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Are smart meters overcharging?

Posted by Gabby Mallett on 14 March 2017 at 11:23 am

I know I have written much about how great smart meters could be. They will help us to get rid of the antiquated idea of estimated bills, they will make is easier for everyone to see where they are using energy and they will make it much much easier for people to switch supplier.  But all of this is based on the assumption that they smart meters are accurate.

A new study by some clever people in the Netherlands (University of Twente Enschede and Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) has calculated that some of these meters actually provide readings which are almost six times higher than they should be.

In Holland, just like here, there is a big push to install smart meters. They have about 750,000 installed and we had 4.05 million by end of September last year. That’s quite a few meters that could be wrong.  And when I say wrong, I don’t mean giving readings of £30,000 for a day’s use, which were reported last week. I mean just reading slightly more on everything.

The universities made up circuits where different appliances, like LED lights, were added and the smart meter used to measure electrical energy use.  They, of course being clever people, knew how much energy they were putting in to the systems, so they knew immediately that there was something not quite right.  They tested nine different meter types (yes, some which are in use in the UK) and five of them showed higher readings than the actual energy used. Readings that were up to 583% higher, with the biggest differences occurring where dimmer switches were used with LED bulbs. 

Prof Leferink, the author of the report, said: "We've known since 2009 electronic meters can give readings which are too low. But this is the first time we've seen they can be much too high. We were flabbergasted by our results.

"The study was carried out in a laboratory setting. If you looked at ones in homes I don't expect they would be 500 or 600 per cent out. But what we have shown is the reading can clearly deviate a lot from the power customers are actually consuming."

In fact, two of the meters gave readings that were actually 30% lower than anticipated.

So what does this all tell us? Not much really.  We don’t actually know if the old meters were accurate. These meters are clearly not 100% spot on all the time, but what they do give which we didn’t have before is easy access to the data.  As soon as someone sees their bill going to £30,000 in one day they take note. If one day you use 56p worth of energy and another you use £2.16, you will ask yourself why? This study didn’t test the measurement of gas use which doesn’t use the same switching technologies and is therefore likely to be more accurate.  Heating usually makes up a much greater proportion of your energy use, so this is the bit which you really want to be spot on.


Photo: David Dodge

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