as social housing.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost per unit?

    If we go off the census information and extrapolate you can assume there are around 30 million households in the UK. At a total cost of £12bn this works out at £400 per household to install a smart meter. Seems a little pricey.

  35. Matthew 25

    Question

    How much energy does a smart meter use compared to a 'dumb' meter?

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Smart Meters

    how does the energy companies get the data back via the electric mains or via other means i.e. our internet or phone lines?

    1. tony336
      Unhappy

      To get the readings to their base ,companies will either have to make sure everybody is on the internet or use some sort of wireless . Well that's great isn't it ? The poorest in society who can't afford a computer or the internet will be hardest hit . As an idea the thing stinks and I just hope it all goes wrong , but of course we will all be a lot poorer by then .

  37. Richard 126

    Bills always go up with smart meters because they read the instantaneous power usage unlike the old ones that lagged a bit. The result of this is the heavy starting current on electric motors is metered with a smart meter but not with an old style meter. Hence dearer bills every time you use fridges, washing machine, tumble dryer, vacuum cleaner, power tools etc. A win for the power company and a loss for the consumer as always.

    1. peter_dtm
      Unhappy

      sounds like we need some power factor correction capacitors then

      that's big chunky caps rated for mains use strapped across live and neutral -don't try this at home; it could be lethal/cause a fire/cost the lecky company shedloads of money...

  38. micheal
    FAIL

    Smart metering

    Ah yes, remote reading so lost jobs there...also they can already send internet over power lines, many companies have done pilots but Telco's will pay them not to actually roll out, it may affect their cash-cows.

    the amount of "jobs" created by the rollout would pale to insignificance to the number ousted after.

    As for "catching meter bypassers", in the days gone, when you moved they sent a bloke round to remove the company fuse, and install one at your new place....now they leave the leccy on for the squatters and pikeys, yet dont seem to care about them using it

    rant over :)

  39. Jeff 11
    Thumb Down

    "£12bn? That should pay for quite a bit of R&D for efficient, alternative nuclear fuels, or rebuilding/reclaiming existing power plants, or as part of a large scale rollout of fibre broadband.

    But no, we'll spend it on screwing over the consumer and giving our precious energy companies a marginal boost in profits."

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Almost a hundred comments in, and it's still not really clear which kind of smart meter we're talking about.

    The wattmeter toys that let you see how much electricity you're using and have used.

    Or (as per John Smith and David Kelly) something with no need for a display but whose remote power-off will come in real handy in five or ten years (maybe sooner if the weather turns bad) when the generation gap kicks in and the rolling blackouts start.

    The £400 per household calculated at 15:11 says (imo) it's the one with the remote off.

    DO NOT WANT.

    But never mind me, Professor Ross Anderson at Cambridge isn't a big fan either.

    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The smart meters will probably work on the cellular network via pulsed microwave in a mesh network. They are more powerful than cellphone base stations. This of course may have potential health impacts.

    It can purportedly provide data to the electric company of what you are using and how often you use it by adding a small microchip to the device which monitors the line, for example an electric motor like a hair dryer or a rampant rabbit. Latest study suggests they can theoretically tell what you are watching on the television by looking at the different patterns of juice the thing sucks down while its flickering at you albeit this is more technically challenging. The power companies will sell this data to whoever will buy it.

  42. John McCallum

    I wonder

    ....if these smart meters would survive 300v being fed through them as happened to my current one a couple of years ago.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They already know and can reasonably predict how much electricity is being used off the grid.

    This will tell them how much electricity YOU use in real time, not the community in general. Of course they would never pass info about that strange several hundred Watt load that's on for a long, fixed time each day to the Police so they could check the lighting in your loft...

  44. peter_dtm
    Happy

    I can think of a good use for them

    - you like/want wind turbines ?

    mmh - lets just choke your supply via your smart meter so you get power when the wind is blowing at the right speed.

    there you are solves all the problems we're going to have caused by those lunatic perpetual motion devices; every one who supports them can pay the correct un-subsidised cost and get the pro-rata share of lecky. We won't need to supply back up generating plant for them either - no wind power; no electricity demand from the wind power lovers.

