Ten years ago, back when Britain had a Labour government and a Department for Energy and Climate Change, plans were announced to put a smart meter in every home by 2020. Much has changed in Britain since, but the target more or less remains. With one year to go, there are still millions of smart meters to fit, and there’s been something of a backlash against them.
Much of this is down to bungling the first stages of the roll-out, with substandard meters fitted that didn’t work properly or that made it impossible to switch suppliers. 9 out of 10 installations went fine, but 1 in 10 is a high failure rate and so scepticism is not unwarranted. Word got out that you might want to refuse a smart meter, despite many of those early issues being resolved. Concerns are typified in this Telegraph article on six reasons to say no to a smart meter.
This week I had the gas smart meter fitted, a few weeks after the electric. I’d signed up to be an early adopter and it’s taken much longer than I expected. So here’s why I said yes, and why I think you should too.
- Smart meters improve energy literacy. You could get energy use monitors before, but not for gas meters and they weren’t very accurate. With a smart meter I can see exactly what we’re using as a household, and what appliances draw more energy. I’m a geek for this stuff and it will make little difference to us, but Ofgem’s research suggests that just over 80% of families that get a smart meter report that they are more aware of their energy use. In an age of climate change, that’s really important.
- Smart meters can deliver energy savings. Following directly on from the above, being more aware of your energy use can lead to a reduction in electricity and gas use. This helps households to save money and reduces their carbon footprint. It’s not automatic and the effect won’t be huge, but every small gain matters as we stretch towards Britain’s climate targets.
- Automated meter readings and billing. I’ve not got any great problem with our current supplier Ecotricity, but our previous supplier was very generous to themselves in estimating our usage and billing us. A smart meter should end estimated billing and overcharging. For those with inaccessible meters, it also means less poking about under the stairs with a flashlight.
- Smart meters enable a smart grid. The data from smart meters will make it easier to monitor energy usage and manage the grid. This will be all the more important as more homes charge electric cars, fit battery storage or start using smart appliances. It also makes it easier to incorporate more renewable energy into the grid, which is important in de-carbonising energy.
- Smart meters enable new energy products and policies. The rollout of smart meters unlocks new options for providing and charging for energy. For example it would be possible to create tariffs that charge according to demand at the time of use (like this), or schemes that pay people to reduce energy demand at peak times (like this). Options like those would help to manage base load and reduce energy use overall.
- The smart meter works better with our solar panels. Our previous meter, which was a bona fide antique, simply ran backwards when the solar panels were generating. This complicated the billing procedure. The new meter measures energy exported as well as imported, giving us much more accurate information for feed-in tariffs and any future energy export programmes we might join.
You’ll have to make a decision for your own household, if you haven’t already. For us, and for the future of Britain’s energy in the 21st century, it was a straightforward yes to getting a smart meter.