In my previous article, Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Smart Meters – Are You Aware?, it was not explained clearly exactly what smart meters are designed to achieve and their function in the lives of consumers. I will attempt to clarify this within this article.
Smart meters are an electronic device measuring the quantity of electricity, gas or water we consume on an hourly rate – maybe less if required. The technology is similar to that of the mobile phone or satellite TV whereby a radio wave/frequency is used to communicate between the smart meters and a central monitoring point for billing purposes. Smart meters enable two-way communications and can gather data for remote reporting.
Recent research by Which?, the consumer magazine, showed that as many as one in three confuse smart meters with energy monitors, better known as In-Home Display monitors (IHDs). The smart meter roll out is a strategy that could see energy suppliers save up to £300 million per year. The benefits to consumers are very much dependent on actively changing their behaviour and habits on energy use to cheaper off-peak tariffs or selling electricity back to the grid.
Since deregulation of electricity and global pricing, utility companies target consumption with generation. Typical electricity and gas meters measure total fuel consumed over a period. This can be monthly or quarterly (save for pre-paid meters) unlike smart meters which have the capability to measure fuel in minutes or hours, in real-time. Smart meters also provide price setting, whereby suppliers introduce various tariffs based on time of day or season of consumption.
Many companies advertise the benefits of smart meters by saying the meter eliminates estimated bills and can also monitor fuel consumed. Both are very true and so do the pre-paid meters, which in themselves are a crude method of smart metering. I assume when customers experience the agony of removing £20 notes from their purses or wallets frequently, they become smart enough to realise the need to manage their fuel consumption more carefully. It should also be noted that a recent study showed that a homeowner’s electricity consumption was at best, reduced by 3-5%, not the 10% as quoted in some advertisements.
Smart meters are currently being promoted and advertised throughout all forms of media within the UK, so what is the position of other EU countries on smart meters?
Smart meters were introduced back in 2005 by the company Oxxio for both electricity and gas. The Dutch government proposed that all seven million households will have installed a smart meter by 2013. By 2008 there was a delay in the roll out due to the limited possibilities to register small-scale local energy production from solar panels. On the 7th of April 2009, the Dutch government did a u-turn on mandatory roll out to voluntary installation following raised concerns over privacy. (See: Smart Energy Meter Will Not Be Compulsory)
Two days before the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER) study was to be published, an announcement was made in Austria that demonstrated how slow any progress had been made. The Austrian government has now decided that customers can opt out due to privacy and the fact that smart meters are easily hacked and are a way of spying on consumers.
Another factor was doubt over whether smart meters actually saved energy and more about shifting the time when power is consumed. Smart meters are no longer mandatory in Austria but voluntary. (See: Smart meter rollout in Europe, rollback in Austria)
This is very interesting on how the Germans foresee their future in energy and I quote, Deputy Economy Minister, Stefan Kapferer: “The results show that we in Germany have to expand smart measuring systems and meters selectively and in line with the energy switch.” Stefan Kapferer was referring to the country’s shift away from nuclear generation and toward renewable power. Smart meters allow consumers to monitor energy use and costs, and relay the data to suppliers to help them manage demand. Germany, which seeks to, more than triple the share of renewable to 80% of consumption by 2050, has yet to adopt a firm policy on the devices. (See: Germany Rejects EU Smart-Meter Recommendations on Cost Concerns)
I find it interesting that the Germany is investing in renewable energy whilst, at the same time, the UK government are increasing the licenses and offering local authorities incentives by keeping the full amount of business rates as opposed to the usual 50% for shale gas exploration (See: Cameron urges ‘fracking’ opponents to ‘get on board’). France has banned fracking due to concerns over the affect upon its countryside.
Smart Meter Technology
Smart meter technology records precisely the time, day and month that fuel is consumed. If for example, the occupants of a house all leave for work on a daily basis at 08:00 and do not return until 18:00, apart from the fridge and freezer, little energy is consumed during the day. When they return home, the occupants switch on appliances (such as the cooker, central heating, lights, TV etc) and increase the demand. The smart meter records this in real-time data (across weeks, months and years) and therefore, those particular occupants would have shown a regular pattern of their daily lives. This data is then sent to a central system for billing. But what happens to that data following billing? Is it passed on to a third party?
If, as the Austrians state above, these meters can be hacked, there is another potential threat to consumers. There is also another consideration… Currently, energy suppliers must firstly produce all evidence and submit it to the courts before being able to enter any premises to disconnect the electricity or gas supply. They must produce all evidence to obtain a warrant. This isn’t the case with smart meters. A smart meter can be remotely disconnected in the same way as a mobile phone or satellite TV can be. This causes concerns over persons with disabilities and those who are vulnerable whereby, they could potentially be put in precarious situations, with their lives at risk, following any disputes.
Which? magazine called upon the government in 2012 to review the smart meter roll out and cease with its plans. Their concerns were that it will not be cost effective nor deliver the promised £7 billion to consumers. British Gas first installed electric and gas smart meters in customers homes on the 16th of October 2012.
Now I come to the much debated and argued subject of health affects by smart meters. I attended a meeting in Brussels in October 2012 whereby it was shown that magnetic hypersensitivity can cause anxiety, panic attacks, road rage, etc. The radio waves/frequency from smart meters use technology similar to that of mobile phones therefore expose the occupants to radio waves. I will say that this is for each individual to reach their own conclusions and until I am in receipt of evidence proving they are harmless, shall continue to remain cautious, but open minded. Would I have smart meters installed? What do you think?
Points to Note
Smart meters may be part of a smart grid, but individually and alone, do not constitute a smart grid.
Smart meters are NOT a statute in law within the UK. They are currently voluntary installations.
Natural gas is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), if released into the atmosphere.
Smart meter technology is unavailable for multi dwellings, high rise flats or meter banks.