"Smart" Tariff total confusion and estimated bill

I joined Bulb recently, I left Scottish Power and still have their smart meter and display.

Firstly, I completely understand that the situation with older smart meters is complex, a bit of a mess and is not Bulb’s fault. I wasn’t expecting Bulb to be able to use it, at least not straight away anyway. The display continued displaying Scottish Power’s tariff after I’d switched to Bulb, which didn’t surprise or worry me.

I then joined Bulb’s “Smart” tariff shortly after this. Within a day or two, the smart meter display started displaying Bulb’s tariff, including the correct daily rate, the right unit rate for the time of day and I even get a countdown time until the next tariff switch, all very impressive. Great, I thought - since then we’ve been running the washing machine at night, avoiding showering in peak time etc etc.

Then I received a bill from Bulb, which makes no mention of this tariff and is based on the standard tariff and an estimated meter reading.

I’ve contacted Bulb by email, but I’m just getting vague standard replies about the general smart meter situation, stating that Bulb can’t communicate with older meters (the standard overall situation that I already knew about). Not even a mention of the Smart tariff.

Clearly Bulb can communicate with my meter, as they’ve managed to completely reprogram it with the variable tariff. But Bulb billing don’t seem to have any knowledge of this tariff.

Can anyone please explain what’s going on here? What tariff am I on, are we wasting our time using off-peak power and, if I am on a standard tariff, can Bulb reprogram my meter to display the standard tariff that I’m actually paying for?

Can anyone please explain what's going on here? What tariff am I on, are we wasting our time using off-peak power and, if I am on a standard tariff, can Bulb reprogram my meter to display the standard tariff that I'm actually paying for?

Don’t panic. It sounds like your meter has been correctly configured, it’s just the usual Bulb billing software that’s not fit for purpose. They are re-writing their billing platform, but there’s no plan for when that might be ready. Since your IHD is showing you the multi-rates and the up/down arrows for electric changes, the meter side of things is working fine. I’d recommend two things:

  1. Read your meter. I’m guessing you have an Elster AS300P like mine. The default mode for this meter is to cycle through the display of the three rates, so if you just stand and watch for a few seconds you’ll be able to note them down. If you press any of the three buttons it’ll turn the backlight on to enable you to see the screen more easily. However, I’d suggest either the top or bottom button since in the normal mode they don’t do anything, whereas the middle button takes you into the menu. The buttons are basically up, enter, and down. Feel free to go through all the menus and investigate, as far as I can see you can’t do anything “wrong” or break anything. It’s time out back to the default screen after a couple of minutes. You can send the readings to Bulb and hopefully get an accurate bill. Since the meter itself has been logging your usage in each of the three registers at the correct times, you’ll be billed at the right rates even though Bulb haven’t been able to get the readings (or at least haven’t processed them through into their billing system).

  2. I had similar problems getting past first level support. As you say, I repeatedly got replies where they clearly hadn’t actually read what I’d said, they just saw “SMETS1 meter” and sent the default reply you’ve received. This is typical of Bulb customer service. I can suggest two approaches. In any email write very clearly at the top that you are on the smart tariff beta and ask them to immediately escalate the message to the smart team, that tends to work. You can also send email to smart@bulb.co.uk (rather than help@bulb.co.uk) which I believe is configured to automatically direct messages to the smart team and bypasses first level support. Note this still doesn’t guarantee actually getting a reply.

Ultimately, since your meter is logging the rates correctly, you’re still getting the benefit of the multi-rates. This is just a billing issue, which will get resolved eventually. If you want to keep track of your usage and see if the three rates are working out for you, you can still do so by taking your own manual meter readings. For what it’s worth, my account is showing daily readings and my bills have always been correct. So the system does work if only someone can get it configured properly for you. I can’t access the half hourly readings yet. My bill this month, having put 100kWh into my EV overnight, worked out £1 cheaper than if I had been on the single rate. The 4pm-7pm peak rate really is a killer. I think I’d prefer just a basic E7 tariff but Bulb don’t offer that on any smart meters yet. I’m considering asking to switch back to the single rate and forgetting the hassle of timed usage until some more attractive tariffs appear.

