What is the point of smart meters?

Just trying to create a little discussion here possibly slightly controversial.

One of the justifications for smart metering is that it would save money. Given the cost of the roll-out, I am not sure what the pay back period would be for the industry (and obviously, we will all pay eventually, indirectly through our bills). The inconvenience of reading our meters occasionally is not massive.

Assuming that most folk who switch to Bulb are fairly switched-on about energy use (pun intended), I am not sure how simply installing a smart meter will help in itself. For example, we’ve done all the reasonable insulation we can, bought energy efficient products / LED light bulbs etc., switch things off when not in use and so on. Simply knowing how much energy we are using at any time isn’t likely to change how much energy we use.

If time-of-use tariffs become widespread following smart meter roll out I can see that it may encourage use of energy at cheaper times - although there may be safety implications if we all start putting devices like tumble dryers or washing machines on timers!

The main cost saving that I can see is that associated with firing all the meter readers - but given how often we see one of those these days, I am not convinced that is a huge saving!

Genuinely interested in what others think - as this community does seem to show a large interest in smart meters.

I do not like the idea of smart meters, I think they make you paranoid, I don’t like that I have no control over my information and feel it’s a very intrusive point of access. There are of course the potential health disadvantages but of course that will be played down because smart meters really don’t benefit us, they benefit the energy companies, else, they would not make such investment into a system that would cost them and ultimately us money and push customers away.
I would rather use another energy company than use a company that forces smart meters, they can gloss it up to make it seem like it’s for my benefit and the planets but I know it’s not.
I like bulb, their customer approach and their friendly manner is refreshing, but as soon as they start to push a smart meter on to me I’ll start to consider walking away, I’m a low user anyway and very aware of what I use so a smart meter for me is a moot point and I don’t need a device to tell me what I use. I’ve just downloaded their app to facilitate easier meter readings because I take photos of the meter readings anyway, I also save the photos as a record.

In some ways energy use thinking is a bit backwards, we have devices that use high energy like tumbler dryers, kettles and electric heaters, the realities are a lot of people have to use these, they don’t really have a choice, some people don’t have a garden to “air their clothes”. The industry produce newer models of these devices that are more economical but how many people can afford to tap into that benefit and buy a £400-500 condensing tumble dryer that is AAA+ rated. If energy companies were really concerned about reducing energy usage, instead of making people feel guilty about using energy and in someway impacting on the comfort of their lives and potentially their health by using smart meters, why not have a subsidy for low income people that probably use C rated devices like tumble dryers, on a daily basis in winter. Wouldn’t it be worth a study on this to see if a subsidy would be a positive move over the cost of a smart meter, wouldn’t the benefit of people not getting so stressed because that smart meter is clocking up money be a positive thing in lots of ways. How many people look prematurely old because of financial stress.

The irony to all of this is the low income earners do not benefit from improved, more effcient technology, the wealthy do, and they can afford not to. Yes, there is a trickle down effect; kind of, but by that time the devices benefits start to lose potency as the devices/machines become older and parts become less effective at doing their job, all of this then leads to smaller benefit and that can be removed all together due to replacement of parts this is the reality of trickle down devices and a cost implication and the loss of benefit the technology was originally intended to give the owner, it’s a bit of an "almost no win’ situation for people who need that benefit.

Call me cynical but leopards don’t change their spots and while bulb have a healthier approach to customers than almost all other energy companies and I find that a breath of fresh air and I applaud them for it, in the end, it’s that bottom line that counts because without a healthy bottom line there would be no Bulb Energy.

There is a huge cavernous difference between the abuse of customers and ultimately greed and making a profit to pay a wage and sustain a company for the benefit of all.

Off Topic: I had a notification that I don’t have any notifications lol!

Really cool discussion point, @mike470. You’re right that there is a lot of smart-meter chat going on!

We reckon that seeing how much energy you’re using at any one time actually could encourage us to change our behaviour in those little ways (switching off lights and screens etc). Hopefully most of us are already pretty aware, but it never hurts to be reminded!

The more exciting stuff is going to come along when, as you say, we’ll start being able to use time-of-use tariffs. As the grid changes to incorporate more renewable energy generation, coping with peaks and troughs in demand is going to become increasingly important. We can see smart meters being pretty fundamental in that. And as you say, that’ll hopefully save people money along the way, by allowing them to use energy when it’s at its cheapest.

