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My electricity meter is running backwards: who is responsible?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 6 June 2012 at 10:05 am

Q: My solar PV clients are seeing their electricity meters running backward now that the days are longer, and they are unsure how they should treat this with their electricity supplier now that they have become aware.

My understanding is that the supplier remains responsible for accurately measuring what is used and the customer for paying for that use. The difficulty arises in that without an export meter (and many don't yet have one) there is no way of correctly calculating what has in fact been used and therefore how far the generated energy has turned the clock back. This could go on for some time of course as suppliers fail to realise there might be an issue.

Some feed-in tariff (FIT) licensees ask whether we have noticed the clock running back, but not all, and in most cases our FIT licensee is different to our FIT supplier. The honest answer to that question at the time of commissioning is "no" and it seems unclear as to whether there is any responsibility on the generator to update their FIT licensee if they become aware of such changes.

My clients are tending to take the financial advantage while they can but some are worried that it could all catch up with them and that they are running the risk of an argument with their supplier in the future about what is in fact owed for their real use.

Do you have any guidance or could you direct me to someone who knows the legal position on this?

A: I have checked with Ofgem on where the responsibilities lie in cases like this. When a solar PV, wind turbine or micro hydro system is joined to the national grid, the installer must tell the DNO (district network operator).

The DNO is then obliged to tell the microgenerator’s import supplier (the company from which they buy electricity).

The electricity supplier has the responsibility to ensure that the supply meter is fit for purpose, and therefore should replace the meter if installation of solar panels (or other micro generation) causes it to record imported electricity inaccurately.

If a customer wants to install an export meter to measure output from a renewable generating station then it is their responsibility to [commission someone to] fit the meter.

In the case of people whose FIT supplier has asked them whether their meter is running backwards, and had (honestly at the time) answered no; they should probably tell their supplier as soon as they do notice. But if they haven't asked, they have no obligation to tell.

Photo by Brian J Matis

More information about solar PV from YouGen

Solar electricity information page 

Import and export metres for the feed-in tariff

Energy companies confuse customers over export metres for feed-in tariff

Which energy company is most helpful about the feed-in tariff? 

Solar PV: how to complain if you've been mis-sold

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Comments

28 comments - read them below or add one

Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 23 August 2013 at 5:25 pm

Hi Tazmin

Sounds like the person at your energy company was having a very bad day. How rude. Feel free to name and shame...

If you're changing supplier you may find our research on who gives the best customer service for FIT supply useful.

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tazmin68

tazmin68Comment left on: 23 August 2013 at 2:40 pm

Hi

had solar pv installed tuesday this week. no one mentioned about letting energy supplier know but thought i should as that is the way i am. I advised them through web chat and then also emailed as on both instances i did mentio that meter is goung back wards. i have since had the most rude telephone conversation saything that i have to have meter changed i have no problem with that . I explained that i would be out between 8.30-9 in the morning as taking children to school and was told that i was breaking the law by not allowing access between those times and that shoud they turn up while i am doing school run they will force entry to change the meter as i am commiting fraud while it is running backwards. If children do not go to school i will be charged 100 for each child as un authorised absence.

Not very happy and will change supplier when i can.

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 18 March 2013 at 2:45 pm

The charge has been cancelled. I told OVO that I was going to take my complaint to the Energy Ombudsman and asked them for a deadlock letter. They replied stating that, following a review as 'part of our escalation process', the charge had been removed from my account.

Regarding the more general issue of whether customers are legally capable of consenting to be charged for a meter change (see my comment of 1 March), I have had a reply from Ofgem asking me to telephone them if I receive no further reply after a given deadline. I shall be pursuing this, and will post another comment when I have something to report.

