In Parliament >> Smart decision or expensive error?

13th May 2013

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  • Management/saving ,
  • Energy



Alan Whitehead, Labour MP for Southampton Test, questions the value of the UK smart meter rollout

The government has now completed most of the specifications and detailed design for smart meters, which will be installed in homes from 2014. So is it all systems go? I’m not sure it is.

Smart meters will provide useful real time data for energy supply and balancing, but will they also be useful for consumers in terms of planning their own energy use?

There is no sign yet of an information campaign similar to that which accompanied the recent switch from analogue to digital TV. It will certainly be needed as the rollout gets under way if householders are to use the meters effectively to manage their energy consumption.

There are also areas of the specifications for smart meters that ought to give pause for further thought.

The home area networks (HANs) specified into each smart meter are the equivalent of home hubs in the meter, and will connect to a range of household computer-driven hardware, as well as the home’s energy function. Not only that, they will, as specified, possibly limit what can be done with the energy function of the meter in the future.

In the US, where the technology has been included in meters installed in California and elsewhere, HANs have not been universally activated by energy companies, suggesting that there may be a problem.

There is also evidence, from the US that people simply do not use the home display units as envisaged, so energy savings are negligible. It might be better instead to invest in technologies that demonstrably do produce savings, such as putting thermostats in the seven million homes in the UK that do not have them.

If modifications are not made we might, by 2019 when the rollout of smart meters is expected to be complete, have installed at some expense, an over-engineered system that we will only be able to partly use.

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