I agree with your thinking Mike470, I reckon I outsmart the smart meters and will not have one. If you are interested in saving money and want to become energy efficient then get on with it, start looking at where and how you use energy, one does not need a smart meter to do that.
I started a few years back and I can easily forecast my bills months ahead if I want (+or- 5%). I take my readings weekly but to be honest that is just habit now as everything ticks over nicely with no surprises.

@mike470 @scudo @lee637

one of the main benefits of smart meters is that it allows energy companies to better manage their settlements (the different between what is bought in forecast and what is actually used)

You are already paying for them in your bills, regardless of if you have them installed or not.

In the next few years smart meters will allow customers to switch energy suppliers in seconds rather than 17 to 28 days. allowing customers more freedom. They will also allow users to do more with batteries and EVs. OVOs announcement the other day about their ‘ev to grid’ proposition is an example of this. Smart meters will allow distribution on the grid to be better managed ans waste far less energy than currently.

The main problem with the smart meter roll out is that the government have made such a mess of it. pity we dont have a more competent government to handle industry wide infrastructure upgrades.

1.Smart meters can be used to remotely cut off the supply to the user for whatever reason.
2.They will probably harvest data that will one way or another end up with targeted ads
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-10/your-outlet-knows-how-smart-meters-can-reveal-behavior-at-home-what-we-watch-on-tv.html
On the plus side ,you can keep track that your tariff is correct as its shown in the in home display

@ellison you have to give permission for you energy company to share your data with others. If you dont want them to do that then you dont have to.
Also energy companies aren’t in the business of cutting people off. if you have DD then you will never be cut off, you’ll run up debt if you dont pay you bill but will never be cut off.
If you have a key meter/prepayment style smart meter then when you run out of credit your energy will stop but you’re not cut off, you just need to top up.

Cutting people off is very bad for business and very very bad PR so it wont happen.

Don’t understand them, am I going to turn my oven off or washer because I see the dial or whatever going round, you have the appliances, you have to pay for their usage, what is the point of the meters, they only help the supplier,

@kathleen2422 the point is more to have accurate bills. Most people dont submit meter readings. and dont really know how much energy costs. You wouldn’t be happy with a phone bill that was “we think is is how much you owe us” so why should your elec and gas bills be different.
The fact is that old meters are just that, old and outdated. and the gas and elec industry need modernising. Smart meters are how that is happening.

They wont only help the supplier, they will ultimately create an energy industry that is more transparent and fairer for the customer.

@kathleen2422 , @hiphopopotamus is right the main advantage of smart meters the removal of estimated bills. Many customers can go months or sometimes without submitting a reading. This means when a meter reading is taken it can lead to unexpectedly high bills that they may not be able to pay.

The greater clarity and accuracy benefits both the customer and supplier. Customers won’t be lulled into a false sense of security by underestimated bills. They’ll also be able to adjust their usage quickly if it seems their bills are getting out of hand.

I think it’s the policy design that needs to ensure there is sufficient price signal accompanied by smart meters that can help shift usage in a more efficient manner. And this be the only way for the public to see real benefit from smart meters. You probably wouldn’t switch off your fridge for 30 min for £2, but what about £30?

Interesting discussion points - assuming there are benefits to be had, I do wonder what the payback period is likely to be. As pointed out above, we will all be paying for the programme ultimately (whether or not you chose to accept a smart meter). Interactive grid services would be interested, particularly for those able to installed solar / powerwall types of systems - although probably not for us as our roof faces the wrong way! I guess that eventually if smart meters do enable suppliers to manage their contracts more efficiently then we may benefit to some degree.

I believe that the roll out to smart meters is a way to switch us all to variable tariffs,

For example you may be charged much more to use electricity during peak times and much cheaper when off peak, I think this is the only way that the grid will be able to cope with increased future demand, The cost will drive behavioral change…

@ellison you have to give permission for you energy company to share your data with others. If you dont want them to do that then you dont have to. Also energy companies aren't in the business of cutting people off. if you have DD then you will never be cut off, you'll run up debt if you dont pay you bill but will never be cut off. If you have a key meter/prepayment style smart meter then when you run out of credit your energy will stop but you're not cut off, you just need to top up.

Cutting people off is very bad for business and very very bad PR so it wont happen.

Actually in certain cases you have to opt out rather than in,not to have your data shared


https://www.ft.com/content/2ff31980-e067-11e5-8d9b-e88a2a889797?mhq5j=e5
I have smart meters installed although the display no longer works since Ive switched to Bulb.There are some advantages to having smart meters ,however that doesn’t negate the facts that they can harvest data ,and you can be remotely cut off for whatever reasons.