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 1 March 2013 at 2:05 pm

Thank you for your reply this morning to my comment on 27 Feb. I am asking OVO for a deadlock letter and will then contact the Energy Ombudsman. By the way, your link to the guide is broken; I couldn't find it on the Ofgem website but it can be found at http://www.npower.com/idc/groups/wcms_content/@wcms/@resi/documents/digitalassets/fit_complaints_process.pdf

Although my case will be resolved if OVO agree that their revised terms and conditions can't apply retrospectively, I remain curious as to whether their charge for meter replacement could ever be valid. To that end, I have emailed Ofgem as follows:

I am an electricity customer, and I have a general query about the responsibilities of suppliers under the Electricity Act 1989, Schedule 7, para 1(1), 1(6) and 10(2), which read as follows:   1(1)Where a customer of an authorised supplier is to be charged for his supply wholly or partly by reference to the quantity of electricity supplied, the supply shall be given through, and the quantity of electricity shall be ascertained by, an appropriate meter.   1(6)For the purposes of this paragraph a meter is an appropriate meter for use in connection with any particular supply if it is of a pattern or construction which, having regard to the terms on which the supply is to be charged for, is particularly suitable for such use.   10(2)An authorised supplier shall at all times, at his own expense, keep any meter provided by him to any customer in proper order for correctly registering the quantity of electricity supplied and, in the case of pre-payment meters, for operating properly on receipt of the necessary payment.   My query is this: in a contract with a domestic customer, would it be legitimate for a supplier to include a term making the customer partly liable for the cost of replacing a meter where this is necessitated by the installation of solar panels by the customer (necessitated, that is, because the installation has resulted in the meter running backwards)? In other words, is a customer legally capable of releasing the supplier from his obligations under Schedule 7 of the Act, or would a contract term with that effect be struck out as invalid?   I would be most grateful if you could answer my query (and state on what authority it relies); alternatively, if my query should properly be directed elsewhere, please tell me where.   Thank you for your help,   I'll keep you informed of any response I get.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 1 March 2013 at 10:50 am

Hi Edward Sorry to be so slow in replying to your earlier enquiry. You can find a guide to who to complain to about all FIT related issues here. It looks as though the energy ombudsman would be most appropriate, or maybe Ofgem. Good luck.

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 27 February 2013 at 3:46 pm

Referring to my posts below and your comments: the meter exchange went ahead and OVO did levy a £30 charge. I have now had a lengthy correspondence with them. In the course of this I have had to spell out repeatedly that their change of terms and conditions could not apply to my installation because the installation predated the change by several months. They have also argued that I am liable to pay because 'it was our policy to charge for it' (!); and also that when I telephoned them in September 'this payment was discussed and agreed upon'. This is completely untrue (see the more recent of my 24 September posts below), but when I pointed this out they argued that I had consented to the charge by co-operating with arrangements to change the meter. After my last reply as follows:

'I fully understand that, had I not installed solar panels, there would have been no urgent need for a meter exchange. However, that does not mean that the provision of a suitable meter is any less your responsibility. I could hardly refuse to have the meter changed, yet I repeat: contrary to your assertion, at no time in the original phone call did I agree that I was liable for a payment, nor did I agree to make one'

they have responded by saying that their complaints department (I have not yet registered a complaint) state that their revised terms and conditions apply in my case and that 'The meter in your property became faulty following the installation of your solar panels and therefore we will not be able to waive this fee.'

Of course, the meter was unaffected by the installation; its deficiences as an obsolete meter were merely highlighted. Please could you advise me where I can go for some independent help? In my view, OVO's complaints procedure is compromised in this case, as it has issued an opinion before even hearing from me. This is all particularly aggravating because I thought I was doing OVO a favour by contacting them to point out the consequences for them of their own inaction (I also acted because I was benefitting improperly as a result), yet far from being grateful they help themselves to £30 of my money and then argue that they are entitled to do so, with which I cannot agree.

Any advice or comments appreciated.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 28 September 2012 at 8:34 am

Hi Edward

Difficult one. I'd wait and see what happens... I guess in the end it boils down to how much appetite you have for a fight!

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 24 September 2012 at 3:45 pm

I have spoken to OVO this afternoon and told them that my meter is running backwards, due to the installation of solar PV panels last December, and that this had come to my attention when I was asked for a reading in August. They told me that they would change the meter and that although this costs £60, they would only charge £30 because they are a green company. I pointed out that charging for a new meter was not in their terms and conditions (T&Cs) at the time my panels were installed. They said that one of the T&Cs was that they can change the T&Cs. I pointed out again that the need for a new meter arose several months before the current change in the T&Cs; their response was that they rely on customers' readings to see whether a meter is going backwards, and as I hadn't submitted any readings for several months they hadn't been able to tell. (There's nothing in the T&Cs to say you have to submit readings, and in any case readings are not a reliable guide as to whether a meter is ever going backwards.) I said that it was their responsibility to ensure that the meter is fit for purpose and that it was their neglect that had led to the delay, which would have gone on longer if I had not taken the trouble to contact them. They said that they still be charging £30. I said I was happy to arrange to have the meter changed, but I still did not agree to pay £30. We then agreed a date for the meter change. I am not sure what to do next - pursue a complaint, or wait to see what happens. I am £650 in credit with OVO.

