The government’s money-saving, energy-tracking revolution has turned into another costly damp squib.
They were hailed as a technological advance that would save us all money, eliminate billing errors and revolutionise the way we use energy in our homes. But so far, smart meters are proving to be anything but a smart decision.
More than 1.5 million smart meters installed in homes are not working properly, says Victoria Bischoff in the Daily Mail. The main problem is that many smart meters go dumb when you switch supplier, meaning they stop automatically sending meter readings. If this happens, you have to go back to supplying readings manually, as with a traditional meter.
Around 940,000 smart meters are believed to have gone dumb, according to government figures. A further 640,000 have been installed in unoccupied new-build homes, or where the customer has switched to a small supplier who hasn’t supplied data to the government.
This problem is meant to have stopped with the introduction of second-generation smart meters, but these versions only work if the meter is compatible with local communications networks. As a result, only 300 of the 20,000 meters that have been installed are in the north of England and Scotland, where there are problems with connectivity.
Even if you are lucky enough to have a smart meter that still works, you may not be saving as much money as you’d hoped. Earlier this year the government admitted that its pledge that a smart meter would save the average household £26 a year had been a massive overestimate. In fact, they are saving households less than half that, at just £11 a year. Given the fact that energy bills have risen to cover the £11bn cost of roll out, it’s hard to see how a smart meter is saving any member of the public money.
Believers argue that smart meters are needed because they are “an essential foundation for much of the UK’s energy future”, says Adam Vaughan in the Guardian. The government is on a mission to get 50 million smart meters installed by 2020. But until the current problems are ironed out, the smart meter revolution is “at risk of being short-circuited”.
Given that, it’s worth being aware that smart meters aren’t mandatory, even though many energy firms are pushing them hard. All providers will be required to offer them eventually, but you don’t have to accept. You can also say no at first, and then change your mind at a later date.