Energy companies confuse customers over export meters for feed-in tariff
Posted by Cathy Debenham on 28 April 2011 at 9:44 am
Most of the energy companies we contacted gave the wrong advice when asked about export meters for the domestic feed-in tariff. Based on comments on previous blogs and questions we receive from readers, we know that some people find the whole issue of exporting electricity confusing. The energy company's customer service teams don't seem to be helping to clarify it.
Our mystery shopper phoned all of the big six energy companies, plus Good Energy and Ecotricity. She posed as someone considering installing a 3.9kWp solar PV system, and asked whether she could have an export meter installed, and if so, what it would cost.
Ecotricity was the only company that said it will install an export meter if a customer requests it. It quoted a cost of £50 (for a Devon postcode), with no ongoing maintenance costs. Scottish Power simply stated that it does not offer export meters on systems under 50kWp.
Southern Electric will install a smart meter for existing customers, free of charge. However, for new customers, it, like all the rest of the energy companies we spoke to, recommended talking to your installer.
This advice is wrong. While an installer can put in a meter to measure the amount of electricity you export, it will not be acceptable for paying the export tariff. According to the regulator, Ofgem, for an export meter to be approved for feed-in tariff payments it must meet strict criteria, and be installed and maintained by the electricity supplier. This means it will generally be done by the local distributor, at the request of your energy company. It must have an MPAN number (similar to that on your normal electricity meter).
These rules are devised for bigger generation systems (every installation over 30kWp must have an approved meter), where serious sums of money are involved. Smaller installations are 'deemed' to have exported half of their total generation, and so will be paid the 3.1p per kWh export tariff on that 50%. The cost of installing and maintaining a meter is likely to be greater, than the income from the export tariff for most domestic systems.
All the energy companies urged our mystery shopper to go with the 50% deemed export option, saying that it was not worth installing an export meter. But their explanations didn't all help her understand why.
EDF thoroughly put her off the idea, quoting a cost of £400+ for installing the meter, plus a "considerable amount of maintenance charge" and referring her to her installer, and possibly the meter operator, for more information.
Npower gave similar advice, saying that it does not install meters itself, but that she would be looking at a couple of hundred pounds to buy one, and her installer should be able to help. It also pointed out that smart meters would be installed free of charge to existing customers, but not for another couple of years.
E.on appeared more interested in giving our caller a quote to install her solar panels than on answering her questions. Interestingly, it said that they don't install export meters on their installations, but our caller should talk to her installer if she wanted to go down that route.
British Gas said it didn't offer export meters, mainly because smart meters (see below) are due to be rolled out from early 2013. It also recommended speaking to your installer if you want an export meter now, saying they cost a couple of hundred pounds.
Good Energy told our caller that she would only need an export meter for an installation of 10kWp or more. When asked if they would provide a meter for a smaller installation it advised our caller to talk to her installer, who would not be likely to recommend it either. (This is interesting, as I am a Good Energy customer, and was told I could have an export meter, but it would cost £70 to install, plus a yearly maintenance charge. As this would be more than I get in export payments, I chose not to go ahead).
The situation will change again when smart meters are introduced, as they will measure both import and export of microgenerated electricity, as well as that imported from the grid. Energy companies will have to install these, free of charge, in every household in the UK between now and 2020. The foundation stage, where smart meters will be tested, is starting now, and the mass roll out will begin in 2014.
NB: This article is based on one phone call to each company - so it just gives a snapshot, rather than a representative sample of customer service.
More information about energy companies and feed-in tariffs from YouGenCathy Debenham
If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.
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