Also, in terms of your IHD showing the correct prices - expect this to be correct only up to the next price change. I’ve been trying to get this done for months and apparently it just doesn’t work. The only way Bulb can send prices to the meter is in the first configuration update, when the three rates are initially defined. After that, the system wont accept a new configuration that is identical in all but prices, because it thinks it’s the same configuration and rejects the change. There’s no way to send just the new prices. So the only way to update the prices would seem to be to send a full new configuration (say, back to single rate) and then refresh the full multi-rate tariff again. Bulb don’t seem to want to try that, which is understandable since I guess it could likely cause many more problems than it solves.

Well, it is a beta after all …

I wonder how many of these problems might get resolved, and how many made worse, when they attempt to enrol our meters into the DCC over the next 18 months.

Thanks for all the info, that’s really helpful. I had wondered how this would be metered, that all makes sense.

I’ve checked the meter as you said, and it is keeping three separate counts - the main number is still the big number it was before, but there are also two other readings that are much lower numbers, presumably these are the counts of how many units we’ve used on the 3 different tariffs. I don’t know which is which, but presumably Bulb do!

I’ll ignore their estimated bill for now then, it’s about double what it should be but it’s just under what we pay per month so not a problem. I’ll just check that they re-credit this bill to my account if/when they back-bill me for the variable tariff when they finally work out how to bill me for it.

I’ve still to see whether this is a good or bad deal for us. We’re prepared to switch demand, plus my other half is about to start working shifts and I work from home so we’ll probably be keeping weird hours anyway, plus I’ll be using electric heat in the daytime. Once we actually get a bill I can just add up the 3 lots of units, multiply by the standard tariff and find out whether that would have been more or less. My guess is that it possibly wouldn’t work out cheaper for typical users who keep normal hours, it’s probably a “Tesla Tariff” really, definitely good for people who charge electric cars overnight.

The “Tariff” tab under my account still says it’s “Vari-fair” and is inviting me to try the smart tariff as before. Should this change once they sort it out?

I've checked the meter as you said, and it is keeping three separate counts - the main number is still the big number it was before, but there are also two other readings that are much lower numbers, presumably these are the counts of how many units we've used on the 3 different tariffs. I don't know which is which, but presumably Bulb do!

R01 Day
R02 Peak
R03 Night

The meter display indicates on the top right which rate is current active.

I'll ignore their estimated bill for now then, it's about double what it should be but it's just under what we pay per month so not a problem. I'll just check that they re-credit this bill to my account if/when they back-bill me for the variable tariff when they finally work out how to bill me for it.

If you haven’t already It’s probably worth contacting Bulb again and pointing out the billing isn’t working, and stressing at the start of the message you’re on the beta so that hopefully you don’t get the default response.

I've still to see whether this is a good or bad deal for us. We're prepared to switch demand, plus my other half is about to start working shifts and I work from home so we'll probably be keeping weird hours anyway, plus I'll be using electric heat in the daytime.

For my area, both the day and night rates are actually lower than the single rate. This means provided that the peak rate usage can be minimised it ought to be a no brainer. Unfortunately getting others in the house to think about the time before using high energy appliances is proving difficult if not impossible. My partner put the washing machine on the other night at 1830, and unfortunately I didn’t catch it until gone 1900 so that was a waste of money. It would be easy if you lived on your own. I dread to think what happens when I’m away on business for weeks at a time - other people just can’t be trusted! And they’ll be the first to complain about high bills.

Once we actually get a bill I can just add up the 3 lots of units, multiply by the standard tariff and find out whether that would have been more or less.

Remember you can do this right now if you take the three readings manually off the meter. It’s a pain compared to getting the daily readings off the Bulb website, but at least you’ll be able to get an idea of whether the tariff is working out for you whileBulb sort their billing out.

My guess is that it possibly wouldn't work out cheaper for typical users who keep normal hours, it's probably a "Tesla Tariff" really, definitely good for people who charge electric cars overnight.