@ellison your first link has nothing to do with smart meters, its a database of pre-pay customers, not smart meter database. and i cant read the FT article because I’m not s subscriber.

What reasons are you worried about being cut off for?

Behavioural change is precisely what SM’s are designed to achieve…along with making the market for energy more efficient.

The electricity network is increasingly reliant on renewables. We need to be able to shift demand where possible to match supply, rather than the traditional approach of matching supply to demand. I would be happy to time my washing machine, dish washer and EV to coincide with cheaper (and greener) electricity…but that isn’t possible at the moment. SM’s are the technology which will open up a wide range of possibilities…not having to read the meter is just the start!

Behavioural change is precisely what SM's are designed to achieve...along with making the market for energy more efficient.

The electricity network is increasingly reliant on renewables. We need to be able to shift demand where possible to match supply, rather than the traditional approach of matching supply to demand. I would be happy to time my washing machine, dish washer and EV to coincide with cheaper (and greener) electricity…but that isn’t possible at the moment. SM’s are the technology which will open up a wide range of possibilities…not having to read the meter is just the start!

Very eloquently said.

An interesting discussion!

I’ve been mostly cynical here, please add less cynical smart meter comments below :smile:

I think there are a few distinct potential parts of a smart meter which are quite different in terms of what they might offer for the customer, and what they might offer for the supplier.

  • The first that companies try and sell you on is some kind of display that you have elsewhere in your house to tell you how much energy you are using (at that time, and over a time period of an hour/day/week) and how much that might cost you.
    This is not a new technology and does not require a smart meter. Energy monitoring devices are typically a single plug for monitoring individual appliances, but units that connect at your consumer unit have been available for years with the same smart meter functionality.
    Your supplier is going to give it to you for free, but some of the first generation ones really were little more than a gimmick so we’ll have to wait and see what starts being offered in 2018.

  • Then there is the capability for the meter to inform your supplier of how much energy you have used/are using. This could be considered an invasion of privacy if it’s tracking your use over a short time period (say a reading every 5 minutes), but it could equally just be reporting your usage once a week/month to ensure the supplier has the correct reading without you having to manually read the meter.
    Remember that energy companies have to offer you a smart meter for free, so most of them are likely to want something in return which in most cases will be more data. A reduction in your energy consumption does not help your supplier although as @hiphopopotamus said above, if they can more accurately trade energy based on demand, this could save them money.
    I suspect however that Bulb will be very open about their plans, what data will be submitted to them and what they’ll use it for.

  • The third major thing that I’ve seen discussed is the ability to use cheaper electricity by switching appliances on at different times. Now maybe your in-home display tells you when energy is cheaper but again, a smart meter isn’t necessarily required for that; economy 7/10 on standard meters works just fine and it’s more dependent on the power hungry device knowing what time it is than anything else.
    A smart meter does open up the potential for charging for electricity at all sorts of odd rates based on demand though, so a cynic might suggest that economy 7 and 10 are going to go away and power companies will start charging us on a constantly variable rate based on demand right at that very moment. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing but having people who are already struggling choosing to turn off their heating when it’s the coldest because their smart meter told them it’s surge pricing time (à la Uber) might not be so good.

If you simply want to use the greenest energy (and aren’t concerned about the price), you could vary your usage based on the current production of renewable energy (or see this for a more readable example).
Hmm, that gives me an idea for an internet connected socket…

So after all that, I believe that we should ask questions and try and keep our privacy as intact as possible, but just make the most of what we’re offered and perhaps just accept them as a necessary tool in the sustainable future that we all want.

@ellison, I share your concerns about privacy and there’s nothing to stop energy companies having their terms and conditions state that you agree with all data collection. There are enough players in the market that I suspect there would be nothing legally put in place stopping them from doing so.
I can forsee it being a case of “If you don’t like it, move suppliers”.

@hiphopopotamus, do you think that the pre-pay customers were asked if they wanted to have their information on this database?
Even if your supplier sent you an email informing you of a change to Ts & Cs, would you read it all? Would everyone?

There’s a big reason why I would recommend Bulb to everyone I know and it wouldn’t be because they can get £50 (or indeed I can get £50), or because it’s all renewable electricity (companies have been doing that for years), or because it’s cheap.
I’d recommend Bulb because so far I trust them to not be terrible people.