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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

Smart Meters: Do they think we’re green?

In last month’s column, “Smart meters: the bigger picture,” I shared some bad news surrounding the national rollout of smart meters, which was destined to reach homes and businesses across the United Kingdom by 2020 – it has now been pushed out to 2024!

Instilling a sense of guilt

I also suggested that this new milestone remains unrealistic, since the technical challenges surrounding developing this new technology, along with the logistical nightmare of manufacturing, delivering, installing and setting up such devices within your property have proven to be quite troublesome – companies have gone bust for less!

The British government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) created this ambitious project with a view to meeting its carbon budget and in some hope that both consumers and businesses would be instilled with a sense of guilt and, in turn, reduce their energy consumption when they witnessed their digital counters on their In-home Display (IHD) increment! 

Rolling out the second generation

After all, the smart metering project is the British government’s seemingly desperate attempt to achieve their carbon budget, whilst ensuring that we all take responsibility to help reduce our carbon emissions. This essentially forms the alleged “bigger picture” perspective I talked about last month. We are collectively supposed to be helping to save our planet and, alas, this month I tread a darker path with the smart metering project.

Now, whilst I feel that this new target date remains unrealistic, there are many consumers who have already chosen a smart meter, namely Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specification v1 (SMETS1), that is, the first-generation technology. However Bulb, who I reached out to in last’s month post, have started rolling out their second-generation (SMETS2) technology to many of their customers (see “An update on our smart meter rollout”).

Always skip the first generation

Currently, there are numerous cold callers whose sole task is to bully British consumers into selecting a smart meter when, in fact, it’s not necessary. In a guide published by Ofgem, “Smart meters: a guide to your rights,” smart meters are not compulsory and, as a consumer or business, you can refuse to have one installed, so don’t be fooled by so-called representatives of utility companies who needlessly pressure you into selecting a meter. What’s more, if you were to venture down the smart meter route, then choose an SMETS2 meter, since it has greater reliability and functionality, along with performance – and, don’t forget, your supplier will do the installation and setup for you completely free(-ish)!

There has been some fuss and confusion over first-generation smart meters. Like most first-generation products, they can often lack several features or be plagued with poorly implemented options, where the product typically forms a testbed for a second- or third-generation attempt. 

Don’t call me dumb

As such, it might be wise to await a second or third generation prior to committing to an installation, since some of the shortcomings should have been resolved – well, sometimes anyway!

The specific issue regarding SMETS1 meters surrounds the inability to switch suppliers. Moreover, once installed from a supplier, if you then decide to switch, your meter will be rendered “dumb” and, in turn, it will no longer be able to share data with your IHD and the new supplier. More so, you will have to resume manual readings of your meter and submit them regularly to your new supplier. This essential hand-over ability was omitted from SMETS1, along with other features that would have ensured a sense of longevity with the SMETS1 meter. In short, it’s probably best to await the second-generation technology.

More software updates

However, all is not lost, since the Smart Data Communications Company (Smart DCC) have been tasked with enabling SMETS1 meters to communicate over the smart metering network. Bulb, in their blog, “We’ll be able to read SMETS1 meters in the future” say, “If you already have a SMETS1 meter installed, your meter will work smartly with every supplier in the market once this work is complete. This means there’s no need to spend money, and your time, replacing smart meters installed by other suppliers.”

Let’s be honest, it’s a knee-jerk reaction by the Smart DCC to the existing installed-base of SMETS1 meters that have already been rolled out to consumers. You see, rather go to the additional expense of replacing these meters, it would be cheaper and wholly cost-effective to provide a software update to extend the life of the SMETS1 product and, in turn, negate the associated cost of replacing these meters with a newer generation. Apparently, these updates have already started, but are not expected to be completed until 2020.

How smart is your tariff?

Last month, I also touched upon the lesser-known energy-monitoring feature, that is, time-of-use (TOU). I stressed the importance of consumers and businesses becoming aware of this feature, since it will largely change your behavior towards your energy use and, most importantly, it will affect how much you pay.

TOU should benefit both consumers and utilities, where tariffs will vary across the day and night. With utilities wishing to avoid spikes in demand during peak periods, costlier tariffs will be introduced. Bulb, for example, introduced their ‘Smart Tariff,’ which is a three-rate tariff for overnight, off-peak and peak.

Smart meters don’t reduce carbon emissions

More expensive tariffs have been created to prompt consumers to rethink their energy use during the day and night and, of course, suppliers who have to source energy from elsewhere during these periods may have to go to an additional cost during peak periods. This increase in cost just serves the utilities – it’s an attitude akin to, “If it costs us, then we will pass this cost on to you!”

For me, it’s not as black and white as the utilities picture, since I’m not sure I fully understand how this increase can reduce peak period energy use. You see, if you need to feed the children and your partner at a certain time of day, then what else can you do? I talked about the bigger picture perspective in last month’s column, and I don’t understand how a smart meter could help us save the planet – it seems a poorly executed and largely expensive argument by the DECC, Smart DCC and the British government!

Until next time …

For someone who has personally worked in this industry, I have come to the conclusion that the smart metering initiative is nothing more than a farce. It’s a ruse by our government and the utility companies to ultimately cash in on a period during the day where consumers are obligated to use electricity or gas. The utilities make their “holier-than-thou” claim about energy transparency whilst seeking their cost compensation – this doesn’t offer an effective reduction of our carbon footprint at all!

We have to take a broader responsibility in saving the planet and, in part, to reduce our carbon emissions. Penalizing consumers who impinge energy use during a peak period is a thinly disguised sham, as it simply lines the pockets of the supplier and compensates them for sourcing energy, along with the cost of rolling out smart meters, for that matter! Instead, we need to build smarter and energy efficient homes to beat the carbon rush.

So, this is where a “pondering, do they really think we’re that green?” Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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