What's so smart about smart-meters?

Blog Image

Substandard Meters.

With the recent report in the Telegraph that another million sub-standard smart meters are set to be released into UK homes, I wanted to look at why this is happening and see what certain companies are doing to improve smart metering. In particular, I wanted to analyse whether these innovations are actually providing their clients with more accurate consumption data and saving them money. Last week the UK Government announced that the deadline by which suppliers must stop installing current generation smart meters into our homes has been pushed back by two months, blaming “teething problems” as the cause of the delay. The average consumer is no stranger to experiencing issues with their smart-meters given that most already had severe problems when switching from one supplier to another and seeing their meters stop working. In May 2018 it was revealed that “less than half” of smart meters retained all their features and functionality after a switch of supplier and in some cases, that was only because the new supplier physically changed the meter.

This new two-month delay means that close to one million more inadequate meters will be introduced into households. It’s thought that the current number of these kinds of meters in homes across the UK is 13 million.

Compare this to the number of next-generation meters which will allow easier switching between suppliers by making use of a connection to a national communications network and the figures make grim reading. These new meters were supposed to have been rolled out more heavily by July but so far industry analysts Electralink estimate that only around 26,000 have been supplied due to the launch date having been twice pushed back.

In a market where accurate billing is one the most frequent causes of complaints, it’s worrying to think that such a massive number of inadequate machines are set to be released.

Better News.

It’s not all doom and gloom as far as smart meters are concerned though. Germany’s E.ON have teamed up with Microsoft to deliver a digital dashboard of all the electrical devices in a home, from heating systems to solar panels to battery storage systems to electric cars.

Available from next year, E.ON’s home energy management system will be one of a range of products on offer from the big German utility supplier as they seek to increase profits from their networks of millions of electricity and gas customers.

In my opinion, this is something that we will see happening a lot more over the next 10 years, as energy suppliers find that they can’t make prices any lower and need to branch out into other offerings. If their customers have electric vehicles, they could sell charging kits. If they have customers with home storage capabilities, they could find a supplier of batteries to partner with. It’s these types of commercial innovation as well as technological which will see profits delivered and brand loyalty increased.

Victoria Ossadnik chief executive of E.ON’s retail division said “The value of customers today is different from three to four years ago because customers have become more active,”

Better Accessibility.

Another compelling reason to incorporate more technical instruments in the home is accessibility. Recently, Energy UK have been working with smart meter manufacturers and the Royal National Institute of Blind People to bring the benefits of the technology to more people.

Many of us will have come to take for granted the in-home display on our smart meters that shows us how much energy we use and how much it costs.

The more accessible meters will offer “high-contrast, tactile buttons and speech output” and are being user-tested by blind and partially sighted groups to provide feedback and guidance on the overall design specification.

The units will be tested with energy suppliers later this year and available for customers from the first half of 2019.

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said: “Everyone who wants a smart meter should be able to feel the benefits so it’s great to see this innovative collaboration to support blind and partially sighted consumers to take control of their energy use.”

Hope for the Future.

It’s innovations such as this that give me hope for the future. With things such as battery storage set to be incredibly prominent, it stands to reason that there would be a way to control this from your smart-hub, you’ll probably be able to trade energy using the smart-hub as the interface in 5 years time. I accept that this doesn’t offer much consolation to the near 13 million homes with substandard meters TODAY. However if hardware such as E.ON’s home energy management system can become more commonplace and users come to see the benefits of using such technology, I think we’ve taken a first wobbly step towards a more energy efficient future.

It would be naive not to think that there’s a certain level of apathy and cynicism right now, the race has been to get the cheapest possible price but even that feels like a gamble to most people. I think we’re in a situation where the technology isn’t ready for our needs but that will change very quickly and it’s the energy suppliers that get ahead of the curve now, who will reap the benefits in the years to come.

Join me in the comments to discuss your feelings on smart meters. What is your company doing to go above and beyond competing on price?

07 Jan