    Be a true green - actually only use 'renewable' lecky - it's got to be a winner - right ! all those wind turbine supporters will actually lead from the front; pay the full cost themselves; and take the downside when their perpetual motion machines demonstrate what a pile of crock they really are !

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What would be good...

    ...is if I could book my energy usage ahead of time and get it at a cheaper price (like air fares). No chance of that I suppose.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To clarify...

    1) the £12bn cost will be borne by the energy retailers..... But it will become a cost of them doing business and hence become part of the cost of energy that consumers pay for in their bill. The taxpayer will not pay (except that he is also a consumer...). The consumer bill is MOST unlikely to itemise the cost of the smart meter (they tried that in Victoria.... Not good..)

    2) the clamp devices are not smart meters. SM's will have communications to them so that addl functions can be delivered, like time of use tariffs, remote connect/ disconnect of homes or devices if energy is short, support for eVehicle charging etc etc.... As others have commented, they also offer the potential if connected for new applications like home security, and possibly some health and well-being related applications (none of which are a priority for this programme or being explained to consumers as potential benefit)

    3) lots and lots of people in many sectors (meter mfs, IT companies, telcos, energy svcs co's, consultancies, economists, etc) have tried to nudge this programme into a sensible place over the last 4 or 5 years, and contributed to numerous rounds of ofgem/ DECC initiated consultation. These efforts have not been entirely successful.... Yet (possibly ever) ... But they have been expensive.... Will DECC reimburse this effort if the project is cancelled in 2013...?

  47. Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face

    I wonder if Lord Truscott will want his £5000 back?

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/4401188/Lord-Truscott-Peers-charge-up-to-5000-a-day-to-facilitate-law-changes.html

  48. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Generators should absorb all the cost of smart meter rollout on basis that they might be permitted to datamine all the anonymised data.

  49. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Not just £6

    £6 extra the first year, £12 extra the next, then £18 and so one. There is no plan to bring prices back down afterwards. I pay all that money and still do not own the meter. Sounds just as sensible as paying for fibre that BT rents back to me.

  50. The Cube
    FAIL

    They seem to be forgetting where the real money is

    Cisco want this disastrous idea so that they can supply the UK energy companies with an absurdly overpriced network for the stupid meters.

    The utility companies want it so they can mine your data and sell it to advertising slime to bombard you with yet more crap you don't want.

    DECC want it because they have some halfwit idea that a "smart meter" will allow your rooftop solar PV plant (you know, the one they just halved the feed in tariff on) or your plug in hybrid (you know, the car you don't own and don't want) to "sell" energy back to the grid at times of peak demand.

    The claim for the consumer is that the meters will support dynamic switching of tariffs, this would be true if the legislation was set up properly to prevent the utility companies creating lock in, just wait, the second month you have your "smart" meter some sales gimp will be ringing you up telling you that EDF have noticed you have an old, non heat recovering dryer type washing machine and they can sell you a new one at a nice price which they will spread across your bills for 36 months. The hitch is, of course, that you can no longer change supplier, you are as locked in as you are with the mobile phone vermin. This is not a new con, the con is old, look back at the early days of our national grid when the electricity board made a mint out of flogging electric cookers from their shops which customers paid for on their electricity bill.

    Don't even mention the word "security", we know that the tosspots in government think security is killing brown people and taking their oil. As for the energy companies? They will make the banks look like they know what they are doing, been a victim of card fraud? You aint seen nothing yet.

    The reality then is that;

    Taxpayer money is used to prop up Cisco for a few more years

    Taxpayer money is used to buy substandard "smart" meters which will be obsolete within 5 years and some russian will have written a worm for them in two, all of you kWh is belong to us

    Utility companies get to dodge the whole "smart switching" by selling people shit they don't need on lock in contracts

    Utility companies get to pass on short term spikes in price to unlucky customers and DICC will stand behind them because it is "demand management" which is obviously green

    Taxpayers and "customers" (not that the energy parasites have to think of their hosts as customers) get to pay several times over whilst being invited to rub on the KY Jelly and grasp their ankles.

    Nice one government!

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Dangers of Smart Meters

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0zNWGzzjjE&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLED520B56FBF0C3A0

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Costs

    These were put together by the energy companies - in a cartel fashion.