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 24 September 2012 at 12:05 pm

Thank you; I shall now contact OVO and alert them to their neglect and its consequences for them.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 24 September 2012 at 8:19 am

Hi Edward. Given that the DNO will have been notified when your panels were installed, and OVO didn't have that clause in its contract then, I would expect that you should not be charged. I haven't heard of anyone who has been charged ... Most people haven't even been asked for money, and a robust NO has worked for those who have been.

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edward50

edward50Comment left on: 23 September 2012 at 5:16 pm

I had solar PV installed last December. My electricity supplier is OVO (who don't do FIT). My FIT supplier is Good Energy (who don't ask about meters running backwards on their application form, or at least didn't last December). I became aware that my meter was running backwards when I supplied a meter reading electronically to OVO in August and was asked to confirm that this reading was lower than my previous one (several months earlier). The same thing happened when I did my September reading. OVO have never been in touch about changing the meter (which they should of course do), even though they have now had a reminder in the shape of my diminishing meter readings. I have two concerns: first, are they entitled to charge me retrospectively for the 'free' electricity I have gained through the meter running backwards, when effectively it is their own neglect that has led them to under-charge me; and secondly, are they entitled to charge for changing the meter? Their latest statement (today) contains a revised set of contractual terms including the following: '13.2 If you make any changes to your property that result in the meter you have no longer being suitable, we may charge you for any work needed to install a suitable meter.' I am assuming that this doesn't apply to me as it wasn't included in their terms when I signed up in 2010 and is only now being introduced, nine months or more after my panels were commissioned; but I also wonder if suppliers have the power to charge customers for a necessary meter change?

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Keith Willcock

Keith WillcockComment left on: 23 July 2012 at 11:07 am

Eon's commitment for my FITS contract is payment within 45 days of meter reading.  This happened in the case of my meter reading in February (my first), in fact in was about 21 days.  Unfortunately, I am still awaiting payment for the meter reading for 8 May - eOn's excuse being that they are migrating customers onto a new automated self serve platform. 

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Fred1

Fred1Comment left on: 12 July 2012 at 12:14 pm

Hi Neil69,

You might want to contact E-On I believe they say they will have the money in your Bank within 5 working days of a meter read.I would get it writing, plus review their contract before you move though !!!

In any event have you checked your  current contract, I believe by legislation they all  have to pay at least  every 3 months ..... If they are not.....................

The Levelisation argument  seems a bit of a red herring I understand that  all the money is collected/ allowed for in the bills to electricity consumers. So I guess it is collected in the 3 month period we generate in, then the electricity companies pay out to the generators after the meter read.

Levelisation sorts out the residual imbalance only between the electricity companies, some have pushed to be in the FIT scheme and are big players so they pay out more than their market share of FIT's, Levelisation makes the companies who have paid out less than their market share in FIT's recompense those who have paid out more than their market share. I guess to is a way of sharing out the cost of the scheme.

A neutral FIT provider, as I understand, who has the same percentage of FIT contracts as its overall maket share would neither pay into or get money  from the levelisation process.

I do not believe the big six are top of the League in FIT's I think there are a couple of smaller players who pay out a lot more .

I believe there is a table on the Ofgem website " Feed-in Tariff Levelisation Report " covering 1Jan 2012-  31st Mar 2012 showing how much each company paid out. This may be useful in giving a list of the players...

good luck in your search for quick payer, in any event it seems once they pay they must pay again in three months......

 

 

 

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 12 July 2012 at 8:35 am

Hi Neil69

This is something we get asked a lot. There is a reason that most of the energy companies take quite a long time to pay after they ask you for a meter reading. It's because the cost of paying the generation tariff is shared out equitably (levelised) between the companies. This takes some time to do, and for the cash to be distributed, and most companies don't pay until Ofgem has paid them. This is understandable for the smaller players, like Good Energy and Ecotricity, which have a high proportion of microgenerators. However, the big six can probably afford to cash flow it.  Personally I use Good Energy as I get better customer service (no nasty call centres and hour on hold), and wait for the payment.

