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Being smart about meters

December 22, 2009

Electricity meters as we know them are to be replaced by Smart Meters, whose digital display will show us how much the energy we are using in our home (gas as well as electricity) is costing – both in money and CO2 emissions – with other useful data too.  On top of that, they’ll be a means of communication between us and our suppliers.

This will happen by 2020, if the Government’s roll-out goes to plan.

These meters have already helped reduce energy use in Italy.  But the UK is far from slack, at least according to some American energy forum users who have contacted your blogger and reckon the UK Government can teach the US some lessons. 

For opponents of Smart Meters, a major gripe is the potential for inaccuracies and even fraud.  In a case mentioned in a 13th December New York Times article brought to your blogger’s attention, a Californian resident was alarmed to find that his meter reading this July was over three times that of the corresponding month last year, despite having put in new windows and insulation in the interim.

Here in the UK, chiming with the disquiet over CCTV intrusion and the prospect of ID cards, there are concerns that the monitoring functions of the meters would represent one more step towards a ‘surveillance’ society.

Both here and in the US, critics argue that consumers will inevitably be faced with higher bills.  This is because the meters are expensive to install – and the utility companies will need to claw back this money from somewhere, as well as make up for any loss of revenue resulting from the newly clued-up homeowner using less energy.  The customer, they say, will pay.  All told, the consumer might only be around £20 a year better off. 

But looking at the positive aspects, the Smart Meter would – assuming the basic errors are eradicated – mean no more estimated bills.  Meter readings by an inspector will be a thing of the past.  Energy companies can reduce their staff overheads (and these savings might just be passed to the customer). 

They’ll bring more flexible tariffs, so we can hoover or put our washing machine on at, say, 11pm (peak time is between 5 and 7pm) and save the spare-power generating coal power stations some booting-up effort (and save us some money).

Some will find reassurance in the connectivity of the new meters, as utility companies can see immediately if someone’s power has failed.

One of your blogger’s stateside communicants suggested that US residents’ shying away from Smart Meters is down to a resistance to change.  Well, we in the UK tend to like the status quo, too.  Whether Smart Meters in their proposed form are a good, bad or indifferent idea, at the fundamental level if you can see how much you are using, you will look for alternatives – such as ditching the electric kettle and heating water on your wood-burning stove instead.

One Comment leave one →
  1. PinkySerena permalink
    December 23, 2009 6:56 pm

    I think Smart meters are a really good idea because they will make people more ‘energy aware’. Our fuel costs are like hidden expenses because we flick on a switch and don’t know how much we are spending or how much energy we are using. Having a Smart meter will help put us in the driving seat and hopefully make us want to use our energy more efficiently. It will certainly make us more aware of the cost.

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