    This and the previous government have lost the plot - the energy companies have had free reign and ofgem are timid indivuduals who won't say boo to a goose because their entertainment by the rich power companies would end... who pays for ofgem ? "We recover our costs from the licensed companies we regulate". Nice.

  53. Gerrit Hoekstra
    Coat

    12bn for 3.8mil households = £3158 per household

    How does this cost stack up into savings? Thought I'd ask the obvious question before we start filling the troughs with taxpayers' money again on yet another dumb, misguided govt IT project...

    Mine's the coat with the HP Reverse Polish Notation calculator in the pocket.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    various papers from cambridge

    http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/meters-offswitch.pdf - part V conclusions is good - there is scope for a DOS of all smart meters!

    Also http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/fipr-smartmeters2010.pdf

    off topic but amusing: http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~rja14/Papers/prepay-meters.pdf

    cl.cam.ac.uk always worth a look.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      @j arthur rank

      the 2nd paper in particular is a very interesting description of the programme structure (and why it's likely to be a *massive* fail).

      I had not realized *all* meter are expected to link to 1 database.

      Every 15 mins

      Forever.

      With the bulk of the installations by 2015.

      This looks FUBAR *before* the project starts.

  55. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Boffin

    An update on meter accuracy.

    It seems the current legislation is something called the EU "Measuring instruments directive" and now specifies 2 levels of meter accuracy. A +/- 1.5% level and a +/- 1% accuracy level. So the worse case lowest accuracy option is 0.5% better than it was.

    It seems such things are controlled by that favorite ministerial tool the "Statutory Instrument," so in *principle* it only requires the relevant minister to *require* the +/- 1% level to make it so.

    I wonder which level UK utility companies will be required to specify, and will they be given the benefit of the choice?

    BTW The Daily Mail reports that 80% of the of the older meters owned by the main UK supplier (who owns c75% of *all* UK meters installed) were over reading. Not exactly a report in Nature but interesting nonetheless.

    Not the 50% above, 50% below you might expect of a random distribution.

  56. wookey

    A lot of meter-hate here.

    Somoene said that the measuring is pointless because the power companies alreayd know how much power they send out. Actually that's not true any more. Only about half the wind generation in the UK is measured as 'grid input' - the rest is attached on the 'distibution side' of the main meters so it just gets used locally. Same for all the PV on roofs. This lot is a non-triivial fraction of generation, at least some of the time.

    Smart meters may be expensive but you are all ignoring the costs of _not_ having them. That will be either blackouts or even more expensive supply. The ability to have much more flexible tariffs, some stuff which gets turned off sometimes, loaning your EV battery to the grid for balancing purposes and so on, is necessary to make a low-carbon grid work.

    If you don't think you want a low-carbon grid then that won't impress you much, but again the costs of not doing that (knackered climate, food shortages, probably outright war after a while) are likely to be orders of magnitude more than 12 billion.

    Yes, there are serious issues of control (who has it) and encryption (you can't actually read your own data from the meter except via the provider), but those are implementation details. The fundamental infrastructure upgrade is necessary. I just hope it's been designed right so we don't have to do it all again in 10 years time...

    And these things usually send their data back over the GSM network. Some will use the power network itself, or other arrangements in very remote areas.

    For anyone that cares the specs are here: http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/consultations/cons_smip/

    Rolling these out without the 'remote disable' feature would be one way of enormously increasing acceptance. People are right to be nervous about that aspect (as Prof Anderson points out).

    Oh and on 'what use is real metering'. Well I found out that our 2 PIRs use 16W each all day on the offchance that someone walked up - that's not worth £40/yr so they got switched off. And I found a bell-transformer using 15W permenanetly despite the bell having been removed years ago, and a radio using another 11. There are probably millions of little power-wastages like this going on up and down the country. It's true that they won't help if you couldn't care less, but if you do care (even if only about the money, rather than the waste) then some data can really help you reduce your consumption. Most people who care, find that they can easily reduce consumption by 40%. Fitted to the houses of the populace at large (who mostly don't care) you get about a 4% reduction (that californian data). Our consumption dropped by about 30% and I thought I'd done as much efficiency as I could already.

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