Smart meter rollout: the eco measure under question
30th September 2015
Following the much-publicised string of cuts to eco scheme and the scrapping of the Green Deal this July, new figures this September revealed that smart meters – a flagship rollout scheme – produce meagre savings, if they work at all. As shelved green schemes turn into a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the PM’s ability to produce a low-carbon future, we examine the latest eco news on smart meters and our own experience that back up some findings.
About smart meters.
Smart meters were ordered to be rolled out back in 2009 with consent by homeowners and landlords. Under the current proposal, existing analogue energy meters will be replaced by the ‘next generation’ of meter in every home by 2020.
Smart meters send electronic meter readings to your energy supplier automatically and come with built-in displays that reveal real-time energy usage and the subsequent costs. The main benefits of smart meters are more accurate bills – when used properly, easier management of energy usage, lower bills and a more convenient system that does not involve submitting readers or someone coming to your home to check the meter. More information can be found here.
What’s gone wrong?
Two major concerns have surfaced in the past month involving the effectiveness and functionality of smart meters as traditional energy meters.
According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) 134,200 meters were not in smart mode in Q2 this year, defeating the purpose of the energy-saving measures. As the issues were mainly a result of network coverage problems and switching energy tariffs, many customers face a choice between improving energy efficiency and saving money on a cheaper tariff until a help system is introduced in 2016. Although Ofgem has supposedly created regulations to ensure that switching suppliers does not present obstacles to the installation or use of smart meters, smart meters will revert to ‘dumb’ mode.
The second point made this month was the lack of average savings recorded amongst 1 million homes surveyed. New figures revealed that smart meters will cut bills by only 2% to 3%, rather than the previous 10% projection. While it can be argued that every little helps, an annual average saving of £20 to £30 from a £1,100 energy bill pales in comparison to the £11 billion cost of the roll out.
What this particular headline failed to address, however, was consumer behaviour and knowledge of the product. While the DECC estimated in 2011 that the cost of the rollout will be outweighed by the benefits to the tune of £7.1 billion, the introduction will only succeed with the co-operation, content and understanding of consumers. Energy companies are notorious for persuasive but difficult-to-understand customer information: Scottish Power was ordered to pay a £8.5 million fine for misleading customers in 2013. Despite efforts to become more customer friendly, commissioned research by uSwitch found that 55% of the public did not understand the benefits of smart meters or what they even did in the same year.
Here at MacConvilles, we are committed to working in an eco-friendly, sustainable environment, however, we too have come across a stumbling block. We assess our energy costs every month to monitor what we use and where we use it. We found a large energy spike during the summer months as a result of occasional air conditioning use. The team discovered that this was not the fault of the system, but the complicated controls that would turn the system on out of office hours. We recognise that without close monitoring, we would not have fixed the issue.
Many residential customers simply do not have the time or insight to resolve the problem. As a fresh rollout of 10,000 by SSE gets underway, it is clear that smart meters are here to stay. Will consumers be deterred by the lack of coherent information and latest figures or will the eco-minded view smart meters as one of the few affordable options on the market following cull after cull? Time will tell.