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Should I accept the offer of a Smart Meter?

Monday, November 23, 2015

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been offered one of these snazzy new smart meters. They’re being offered, for free, to everyone in the UK over the next five years or so, probably by your energy supplier. Maybe you’re not sure what the point of them are? Maybe you’ve heard rumours they aren’t safe? Or maybe you’re concerned that your personal data wouldn’t be safe?

Here at The Energy Community, we’re independent from all of the big energy companies but also super good at researching energy-related stuff. So let us give you the honest and trustworthy advice you’ve been looking for!

What are Smart Meters?

Your old meter(s) probably looked like this:


There are digital displays, and there are traditional analogue displays (the ones with the rotating wheels) but they’re all not connected to the internet, and to read them, you have to go and find them, note down the readings, and then upload them onto the web or ring your electricity supplier. You supplier also sends round people to read them every now and again. Say good bye to all that.

Smart Meters are formed of three bits:

1. The updated version of your old meter(s) will probably look something like this:

Smart Electricity Meter

Smart Electricity Meter

2. There will be a display in your home that will show your how much energy your using and how much money your spending. There will be lots of options available to you, but the one below is an example provided by British Gas.

3. There will be a communications hub. This will “ping” (send snapshots of your energy usage) from your meter to your digital display and to anyone you allow to see it. This will, more than likely, be built into the smart meter itself, so you won’t notice it.

What’s the point?

We often feel a bit helpless with our energy bills. We’re disengaged and feel powerless. We do waste A LOT of money on our bills which is not good our bank balance (or the environment).
All Smart Meters do is measure your energy, but they do it digitally, which means you can see your energy usage on a screen in your home. This is just the beginning of giving you the power to understand when you’re using a lot of energy, and how to reduce it.
Here’s a list of reason’s they’re being rolled out:

  1. You know those estimated bills you used to get? No more! All your bills will reflect actual energy use.
  2. You know those people that turned up unexpectedly to read your meters? No more! It’ll all be done remotely.
  3. You know when your supplier asked you to go and read your meter (sometimes having to head outside)? No more! It’ll be read for you remotely.
  4. Remember that unexpectedly high bill you got? No more! You’ll be able to see when and (eventually) where that money was spent.
  5. You’ll be able to switch supplier even more easily with very accurate estimates of savings made on your bill.
  6. On a prepayment meter? Smart meters will allow you to top up through a mobile app or online, rather than going to the store.

How about the longer term benefits?

The reasons for the role out extend beyond just personalised control. It’s meant to open up the energy market to a wider number of companies, and when there are more companies, there is more competition and better service. There used to be just six big energy companies, and now there are over thirty. The more companies there are, generally, the better value you get. I’m not saying that energy bills necessarily decrease, but they won’t rise as fast as they would have done otherwise!
At the moment, you’ll just be able to see your total energy use (live) but in the future, it is highly likely that you’ll be able to see how much energy your different appliances are using. If you’ve read all of our blogs, you’ll know that there are some unexpected energy vampires in your house. Eventually, your Smart Meter will allow you to see these with your own eyes instead of just believing us!

Right, now to talk about the sceptics.

If you’ve Googled about Smart Meters, you might well have come across some negative press. Just as there are some people that resent emails and would rather send letters, some people that fear mobile phones and would prefer to use landlines and some people who dismiss the internet and would rather read the newspaper, there are people that want to stay with the old analogue meters.
The benefits of the digital age are vast and Smart Meters are just another small digital conversion from legacy infrastructure.
We’re happy to give anyone the time to express an argument, but we advise you to take the large majority of scaremongers’ arguments with a pinch of salt! Some of the studies they reference are

Are they safe?

Yes. I trust the 25’000 scientific journal articles reviewed by the World Health Organisation saying that the technology used by Smart Meters is safe. It is nothing more dangerous than that used by mobile phones and wireless internet. If you’ve refused both of these for fear of safety, then I don’t think I’ll be able to convince you about Smart Meters!

Will my data be protected?

Firstly, your energy use data is owned by YOU. Not your electricity company. You need to give permission to anyone that wants to see it. Your energy company will probably include this in their terms and conditions. It will then be passed through a Government organisation called the Smart Communications Company, before being passed to the supplier. You can opt out of everything apart from a single monthly reading.
Data protection is complicated, but in the UK our technology is the most advanced in the world, and there is very little likelihood that the data can be hacked. And if, in some extremely unlikely event, they were hacked, it’s about as risky as having a sneaky energy obsessive person sneaking into your back yard and reading your meter every day. There’s not much point in someone doing that. You should be much more worried about your emails being hacked than your smart meter!

To Summarise…

They’re there to help you. If you don’t use it fully, it will still make your life a lot easier. If you do use it, you’ll save a lot more than if you didn’t. As far as we’re concerned, there is absolutely no reason to turn it down. They aren’t scary and they aren’t complicated. Enjoy them!

  • Alex Buckman
  • Posted by
    Alex Buckman
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