I did plan to write a blog on this matter, and started some research on how long they all take to pay. Only the small companies bothered to answer my emails. Getting information out of the big ones takes a lot of time and persistence. It's still on my list for when I've got the time keep on nagging for an answer!

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Neil69

Neil69Comment left on: 11 July 2012 at 2:52 pm

Can anyone suggest a better service than british Gas currently provide as it takes 2 months to get your FIT payment from them?

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John Hodges

John HodgesComment left on: 27 June 2012 at 9:01 am

I DID have a meter that was running backwards.  It came to light at a meter reading when MY reading was rejected as being inconsistent because it was reading LESS than the previous reading!!  The supplier generously waived the consumption and did not attempt to make a retro charge based on my historic usage.  They supplied a new meter set at zero.

My guess is that most instances will get rumbled in due course.

John Hodges 

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PDS

PDSComment left on: 27 June 2012 at 8:04 am

There is a photo posted from sometime ago which shows the symbol to look out for on your meter - How can i tell if my meter will run backwards

The issue seems to be full of inconsistency and certainly the utility company appear that they are lagging behind 

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 26 June 2012 at 2:29 pm

Another comment by email from George, who gets top marks for persistence:

After installing solar panels, my meter too ran backwards. (I wasn't required to declare this by my FIT agreement, and E.ON had all my meter reference numbers, etc.). After two phone calls, a visit was fixed. I stayed in all day, rang at 5.30, was asked to stay in until 8pm - but (guess what!) no-one turned up. I then wrote with full details of dates, times I'd rung/ waited in, but had no reply in three weeks. Finally I rang again, fixed a time for a visit - and this time it was honoured. In short, it took four phone calls, two days waiting in at home and one letter to save E.ON from swindling themselves out of my potential double-gain. Heigh-ho! George.

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3003derek

3003derekComment left on: 26 June 2012 at 2:12 pm

Oh how interesting - I haven't read all the comments yet but.....

We (our panels) ran our meter backwards for nearly a year, sometimes to the tune of over 20 Kwh a day (no export meter and frugal use)!

I felt that it was not MY responsibilty to monitor Supplier's meters BUT was afraid that, when they did come to read the meter, we might be acused of stealing (somehow).

Anyway, I relented after about 3 weeks and phoned to tell them. 'They' were vague, saying it doesn't happen often and they would investigate.

They came after nearly a year. I was fearful that there would be an issue, the meter being, by now, a whole year behind its predicted setting. So I set to, in the Winter fortunately, and installed several convector heaters and had a ball! - you understand?

When the meter was eventually changed it was about 6 months below the estimated reading. So impressed were the Suppliers, they reduced the monthly payment by about a quarter. There has been no come back - please don't quote me!

During that period (2010), I advised a few local people, whose meters ran backwards, to ignore it on the basis they were using far more each day than the gain - heavy users in three cases.

amen...

Why do they make digital meters so difficult to read?

 

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RobertPalgrave

RobertPalgraveComment left on: 26 June 2012 at 1:57 pm

Isn't the honest thing to simply tell your supplier? After all if you are gaining financially from the double benefit of a reversing meter, others (who may be in fuel poverty) are subsidising you. As well as the many people who installed solar PV before the FiT started and who get a paltry rate of 9p per unit for their high capital cost systems.


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roboandkate

roboandkateComment left on: 26 June 2012 at 1:51 pm

We installed Solar PV in May 2011 and the meter was running backwards. I contacted NPower to amend our billing saying we had just had PV installed, I didn't say the meter was running backwards but wasn't asked.At the end of the first quarter I supplied a meter reading which was lower than the previous one, they contacted me to ask why and I again said we had PV. They then put in a meter reading the same as 3 months previous, I guess to keep their computer happy, and billed me nothing. It was March 2012 before they came and changed the meter, but at no point have requested any additional payment. It's just another example of big business being horribly inefficient. Their microgeneration department also knew. While I gained from this it is the other poor customers of NPower who have lost out.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 20 June 2012 at 9:32 am

@RAB45 

While ofgem says that you have no obligation to tell your supplier, the small print of your energy supplier contract may say something different, so it's worth checking. My personal opinion is that it makes sense to tell your supplier anyway. Then the ball is in their court, and whether they change it straight away, or down the line, you have the upper hand in any discussions about who owes who what.

