Smart meters Q&A with Rob from Smart Energy GB

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well.

I’m Rob, and I work at Smart Energy GB and I’m here to chat and answer questions from Bulb members on the smart meter roll out and what it means for our energy system and climate.

SEGB is a not-for-profit, government-backed organisation tasked with informing Great Britain about the benefits of the smart meter rollout (as well as contextualising some of the imperfections). We explain how rollout of smart meters is key to achieving a low-carbon, efficient and reliable energy system. I’m the Director of Communications there, responsible for our work with the media, stakeholders and government.

Smart meters are having a positive impact on how people use energy, with nearly three quarters saying they’re doing more to save energy since getting one; and, with more people getting smart meters we can work on developing better products to go with them, such as innovative tariffs - and services that make the best of batteries, electric vehicles and renewables.

Fire away with any questions in this thread and I’ll respond as soon as I can! Apologies in advance if I’m not super speedy – like many of us, I’m juggling home schooling and meetings, but I’ll do my best! There will also be agents on hand to help with account specific queries.

Have a great day!
Rob

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I had a smart meter installed, only on condition that I could keep my E7 tariff. That was in November. The installer should have set it up for E7 but didn’t. It can only provide one read out. It can’t communicate with the hub so it’s been left in a “dumb” state. My account is set up for E7 and I want it to stay that way. So I don’t get behind, I’ve given readings by email, suggesting that the the usage be split between Day & Night readings based on my historical usage of 46.5 % Night, 53.5% Day and have calculated for you what I should be charged. I have sent in numerous emails. On my last posting on here I was assured I would get a response to my last email early last week. You haven’t provided a statement since November. No one has been in touch. My advice don’t get a smart meter. Next port of call ofgem.

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Hey @DaveDB - thanks for your post. I can see you’ve got an active complaint with one of my colleagues, I’m just going to have a discussion with them about the best next steps and one of us will be in touch today! Georgie

Hi @DaveDB,

I can see the Bulb team are looking in to this and I hope it gets resolved!

Economy 7 has been an interesting challenge for the rollout and lots of work has gone on behind the scenes to come up with meter variants and to make it all work well. Hopefully that work benefits you soon.

In the long run, things are really exciting for smart tariffs with different rates at different times. Looking ahead, we’re going to see lots of tariffs that save people money and mean that, more often than not, we’re using low carbon power in our daily lives. I know Bulb has been developing and trialling in this space!

Economy 7 has been a cool forerunner of those tariffs, over the years!

Rob

Hi @mandy12345,

This isn’t an easy one to answer specificially, as it can vary by supplier and the set up in any particular home. However, the overall project to develop 5 terminal meters has made good progress, despite Covid.

If I give a vague answer of “soon” and, for most people with 5 terminal meters, this year, will you forgive me? The Bulb team may be able to be more specific, but things can change, so I don’t want to promise on their behalf!

Rob

I am in exactly the same position with the added twist of not being left without an IHD and, without my consent, having my Economy 7 tariff being changed to a single rate tariff. I was also promised that this would be rectified by last week but that it could be another 4-6 weeks before they could reconfigure the meter. I’ve had a complaint raised with Bulb since the beginning of December.

My enthusiasm has been tainted by my experience. The concept is great, but the reality of my experience of the application of the concept and subsequent customer service has been dismal. I haven’t had one positive response that has resulted in any progress being made since it was installed. All I’ve had to date is “holding” replies. I suggested a number of solutions and queried whether the meter can be re-programmed “on site” to allow me to give manual E7 readings until such time as it’s connected. I’ve had no response to my suggestions. In fact you took out a gen 1 smart meter, that was set up for E7, that they were never able to get connected previously! Coming from a building construction and technical background, my view is you should have done a site survey testing the signal strength before commencing.

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There’s a bit of confusion over 5 terminal meters. I had one with 4 power cables and a single timer cable which was used by Economy 7. This was able to be changed to a smart meter after discussion with Bulb. If you have 5 power cables for a separate circuit then this type appears to be causing an issue.

Hey @Slumberjack, thanks for your post. I’ll ensure you get an email with an update ASAP, either from myself or with the colleague handling your case letting you know the best next steps! Georgie

Had a smart meter installed in Oct 2019. It worked for 9 months and then stopped working. Engineers are supposed to be working on it but with no success. I have to send in readings but now find I can’t find the screen which shows both night and day rates for electricity.

How much is the smart meter rollout costing? What’s the payback period for this? How and where is it going to bring a financial benefit?

Hey @neville.howes - I’m just popping you an email now to ensure this gets sorted for you! Georgie

Hi @ol1verb1rch,

There are two ways of looking at this, in my view. The way the government does, or thinking about it in a holistic way, considering the consequences of not having a rollout. Both have their own merits.

The Government cost-benefit analysis projects costs for the rollout of about £11 billion, versus benefits of around £17 billion (please forgive the rounding to the nearest billion - you’ve tested my memory with this one!). The overall net benefit is expected to be £5.7billion. All of that is over the apprasal period, which I think went out to 2030.

