The Truth About Smart Meters
Smart Meter Rollout
As part of our work here at BHESCO we deliver lots of talks to residents associations, local action teams, and community oranisations about ways to save money on energy bills and keep a warm, damp free home.
We talk about switching tariff, how to apply for the Warm Home Discount, and energy saving tips around the home. But by far the most contentious issue that comes up which never fails to raise a groan is the mention of smart meters.
The UK government has set a target for every property to have a smart meter installed before the end of 2020. The rollout of smart meters is considered to be a key pillar in the UK’s transition to a ‘Distributed Energy Network’ which is managed in real time via a ‘smart grid’.
I’ll talk about the long term benefits of smart meters and their role within the emerging Internet of Things, but let’s begin by looking at the pros and cons of smart meters in the here and now.
Smart meters send a customer’s meter readings automatically to their energy supplier, meaning you never need to give a meter reading manually again. This will bring an end to the widespread practice of estimated billing and will ensure that energy customers are only billed for what they have actually used.
Customers will also be given an ‘In Home Display’ which presents real time data on the cost of their energy, as well as their budget for the week or month. This can help to encourage a better understanding of energy saving behaviours, such as not over filling the kettle or taking shorter showers.
Unfortunately, there is not one single type of smart meter that is being installed in all homes across the country. Different suppliers use different types of meter, and these are not always compatible with one another.
Most of the smart meters that have been installed already are called SMETS1 meters, or ‘first generation’ meters. These usually only work with the supplier that installed them, and will lose their smart functionality if a customer decides to switch (i.e. they will just work like a traditional meter).
Some newer smart meters (SMETS2 meters) are able to operate effectively with any supplier.
Preventing Customers from Switching
BHESCo have seen many examples of occasions where, because a customer has had a smart meter installed by one company, they are unable to switch to a new tariff with a different supplier.
This can prevent people from accessing the cheapest tariffs on the market, or (if they are with a supplier who does not offer the Warm Home Discount) from accessing financial support for which they are entitled. Losing smart functionality is one thing, but directly contributing to higher energy bills for customers eligible for benefits is scandalous.
We have written to Citizens Advice and Ofgem about this matter and are advising customers to avoid getting any SMETS1 meters installed.
The real benefits of smart meters will become apparent with the unstoppable rise of renewable energy technologies with battery storage coupled with the emergence of smart technologies.
Due to their very nature of being driven by the weather, the generation of renewable energy systems like solar panels and wind turbines can fluctuate from hour to hour. What this means is that, just like any other marketplace, prices will be decided by supply and demand.
When solar energy is abundant on a hot summer’s afternoon in June, the price of solar energy will be cheap. Customers will be able to set their smart washing machines or tumble dryers to turn on during periods of cheap electricity.
Smart meters, and a varying cost of energy, will also play a huge role as electric cars and battery storage become more popular, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Feel free to contact BHESCo if you have any concerns or queries about getting a smart meter fitted.