Energy and Climate Change CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Powerwatch (SMR32)

1. Are the Government’s cost and timescale predictions for roll-out realistic and will it deliver value for money?

In our and my considered view (and electrical engineer with over 40 years’ experience), the average and surprisingly low estimated “per meter installed” costs are likely to be under-estimated and the timescale predictions over-optimistic. The total cost is likely to be higher than currently estimated.

2. What are the potential benefits of smart meters for consumers, and what barriers need to be overcome in order for consumers to realise them?

The “claimed potential financial benefits” for consumers from the technology are most unlikely to be realised in the short to medium term. In the long-term there may be overall savings in the electricity generation and transmission networks that help keep price rises lower that they would have been—but this is an unproven claim at this stage. However, energy prices will still rise and Smart Meters do not, per se, help people use less power.

3. Is there a possibility that suppliers will gain considerably more than consumers from smart meters? Is enough being done to ensure that any financial benefits accruing to suppliers will be passed on to consumers?

I don’t think suppliers will benefit much. They will save meter-reader wages but that saving is meant to be passed on to consumers and unemployment benefit is likely to increase which will be an added public expense. The use of smart meters should also decrease fraud where people have been illegally by-passing analogue meters. If and when demand side control of load is introduced (to limit peak-time demand) then the UK generation and supply networks will become more efficient—but that seems a long way off and it is not at all clear that current Smart Meters will have the capability to deal with this. By the time (if and when) it happens, then we believe that it is likely that the current Smart Meters will have to be updated.

4. What lessons can be learned from successful smart meter implementation and usage elsewhere in the world?

So far it seems to have been fairly disastrous in the rest of the world. Many places that claim to have “Smart” meters actually only have AMI (automatic reading meters) that are not truly smart at all and just save the costs of manual meter reading.

5. Will smart meters empower customers to take greater control of their energy consumption?

Not really—and certainly not in the short-term. There are already commercial power monitors on the UK market that people can use for direct display of energy use and cost. Few people use them. If a person wants to save power costs then they just need to minimise their use of energy by careful use. Smart meters will not help that. Indeed I believe that, at present, consumers will not be “given” a HAN connected display/readout and they will have to purchase or rent that from their electricity supplier if they want one. I suspect that few will and even fewer will take much notice of it.

6 Will consumers on pre-pay meters obtain the same benefits from smart meters as other consumers?

Most unlikely. If (which is unlikely!) they have both a Credit or Debit card and an internet connection then they will be able to top up their accounts without having to go to a shop or other external top-up site. I do not see how it would save them any money—most minimally use electricity/gas anyway as they do not have the money and that is why they are on a pre-payment meter in the first place.

7. Should vulnerable customers and the fuel-poor be first in line for smart meters so they can get the benefits sooner?

What benefits? I can see no benefits that save money other than by personal choice of the consumer to use less power. Please clarify what these supposed benefits are.

8. What is the best way of involving third-party trusted messengers, such as charities, consumer groups, community organisations, local authorities and housing associations in roll-out?

In my opinion these trusted messengers will lose their trusted status if they promote Smart Meters as currently being considered.

9. What are the potential obstacles to rolling out smart meters in the UK and how should these be addressed? What pitfalls have hindered roll-out programmes elsewhere and are we doing all we can to avoid them?

Many people, including me, do not want an automated mobile-phone-based RF transmitter in the centre of our home regularly broadcasting pulsed microwaves. We have already spent time and money ensuring that we do not contaminate our domestic environment with pulsing wireless signals. We should not be forced to allow such invasion of our privacy that we believe will affect our health and well-being.

We have already requested (in DECC Consultations) that alternatives to RF/Wireless connectivity is allowed, both for the WAN and for the HAN. The communications hub WAN could allow for a wired broadband connection and only default back to wireless if the consumer’s broadband connection was lost. The HAN should offer a wired option for use within the home with the ability to switch off any wireless ones. The technology is available and already in place in many homes.

If people would allow a wireless meter outside their house, then the roll-out scheme should pay for the meter to be moved from an internal position (often in the centre of a home and sometimes under the stairs). At present the Government has said that any costs for moving the meter should be paid by the concerned consumer (and quotes for doing this from £350 to £700 have been cited).

9. Are levels of public awareness of and support for smart meter roll-out increasing?


10. Is enough being done to increase consumer awareness about smart meters? Could DECC’s consumer engagement strategy be improved?


11. Are consumers’ concerns about privacy and health being addressed adequately?


12. Is there any evidence that consumers’ concerns about smart meters are declining or growing?

The people who contact Powerwatch suggest that concerns are growing.

13. Will the commercial benefits of smart meter roll-out be captured within the UK?

No, I don’t think so. I do not believe that any Smart Meters being offered are manufactured in the UK. They may be temporary jobs installing them, but also a large loss of manual meter-reading jobs at a time we are in recession so there will be more unemployed people and increased benefits being paid out from public taxes.

14. Will DECC’s current approach to roll-out, including on procurement and establishment of the central Data and Communications Company, deliver an optimal data and communications strategy?

It is better than competitive data collection. However, virtually NONE of the UK electricity infrastructure is now owned by UK companies and individuals and I believe that government interference and the “free market” has destroyed an essential UK infrastructure. In the event of a future conflict (war) we could be in great difficulties.

15. What criteria should DECC use to measure the ongoing success of roll-out?

I have no idea. I think the whole things as being rolled out at present is a costly mistake.

February 2013

Prepared 26th July 2013