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Is a Smart Meter a Smart Move?

The smart meter has come under scrutiny this week as the Government moves to install one in every UK household by 2020, citing the benefit to consumers and suppliers.
This move, however, is not heralded by everyone. Many people do not understand what a smart meter is.

The consumer watchdog, Which?, has also raised concerns that the cost of installing the meters will fall on the customer and have asked for the move to be halted pending an inquiry. So is the smart meter really a smart move?

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are a sophisticated system that measure exact energy usage and sends the data directly to the supplier. This will give real-time readings of precisely when power was used and how much is being used currently. Smart meters will also work for both gas and electricity. The key points of this system is that it will replace the old system meaning no more need for meter readings or estimated bills, as the energy companies will know instantly when energy is used.

Many people confuse an energy monitor, which are handheld devices that estimated energy usage, for smart meters. They are different. A smart meter will be installed by the supplier and is part of your energy system. An energy monitor simply clips into your system and gives estimated readings to the household. The smart meter system, though, will come with a display providing this type of information but to a higher degree of accuracy. That way the consumer has access to information about their usage too and can hopefully use this assess how they can save energy in the home.

The Criticism of the Smart Meter

The smart meter has come under fire for several reasons. The biggest issue is the cost of installing the meters. The Government plan to begin the project in 2014 and the total cost of putting one in every home will be around a staggering £11bn. This cost will fall on consumers, not necessarily directly, but in the form of higher bills. Experts, such as Which?, claim this is completely unjust as the smart meter system is mainly benefiting the supplier. This is why they want a review.

Further criticism of the smart meter is that not enough people understand it and that it is another example of invasion of privacy. Suppliers will know exact usage and know if you are away from your property.

So Are Smart Meters still a Good Idea?

Despite the criticism, smart meters are forward thinking. To combat many of the problems suppliers and the Government need to make clear to consumers how the system will work and tight guidelines on the privacy aspects. Education would solve many problems, yet who pays for the installation could be a huge sticking point. The debate could draw on for some time and require the Government to go back to the drawing board.

The product itself, however, is the long term future of utilities. So many aspects of daily life are now dealt with electronically so it is only a matter of time before utility bills follow suit.

There will be benefits to the customer. It should save money as the customer will only pay for exactly what they use. The smart meter will also come with an energy monitor and possibly computer software that will help customers monitor their own usage. Households will be able to easier plan how to cut their own bills and make energy saving a way of life for future generations.

In the longer term, the extra information should help energy companies run more efficiently, saving money which eventually should pass onto customers. Perhaps if customers agree to pay the cost of installation a deal could be agreed to ‘pay back’ consumers with the savings in the future. One idea is that energy companies will be able to create more personalised tariffs which fit to certain lifestyles and energy requirements.

Smart meters are undoubtedly a long-term method of power supply. To make it a smooth transition though, certain issues require short-term answers.

Written by Michael Hallam

1 Comment to Is a Smart Meter a Smart Move?

  1. November 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    We had a smart meter installed a few months ago and I confess, as a gadget geek, I love it. If it strays occasionally into amber that’s OK. When it goes into red – panic! OK, not really but it is interesting to see what kicks you into the next “colour” and whether whatever it is that is using that extra electricity is needed. And we do not have to be in for a meter reading or have to send in our own reading instead of an estimate,

    As for privacy, we both work from home and even if we are away there are timers that switch “stuff” on and off.

    Overall, I think they are a “good thing”

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