Yes it’s a “high mileage” tariff with the rate ratios as they are currently set. As I said I barely do enough miles to warrant the multi-rate, since even 100kWh per month (about 400 miles per month) into the car is only just breaking even. We have gas heating and hob, and an electric oven. So the only real peak rate high usage is the oven for an hour if we’re too starving to wait until 7pm before starting dinner. For a household without an EV I can’t see it being a sensible tariff at all without solar and battery storage to eliminate the peak rate use.

The "Tariff" tab under my account still says it's "Vari-fair" and is inviting me to try the smart tariff as before. Should this change once they sort it out?

That’s normal, it never goes away. I’ve also recently had an email asking if I want Bulb to install their SMETS2 smart meters, which is silly given the smart tariff isn’t yet available on SMETS2. On the Bulb careers page it says

Work is not siloed, you’re able to commit across the stack, and you have a view of all the features the team are working on.

Could have fooled me. From a customer perspective it feels like every service is air-gapped and has no knowledge of what any other area of the business is doing.

I’ll email the special address and see what happens.

We don’t have a leccy car, but also don’t have mains gas. We moved into the house a couple of months ago. All heating is currently electric heating (not storage). We won’t be dragging dead trees into the living room and like clean air, so the log burner will remain unused. I’m aware that this is likely to be expensive to run. We’ve yet to decide what sort of heating we’ll have in future, possibly a ground source heat pump, possibly tanked gas, not sure just yet - it’s a big decision so I want to analyse it in depth before deciding and we’re currently busy dealing with immediate concerns. It may even be that we’d never save over our lifetimes what we’d spend installing something else, so it may even make sense to stay as we are - the fact is that we have a pretty decent system, nice smart looking electric rads in every room, all already installed.

The house is already fairly well insulated, I’ve just added lots more to the room where I’ll be in the daytime. My hope is that I’ll benefit from the slightly lower daytime rate, and that I won’t wipe out the savings after 4pm as I’ll be switching off at this point. I can move washing and drying to the cheapest night time rate but that will probably be it. I’m not actually sure if this is a good idea though, both are nice new machines but there’s still a degree of fire risk from running anything unattended.

So in reality we’ll save about 1p/unit for most of the day but pay an extra 17p/unit for 3 hours on weekdays but aim to reduce our usage drastically during this time. It’s probably borderline really, possibly not worth bothering.

I may look at a storage heater for one or two rooms, so the daytime heat would be produced from night time power. Or early evening heat could be produced from daytime power. Again though, it’s a question of whether we’d ever save the outlay. There’s also a possibility that Bulb may decide to withdraw this tariff, so it could be a waste of time and money.

We’re about to buy a second car. Our usage would be perfect for a leccy car, but I just can’t make the maths make sense financially. They’re so expensive that it probably only pays if you work in London and/or it’s run as a company car.

@IveGotThePower

They are expensive to buy. It’s easier to justify a 0 commitment rental, like:
https://evezy.co.uk/our-vehicles/

Thanks, that Renault Zoe looks seriously interesting. If that price is genuine and it includes insurance as stated then it may make sense.

I’m now pondering about storage heaters… Problem 1 is that they’re lots of £100s, which is stupid for a metal box with a heating element inside some bricks.

Problem 2 is that I don’t know whether they’d save money anyway. I’d be able to heat the bricks up before 7am at 8.2p per unit instead of the 12.2p it’s going to cost after I’ve dragged myself out of bed. So I’ll be buying the heat for 2/3rds of the price. But… it’s likely that on some days I’d be heating it up more than needed when it’s not actually a very cold day. Or, conversely, I may end up not storing enough heat so end up paying full price to boost it. Also, some heat will always be left in the bricks at the end of the day, which will then pointlessly heat the place overnight.

I reckon I could waste most of that third-off that I’d save. I remember that ads for “economy 7” in the 1980s said it was “half-price”. At that sort of price difference it could start to make sense despite the wasted heat. But a third off probably isn’t worth bothering about.

On balance, I think I’ll stick with the non-storage electric radiator that I already have. When it gets really cold I’ll use the timer to set it to switch on from 6am-7am, heating the room up while it’s cheap. The radiator is screwed to an internal wall, so the wall itself will act as a storage heater to an extent. It’s a bit unusual in that it’s an internal insulated cavity wall, due to the fact that it’s been extended.