For me, though, that understates the potential benefits/payback, because it doesn’t capture all of the likely benefits we can get from products and services that will come in the future. It doesn’t capture all of the system-wide benefits of using our energy more flexibly. And, as with any projection, there is uncertainty. What really excites me about the rollout is that we don’t yet know what its full potential is. Like thinking about the potential of the internet in the late 1990s, we can’t really conceive of the opportunities that come from digitising a largely analogue industry.

Based on what we can see, there are potentially £100s of savings a year that can come from all of the things that build upon the foundation of smart meters. Delta-ee (a leading consultancy in energy and environment) did some work with us (https://www.delta-ee.com/front-page-news/delta-ee-and-smart-energy-gb-research-suggests-big-savings-for-smart-meter-users.html) that showed people can save some very impressive amounts, once we’re using the potential of smart meters more.

I’ve run a bit long with this one and I don’t want to understate that £11bn is a lot of money, but it is going to save much more than that in the long run.

Finally, I don’t believe that we can have an efficient, green energy system without being able to use electricity more flexibly. Smart meters are non-negotiable if we want to get to net zero/zero carbon as a country.

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Thanks for that answer @Rob_at_Smart_Energy - it’s probably quite easy to forget that a smart meter effects more than just the individual property that its in, it allows the entire network to work more cohesively!

This is definitely an interesting point, and takes me back to a question we had a few days ago on Community from @Gaucho, who asked:

“[Smart meters will] also help the UK’s energy system to reduce waste and the reliance on fossil fuels.” Perhaps you can tell us how the installation of a smart meter achieves this?

Do you have any further insight into the relationship between smart meters and the environment?

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Hi Georgie!

I risk not being concise here…

The issue we face as a country is that we’ll potentially double our electricity use between now and 2050. This is as a result of electric vehicles and heat pumps, primarily - both things that we needs LOTS of. The main issue with that comes at 5-8pm on a winter’s evening, when we’re all cooking dinner and heating our homes, whilst offices and factories remain open.

We’ve done a good job of moving to renewable electricity in recent years, but we’ll struggle to meet that new demand, even if we build lots of turbines, solar, tidal etc.

So, we need to use electricity more flexibly. An analogue system can’t do this - or, where it can, only in a peicemeal way that won’t be sufficient for net zero and will be much more costly! It also doesn’t privide info for our network companies to help them upgrade their infrastructure for net zero.

In a flexible world, underpinned by smart meters, our energy use could look a bit more like:

6pm we come home from work. We smart charge our car…it doesn’t draw electricity yet because the smart meter tells it the price is high, it waits until overnight, in a low peak period when energy is cheaper and predominantly renewable. Our heat pump draws energy from our battery, stored from earlier, drawn from local solar or from the grid when energy was cheaper. Indeed, it could even draw left over electricity from our car battery.

7pm - we finish dinner and load the dishwasher. We put it on, but the smart meter tells it to wait until 8pm to start, as energy will be cheaper and greener then.

2am - 5am - our car charges to full. Cars across the country charge at different times, as smart metering enables staggering. The whole time pressure is kept off the grid and most (often all) of the energy used comes from renewables.

7am - we wake up to a full car battery and clean dishes, curse that it’s not the weekend, but see on our in home display, app…or hologram…whatever, that we’ve barely spent anything on energy.

That’s all an over simplification, but hopefully makes sense.

The impact of thousands and, eventually, millions of households doing things like that will mean we make better use of renewables and, to meet demand, won’t have to build extra (very expensive!) new generation capacity. All underpinned by the price information and connectivity of smart meters.

Wow @Rob_at_Smart_Energy, what an amazing vision of the future, one I definitely want to be a part of! It does sound pretty complex though… Seems like it’s going to rely on a move to individual homes becoming their own Energy Managers.

How are we ensuring we have the infrastructure there to support this scenario in the longer term? Can it all just be done from smart meters themselves, or are we going to have to revolutionise the whole system?

Hows my data safe with a “smart” meter. Ive heard theyre easier to hack

Oh, a total revolution I hope! The key part of that though is the system will change, but all of us won’t need to. The system needs to change, but that is so it gets less complex.

The key is automation (that we can choose for ourself and overright if needed) that does it all for us. That’s all coming - and smart electric vehicle chargers are already doing stuff like that.

I’ve seen a prototype kettle that charges when energy is expensive so you can later make your tea with cheaper electricity! There’s so much cool stuff coming all of which will make our lives easier (as well as cheaper and greener).

There might be an early-adopter phase where some of this requires manual intervention from some of us, but we’ll move beyond that really quickly, I think.

I’m going a bit rogue here, but real revolution is in making sure we value flexibility properly at a system level. We need to make it easy for compnies like Bulb to offer flexibility to the energy system, so that it can reward customers for it. In pure physics terms, a unit of electricity not used (because we used a battery or something instead) is the same as a unit of electricity generated. If the system were able to pay people for being flexible in the way we pay generators for the power they produce, the whole system would get much cheaper to run and all our bills will come down.

This will become very easy for customers/members, I expect. But alongside that I’m really excited about the transformation smart energy systems enable behind the scenes.

I’ll stop nerding out now!