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Concerns with the smart meters roll-out

Posted by Sharon Russell-Verma on 6 November 2015 at 11:50 am

In my previous blog I looked at the smart meter roll-out and how smart meters work. This blog will examine consumer privacy, prepayment customers and concerns with smart meters.

Consumer privacy and prepayment customers

You will have some control over how your energy consumption data is used. For example, your energy company and the energy networks will need to get your permission to access half-hourly data to use for marketing purposes. However, they will be able to access data to enable them to send you accurate bills. In addition, energy companies maintain that smart meters can work well for prepayment customers too, for example:

  • Your energy supplier may be able to offer you new and more flexible ways of topping up your meter.
  • Smart meters can work with remote credit top-up facilities so you won’t need to go out to buy more credit.
  • Your smart meter can be set so that if you do run out of credit at night or when the shops are shut you won’t be left without power.

Furthermore it is claimed that smart meters will make switching suppliers easier and quicker. However there are those who are doubtful about this - they claim that, as there is no obligation that suppliers use the same technology, if you do switch energy suppliers your smart meter may not be compatible.

Concerns with smart meters

There are also real concerns about the smart meter rollout from some energy companies and consumers groups, these include:

  1. Cost
    The estimated total cost of the rollout is £11bn and at the end of the day this cost will be passed on to us, the customers, and will cost each house about £215 over the next 15 years.
  2. Project Roll-Out
    There are also concerns regarding the roll-out, some people are sceptical of the electricity industry's ability to bring the project in on time and to budget given their track record of delivering information technology projects. In addition, critics have warned that the expensive display screens could become obsolete very soon because in the near future customers are likely to be able to use their smart phones to check their energy consumption.
  3. Security
    Some people are worried about hackers being able to access personal data over insecure networks, whilst others are concerned about who can see their consumption data and what they can do with it. For instance could consumption data show that there is no energy use during the day and therefore the home is empty during this period?
  4. Health
    Finally despite government assurances, there are concerns about the health implications of the electro-magnetic radiation produced by the smart meters. Some people have reported symptoms such as insomnia, tinnitus, headaches, and palpitations when in close proximity to similar technologies.

So with the roll-out beginning imminently, the jury is still out regarding the true benefits of smart meters. Is it enough that they may be the catalyst to get householders thinking about the amount of energy they consume and how they consume it? And with electricity prices very likely to continue increasing should the government be using other means of behavioural change to encourage us to consume less energy or will simply seeing your energy consumption on an in-house display screen be enough to make you change?


Photo: Michael Coté

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