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Observer Ethical awards Winners 2011

YouGen Blog

Smart meter introduction moves into phase 2

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 14 July 2011 at 11:31 am

Mass installation of smart meters into every house and business in the UK is planned to start in 2014 and complete in 2019. Between now and then, 'early mover' suppliers such as British Gas will begin installing smart meters as part of a testing and foundation phase of the plan.

Smart meters will mean an end to meter readings and estimated bills, as energy use data will be transferred to suppliers in real time. They will also be compatible with microgeneration technology, so will measure net export of electricity to the grid and receive, store and communicate total generation data to your feed-in tariff supplier.

The government has identified a number of functions that the smart meters must provide:

1. provide accurate information to customers and suppliers

2. two way communication between the meter and energy supplier

3. provide real-time information to an in-home device, to help consumers understand their energy use, and improve energy efficiency

4. support a range of time-of-use tariffs with multiple registers within the meter for billing

5. ability to remotely control electricity load for more sophisticated control of devices in the home

6. support remote switching between credit and prepayment modes

7. exported electricity measurement

8. able to receive, store and communicate total generation of microgeneration.

At a minimum every in-home device must provide information on current and historical gas and electricity consumption, and account balances. It must display usage in money terms as well as in kilowatts and kilowatt hours. It must have 'ambient feedback' that allows people to distinguish between high and low levels of current consumption.

When installing the in-home device, energy suppliers will be required to advise on how to use them to save money by managing their energy consumption better.

There will be rules restricting unwelcome sales activity while companies are installing the meters, and energy companies are required to fit them free of charge. 

However, there is a 'major risk' that this £11.3bn programme won't achieve one of its main purposes of reducing household energy use according to a report from the National Audit Office. Based on the evidence so far from trials, there is 'uncertainty about the extent to which smart meters will result in changed energy use by consumers over a sustained period'.

'There is limited evidence of how much and for how long British consumers’ behaviour might change, and costs could escalate,' said Amyas Morse, head of NAO. 'Large-scale projects of this kind can take on a momentum of their own and so, along the way, there should be clear decision points at which the Department will need to review costs to consumers, benefits and risks and judge whether to carry on as originally planned or significantly change direction.'

NAO recommends that DECC develops a consumer engagement strategy 'as a priority'. This may well need to include working with voluntary organisations and local authorities as well as energy companies.

Photo by David Berkowitz

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