I’ll have to see if we can run the house from the leased Renault Zoe’s batteries! I know that this sort of thing has been toyed with, it’s probably a sensible idea.

The Zoe’s 41kWh battery is going to cost £3.36 to charge from flat at 8.2p/unit overnight. If it does 145 miles in the real world as stated then that’s 2.3p per mile, which actually makes my pretty efficient real-world 50mpg diesel look expensive in comparison at 11.6p per mile @ £1.279/litre. Plus if it really can do 145 miles then we could use it for a lot more than just commuting to work and back.

@phproxy Now look what you’ve gone and done … :slight_smile:

For what it’s worth, my previous-model Leaf was 12 months old when I bought it with 5k miles on the clock for £14k. The new models with higher range for sure are expensive, but there’s a decent second hand market going and the batteries are proving to be reliable with no more than expected levels of degradation.

My 24kWh Leaf can do about 80 miles to a charge when pottering around, and about 60 miles on the motorway. Not great, but that hasn’t stopped me taking it on holiday to the south coast and all around Ireland. My partner has a petrol car, but I use my Leaf as my main car and I’ve never ended up on a flatbed truck. As you say when you get to the level of a couple of pennies per mile, and zero vehicle tax, the maths starts to work out very differently to what you might expect.

Having said all this, I’ve no idea what I will buy next. I’d like a Hyundai Kona, but they’re so expensive. I definitely don’t want to go back to petrol, I’m totally sold on electric now. But who knows what will happen.

One thing to bear in mind with the Zoe is that they can’t use DC rapid chargers, so are somewhat limited as a longer range vehicle. Only the Leaf is capable of vehicle-to-grid at the moment, unless I’m out of date.

Thanks, that Renault Zoe looks seriously interesting. If that price is genuine and it includes insurance as stated then it may make sense.

They are genuine and it includes insurance. Huge thread on Speakev, you can pick out someone’s referral code for £50 off your first month too…You may see my username over there =)

https://speakev.com/threads/the-evezy-discussion-thread.135610/page-119#post-2692332

@Hooloovoo That’s right regarding the Leaf, I think they’re the only one’s clinging on to Chamedo? CCS are in no rush for V2G…

https://insideevs.com/news/342354/charin-ccs-combo-standard-to-offer-v2g-by-2025/

I’ve just signed up for Evezy. I used the code in the post you linked to, it might be a month or two before we book the hire though.

We’re really old-fashioned, in that we don’t have anything on credit. We’ve become mortgage-free, and we save up and buy what we need, we don’t generally get anything involving monthly payments. However, that Evezy deal is far too good to ignore. I priced up the Zoe on Renault’s website, it’s £28,500 with the battery. Evezy are charging £289 a month, so near enough 1% of the price. This would be a good deal on its own, but the fact that it includes all maintenance and insurance makes it a complete no-brainer. Oh, and it also includes free charging across the country too.

We’ll dive in while it lasts. Either they’re paying massively less than retail prices for the cars or they’re not going to be around for ever, as I can’t see how they can possibly make a profit. Not my problem if they shut down, I’d just need to buy a car as I was about to anyway.

So… after a very unexpected but welcome deviation it seems that we have a definite use for Bulb’s smart tariff after all!

I didn’t get a reply from the smart email address at bulb though. I’ll leave it a month or two, hopefully they’ll catch up with themselves eventually, I’ll be on the phone if I don’t hear before the Zoe arrives.

Well… A month later, billing is still a muddled mess.

I got a reply from the special email address eventually (16 days later), in which they stated that it can take “a good few months” to sort out. I can only assume that the instant electronic smart meter readings are sent by pigeon from smart meter HQ to Bulb, none of this scale of delay makes any sense otherwise.

In the meantime, I’ve now received a second estimated bill that is around double what we’re actually using and my account balance is now in deficit. As our meter now has three separate readings due to the Smart tariff, I can’t even give an accurate reading instead of the estimated ones. Plus I don’t want to mess things up any more than they already are.

I’m going to ignore the estimated bills and let my account slip further into the red - I can’t see what else can be done. I’m hopeful that the estimated bills will be credited back to my account when I’m eventually billed correctly, but I just don’t know what will happen.