Around eight million smart meters, which come with an interactive display allowing customers to track their energy use, have been installed in British homes to date. But problems with the first batch of meters - known as ‘SMETS I’ mean that some lose their smart functionality when consumers switch their energy supplier. Some energy companies have already begun installing an upgraded version, SMETS II, which the Government insists will fix the issue.
Consultation papers published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) suggest that the original July 2018 deadline for switching to SMETS II installations could be extended by six months. This could mean hundreds of thousands of additional first-generation meters being installed in homes. Some energy insiders have claimed these will later need to be physically replaced, but the Government has repeatedly insisted this will not be necessary.
British Gas confirmed it is already installing SMETS II meters in a small number of homes and will widen the programme early next year. Fellow ‘Big Six’ supplier SSE is not currently installing SMETS II meters, but plans to in the coming months. The consultation papers say SMETS II meters will retain their functionality when consumers change suppliers, and that they deliver other additional benefits, including "data access for third parties". A BEIS spokesman said this could include "energy services companies and comparison sites", but customer consent would be required.
Suppliers have been ordered by the government to offer smart meters to all households in Britain by 2020 and face fines if they fail to meet the deadline. Customers are not obliged to say 'yes' and can refuse to have one installed. However some consumers have, incredibly, been bombarded with calls, texts and letters even after refusing to have a smart meter installed. At least one major firm is sending out letters saying they have made a smart meter installation appointment, despite the customer never requesting one. Another says this is something they are trialling. If customers do not want a new meter, they have to call and cancel, or an engineer will just turn up.
The general feeling among customers of energy suppliers with the Smets meters installed: err on the side of caution. Every meter comes with a guarantee of some disruption and a very average meter display which ordinarily won't do anything useful for the customer. The meter will not show power consumption of appliances, but only total power consumed. Not exactly a smart meter, more of a meter with minimal use to the consumer! Perhaps a smarter gadget could be found as a child’s toy or a sat-nav with the grinding voice of a Rees-Mogg type orator.
Suppliers are also sending out letters and texts to customers that fail to make it clear that smart meters are optional. EDF Energy is texting customers: 'We need to upgrade your meter to a smart meter', while E.ON is sending letters that state in bold, red type: 'Reminder: your meter is being phased out'. Scottish Power's letters say: 'Action required' next to a large, red exclamation mark. Some E.ON customers have even been told they face losing their cheap deal if they refuse to have a new meter, and last week, the supplier said it would replace its expensive standard tariffs with rolling deals that cost up to £262 a year less — but only if customers get a smart meter first.
The new smart meter could tell tales on you and won't stop handing over valuable information about you. How valuable could such a device be to companies looking to extract as much money as possible from a consumer? If you fall into arrears it will disconnect your supply remotely, and yet government approves of such a drastic gadget. This same government will never tire of selling people the idea that they are the people's champion, but time and time again continue to let people down. Some have forgotten the snoopers charter, and the destructive powers it holds. Not the writer of this article, though.
What will happen to the legion of meter readers currently employed to cover the entire UK, knocking on doors, collecting data in order consumers are not overcharged? Will this be the end of estimated billing? Those ex-meter readers will likely be Universal Benefit claimants, so what exactly is their motivation, other than staying off the horrendous UC? This is Conservative Britain. Make no mistake at all that the Cons are your friends or they care about you. (In the follow-up to this article we could be pointing out which interesting people sit on the board of energy companies and show their connections to the current government.) Conservatives are not your friends!
The £11bn smart meter rollout, in which every household will be offered one by 2020, has come in for criticism, with academic studies suggesting it will cause a reduction in energy use of only 3% That 3% could be described as a saving, of course. Especially if you're a government minister looking at a grander picture and need figures to boast of how well they're doing. There is of course another, more sinister, side to smart meters. The data which smart meters collect has the possibility to be resold to third-party clients. Companies with desires on selling people everything from holidays in the Balerics to life insurance will know exactly when a consumer is home and you will be bombarded by tele-marketers, which itself is desirable to government as a means to helping people spend more money.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, debated the issue of smart meters in the Commons on the 24th October. However, Clark forgot to mention in his speech to the House of his prior knowledge of the full capabilities of smart meters to relay important information, which can then be sold onto third parties for exploitative purposes. I don’t know why we act so surprised.
A spokesman for BEIS said suppliers would have to provide a legitimate reason for installing SMETS I meters after the deadline, and subsequent installations would be capped at 70% of the number installed in the third quarter of this year. "The Government is ensuring the move to second generation smart meters happens as quickly and smoothly as possible. There has been no change to the July 2018 deadline for first generation meter installations. We’re consulting on proposals that will allow suppliers who can meet strict criteria to avoid costs that might otherwise be passed on to consumers. We remain committed to a smart meter being offered to every home and small business by the end of 2020, allowing customers to take greater control of their energy consumption and putting an end to estimated bills."
However, the UK taxpayer will probably have to share some of the costs associated with the installation of the new smart meters. The full £11billion price tag should come from energy companies, but instead the government of the people believe energy companies could benefit from yet another state-subsidised handout!
Rachel Stirling for Political Provocateur