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shricthism

shricthismComment left on: 14 June 2012 at 4:48 pm

My experience was quit different. Firstly my analogue meter did not run backwards when I was exporting it just stopped - it was 27 years old so the ones that run backwards are presumably older still.

Secondly the supplier ( Southern) arrived two days later and removed the meter, fitting a digital one which appears to be able to measure both my High and Low rate units ( I have economy 7) and also my exported units.

The odd thing with electricity is that the so called supplier is not directly supplying what you are using, its all shared with every other generator. This means that if you are under metering ( eg with a meter that runs backwards) it is not your "supplier" who is providing the unpaid for power - but the grid as a whole. I don't know how this works, but presumably there is some kind of central reconcilliation so that the money taken from consumers is paid to the generators in an appropriate manner. I don't imagine it is possible for every company to generate the exact same amount that their customers use.

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RAB45

RAB45Comment left on: 8 June 2012 at 1:51 pm

Am keeping quiet as advised by eco environments so hope not to get my fingers burnt, but given how useless EON seem to be suspect will be years before they notice.  It took >3 months to receive 1st payment after submitting the first reading and then was overpaid with someone else's  invoice.  Still trying to sort it out but just get standard email reply of 'we are busy and will reply in about 45 days'.

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Hiltingbury

HiltingburyComment left on: 8 June 2012 at 12:03 pm

There is going backwards and going backwards! My meter has a symbol on it representing a gear wheel and ratchet (small black symbol in the middle of mine). This means that it goes backwards but is stopped by the ratchet within one revolution. Given that 1kWh takes 200 revolutions then this represents a extremely small (negligible) underestimate of the electricity I have consumed.

This is very unlike some mechanical meters that do not have the ratchet, which run in reverse when ever excess power is being generated. This situation will seriously under record the amount of electricity you have actually drawn from the mains. While it may not your technical responsibility to get you meter changed I think you have a moral responsibility as you are getting electricity without paying for it (and presumably we all pay slightly higher bills to compensate).

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morrisok

morrisokComment left on: 6 June 2012 at 12:49 pm

My meter ran backwards when I got solar installed in November last year, was told by the installer that I should let my supplier know asap as I would be liable.  But did say as long as I had let them know I should be fine.  Took them a good few months to switch it over, I didn't chase them :)

Interesting to know I wouldn't have been liable.  Strange though as its something I initiated and the only way the supplier would know is by months of readings below expectation.

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David Hunt

David Hunt from Comment left on: 6 June 2012 at 12:43 pm

No, the utility companies are no more on the button and still mostly clueless. Our advice to clients is to keep quiet, once you installer has notified the DNO (which we all do) then the onus is on the energy company to change your meter if they wish to do so. We have a had one customer asked to payback the amount the meter had gone backwards by, we told them to tell the utility company concerned to stick it where the sun don't shine! He did, and they did. They are catching on though, slowly, in the meantime enjoy the additional benefit.

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Mark Brown

Mark BrownComment left on: 6 June 2012 at 10:28 am

Oh yes, my most favourite and sorest of topics. I told NPower numerous times by phone and by writing that the meter was running backwards since PV installation in April 2010. The people I dealt with had no clue as to how to deal with it so I was sent an endless stream of letters demanding to know if I had changed the meter and how the numbers I was submitting didn't match their expectations. It was 18 months before they came out and changed the analogue meter for a digital one. (I pointed out that a digital meter robbed me of any way of telling how much electricity my house actually consumed. They didn't care.) They told me that it was a contractual obligation and it is buried somewhere in the small print. (I asked them to put the small print in writing. I got a letter but no explanation, no contract, no small print.) The meter was changed. It suits them because they can bill us for the total import. Our electrcitiy bill doubled.

Certainly in this case the 18 month gap was the responsibility of the Utility since they seemed unable to cope with what they were told. We suspect they were simply ill-prepared for the FiT and it took 18 months for them to get their act together.

Anyone had a similar experience? Can we assume that utilities are bit more on-the-button with new installs now?

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