This article sets out to explore the rights, wrongs and maybes of the smart meter revolution

Smart Meters – the new generation of electricity and gas meters, originally championed by former Labour leader Ed Miliband –  are currently being installed by power companies nationwide, so expect mailings and follow-up telephone calls telling you to book an appointment for your installation any day now.

BUT – is it a legal requirement to have one installed or do you have the right to just say NO!

 

Why is the government keen to roll out smart meters?

Smart meters are a part of the government’s move away from fossil fuel powered energy towards wind farms, solar energy, wave power and other ‘green’ energy provision. The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has said, 'Smart meters will help hardworking families and businesses to take control of their energy use, bringing an end to estimated bills and helping bill payers to become more energy efficient.’

The big idea behind this is that householders should be able to monitor their electricity and gas use and be able to see where they are using more energy than they need to – for instance, boiling a full kettle just to make a single cup of tea, or leaving a light on in an empty room all evening – thus reducing their quarterly bills and, in the process, lowering the amount of gas and electricity the entire country uses annually. This technology also removes the need for energy companies to employ old fashioned meter readers to call on your home.

 

Can I say yes or no to a smart meter?

The short answer is the choice is yours. If your current meter is not an obsolete model you have the right to refuse, and even if your existing meter is old and your provider says it must be replaced with a smart meter on safety grounds, you can insist that they either install a ‘dumb meter’ or switch off the communications settings in a smart meter.

 

Why should I say ‘Yes’?

The essential concept is sound. Energy bills are getting higher so being more in control of your own expenditure via ‘real time’ knowledge is a good move.

 

In that case, why would I say ‘No’?

As in almost anything to do with complicated government initiatives, the devil is in the detail.  The worries that many experts have identified include:
 

  • Will smart meters make it more difficult to switch providers?
  • Can the smart meter be used as a spy in your home?
  • Will the data collected by your energy supplier be sold to marketing companies to target sales calls to you?
  • Will the smart meter work in areas of weak mobile signal?

 

The type of smart meter currently being installed is called the SMETS1 and is essentially first generation technology. According to the authoritative Which? Consumer Rights organisation, these meters have inherent problems the main ones being:

1). These early SMETS1 meters are currently unable to connect to the central data body, called the Data Communication Company (DCC), however they will eventually be brought into the DCC network during the national roll-out.

2). Your supplier may need to upgrade your meter between 2017 and 2020 if the smart meter installed is not compliant with the official roll-out specification

3). If you want to switch supplier, your new supplier might not be able to operate your meter in ‘smart’ mode. This may mean your meter won't work in smart mode anymore, so will become 'dumb'. As a result, you will need to revert to taking meter readings

The Which? report goes on to say, ‘You can also decide whether your supplier can use your meter reads for sales and marketing purposes.’ Nevertheless, it also points out that ‘You will also be able to share data with third parties (such as switching sites) if you want them to give you advice on the best tariff for you.’

However, in a telling article by Ruth Lythe for the Daily Mail, she says that ‘families who have digital smart energy meters installed in their homes could find the devices are being used to spy on their habits.

Privacy campaigners fear that in the most extreme cases sensitive data could be sold onto healthcare companies which could try and sell specially targeted goods and services to these customers.’

Chillingly the investigation also found that ‘Gas and electricity firms will be able to use smart meters to collect information about how customers use energy as frequently as every half hour.

This could reveal details such as which rooms and gadgets clients use most regularly, as well as when homeowners are in or out and even what time they are going to bed or how many cups of tea we make.’

The moral of the story is to make sure you clearly tell your energy supplier that you do not consent to them selling your personal information or data with anyone else.

It is perhaps indicative of the increased public disquiet about this initiative that the government has quietly changed its objective for the installation of smart meters, as the Daily Telegraph notes in a recent story,

‘The Government had originally said that every household would be set up with a smart meter by 2020 - and nearly seven million have been installed so far - but in June the Government subtly downgraded this requirement. Now every home will be "offered" a smart meter by 2020, with no obligation to take one.’

And the Telegraph goes on to say that, at present, there is little evidence that smart meters will save energy or money, saying ‘some argue that there is no real evidence to back up the claim that the smart meter could revolutionise our energy habits.

‘Little data exists as yet but one provider, British Gas, has said that its customers using smart meters save on average £30 a year.’

So, the jury is still out on the efficacy of at least the current generation on smart meters, with as many as 20% of the public now not wanting one installed. (comparethemarket.com  survey)

 

Your consumer rights when having a smart meter fitted

If you do elect to have a smart meter fitted, Which? Has some sound advice for what you should expect from your supplier or installer:

‘Before you are supplied with a smart meter, your energy supplier should contact you to arrange a time and date that suits you.

They should also tell you:

  • What to expect
  • How long the installation will take
  • If there are any steps you need to do before the installation can take place

 

Beware rogue traders

  • Doorstep visitors or phone calls claiming they want to make an appointment to install a smart meter are likely to be a rogue trader trying to scam you
  • Your energy supplier will contact you directly about smart meters
  • It will always be your energy supplier or a third party working on behalf of your energy company that will come to your house to change your meter.
  • Finally, if you do have a new smart meter installed, remember that the installation engineer is not allowed to try to sell you any add-on services during his visit.’

 

To read in full the articles we have referred to in this overview, please see:

Which? (Can I refuse a Smart meter?)

The Telegraph (Six reasons to say no to a smart meter)

Daily Mail (Could smart meters be used to spy on your home)

Daily Mail (March of the smart meter refuseniks)

This article was written by Guest Author
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