Smart Meters – and consulting with experts, not vested interests

I first learned about “smart” metering when I heard Joanne Carr talk about them at National Energy Action, the fuel poverty charity. “Smart” meters replace the somewhat uninformative boxes which show our electricity and gas consumption in units and kilowatt hours. Most people only look at their meters when they want to get a reading for a gas or electricity bill, or when they want to dispute an estimated reading.  

I have already provided an explanation of how to read your meter and how to query your energy bill. Many people think that if we knew better what each appliance, light, or heat creating device actually costs us we would be more careful in using energy. 

I am sure that it true; knowledge is strength. It is one thing to leave the television on standby overnight, but if you know what it costs you over a year, you would probably make the effort when you haul yourself off to bed to turn the device off. Smart meters can show you this information.

Supporters of smart metering say that if smart meters were fitted then people would save 10% of their energy costs. The energy suppliers say that the figure would be much lower – less than 3% and that the costs would outweigh the benefits.

They do generally however say that they are now in favour of smart metering, although I am uncertain just how smart they want these meters to be. When I talked informally about smart meters to energy companies a year or so ago they complained about the likely cost of them. 

So forgive me if I dismiss the views of the energy companies out of hand. They make money selling gas and electricity and the last thing that they want to do is to encourage people to use less of the stuff. I find it astonishing that the government trusts them with saving energy so much, because it is directly against their commercial interests – a bit like putting the airlines in charge of discouraging people to fly. 

Centrica recently reported huge profits; they did not make the money by discouraging people to use their products. Apart from environmental benefits by encouraging people to waste less energy there is another important principle involved in smart metering. If you buy something you should know what you are paying for. If I go to a shop to buy my food I get an itemised receipt, not a single lump sum receipt.  

For me, and I suspect for many others, an electricity bill which could show me how much I spent on the upstairs lights, how much the TV and fridge cost to run, and what that electric kettle was really costing me, would certainly get me into the habit of turning the light off, switching off the appliance and filling the kettle with only the water I needed to boil. 

I would welcome the fact that the meter could be read remotely, without anyone having to enter my home, and that I could see consumption on line, figuring out how to budget better.  

I heard recently from John Brooks, a heating engineer trading under the name of Croydon Calorific recently. John decided to respond to a consultation on smart metering.  Well, John Brooks spend a lot of his time thinking about smart metering and decided to use his undoubted skills in practical heating controls in helping the government’s consultation. He wrote a careful paper about smart metering which you can find here: http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file43708.pdf 

It is full of practical ideas and he links metering to weather compensation and short term weather forecasting. I hope that John’s ideas are properly explored and that we do not end up with smart meters being a lowest common denominator of controls, rather than the most sophisticated system controls that we can create. 

If John’s ideas simply lie fallow, then what is the point of government consultations? From time to time many people spend a great deal of time putting together to a response to a consultation document, seeking the views of colleagues and partners in the energy industry, only to find that notwithstanding the consultation the government ploughs on its pre determined course relying on its own opinions and those of the usual suspects. 

There are many willing environmentalists prepared to provide their expert well thought advice free, for the greater good. It is a shame that the government fails to use this resource to its fullest. I think that they have to learn that trusting indigenous small companies and small business is usually a better bet than trusting the multinationals.

7 Responses

  1. Robert

    You concerns are spot on, many consumers just think that smart meters are just a way for energy companies to sell less power for more money.

    While this may be true at certain times of the day the overall impact of smart meters should be beneficial to all specifically the environment.

    Next generation smart meters are now being developed that will have even greater impact on consumers industry and the environment. They will incorporate sensor networks that will able to pinpoint distribution asset failures before they become power outages, they will also be able to monitor fire and burglar alarms and great saving to consumers while simultaneously tracking rural grass fire ignition, floods, mudslides, contamination, auto accidents and much much more.

    The key to smart meters is leveraging its platform to the fullest an example of this can be seen at the telepathx website.

  2. James

    A meter is something that everyone has to have. The technology is there so why not make it as smart as possible?

    Robert

  3. Hi all great information here and good thread to comment on.

    I am an adict to training and really want to get to my best this year!

    Can I ask though – how did you get this picked up and into google news?

    Very impressive that this blog is syndicated through Google and is it something that is just up to Google or you actively created?

    Obviously this is a popular blog with great data so well done on your seo success..

  4. Thanks!

  5. The “smartest” meter I have found is from USCL

  6. Robert, Why not have Ultrasonic heat metering for Solar Thermal? I really mean for auditing purposes so that the user knows how much energy they have used which of course could/would have been provided by other means if not solar thermal.

    Mentioned here with regard to the Pimlico CHP District Heating Scheme: http://www.lep.org.uk/uploads/Mark%20Howell%20CHP%20for%20RSLs.pdf

    and

    here is an actual meter from Danfoss;
    http://heating.danfoss.com/PCMPDF/VDSHA202_SONOMETER_2000-0711.pdf

    • It might be simpler to have a deemed meter reading and in effect pay people for not using fossil fuel!

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