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Could you send 13,000 meter readings a year?


By Lauren Pope, content editor at uSwitch.com

Could you send 13,000 meter readings a year? You’d get an accurate bill, that’s for sure, but by my calculations (at an average 10 minutes a reading) it would take you 2166 hours, or 180 days a year to do it.

However (as I learnt yesterday at an event organised by First Utility), that’s just what a smart meter does. An electricity smart meter takes 12720 meter readings a year, while a gas smart meter takes 365.

The readings are sent straight to the energy supplier automatically so there’s no need for someone to come and take it for you – and you always get accurate bills. Plus, they could help you to cut your energy costs by giving you lots of data and information about how much energy you’re using and when you’re using it. (According to First Utility, one of its customers saved £600 in the first six months alone, another cut his bills by 50%.)

If you’re thinking ‘I like the sound of that’, then I have good news for you: we’re all getting smart meters by 2020 and, if you’re really keen, you might even be able to get one now.

First Utility is a relatively new energy company it has made its mark by offering smart meters to its customers since it was launched in 2008, and introducing its ‘Smart as Standard’ tariff in October 2010.

But is First Utility ahead of the curve or jumping the gun when it comes to smart meters?

The government has yet to set the technical specifications which smart meters will have to meet for the 2020 roll-out, so the meters First Utility is installing may not be compliant when they are decided.

First Utility’s Darren Braham explained that this isn’t a big issue for customers – you’re not charged directly for the cost of installing the meter so you won’t lose out or pay any extra if you need another one.  The cost of the meters themselves and the installation (around £240) are factored into the rates the company charges. With no upfront payment so no real risk in diving in and getting a smart meter now.

Interestingly, the meters are not owned by First Utility but by National Grid OnStream  – First Utility then rents them back, and it is these rental charges that form part of the rate you pay.  (Metering charges are a feature of any energy bill whether you have a smart meter or not.)

A concern that many people have around smart meters is the security and privacy of the data it gathers and sends to the supplier. First Utility says that the data is encrypted when it’s sent and is also subject to the same data privacy laws as normal – it will only be shared if you explicitly give your permission.

Another question that often comes up is whether you can switch your energy supplier when you have a smart meter. The rules for 2020 have yet to be confirmed, but it could well be a very simple process because all the data will be held by a central office rather than by the energy suppliers individually.

For now though, if you were to switch to First Utility and a smart meter and then decided that you’d like to switch to another energy company, you’d be free to do so. However, your smart meter wouldn’t stay smart – it would revert to being what’s known as a ‘dumb’ meter, which means you have to go back to giving meter readings again.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about smart meters? Post your questions here and we’ll do our best to find out the answers.

  • Ian Stirling

    An interesting question is what happens to ‘economy 7’ and similar time-based tarrifs when smart meters are rolled out.

    There needs to be certainty as soon as possible on the future of these tarrifs, as people may be making capital decisions now on the most economical way to heat their home,

    • Lauren Pope

      That’s a very valid question. The old Economy 7 meters would be replaced by a new smart meter as part of the roll-out, but will there still be Economy 7 tariffs? If not, where does that leave people with storage heaters etc?

      There’s a chance that we might see more ‘time of use’ tariffs in the long run as a result of smart metering because of the insight they give into who uses what energy when.

  • grizzly 1911

    Doesn’t bother me personally I have no problem reading a meter and submitting periodically. Don’t really see what benefit daily or better readings does for me.

    If you don’t understand you have big bills and can’t understand words fail me. I know paying for electricity costs lot.

    The benefits are really in the utilities favour, accurate regular readings, reduced cost of readings in the long term, allows them to bill for use a bit like prepayment users. First they get us to finance them via DDRs rather than quarterly bills and now they can remove the smoothing of existing DDRs if they so wish.

    Interesting that they charge the user for them up front albeit through rent, over a period rather paying for them though the cost benefit to supplier. Could argue it should reduce our bills.

    I know we end up paying in the end… and I also accept they have got to make a surplus to recognise capital invested and to invest in the future. Profiteering on necessary commodities offends though.

    If you change supplier and haven’t finished paying from your meter what happens then do they transfer the remaining debt to your new supplier.

    No problems with them doing any of this but don’t tell me it is for my benefit.

  • grizzly 1911

    Just another quick point what is there to agree about a meter.

    Surely it records a volume of supply, in this case KWh or M3/Ft3 that is it and sends it somewhere for conversion, recording, billing etc. Providing the meter technology is accurate what more is required – love to know?

    If we decide to bill by nanowosits surely that conversion would just be handled at the back end.

    • Lauren Pope

      Thanks for these questions – they’re really interesting and I will investigate and post whatever I manage to find out.

  • Ian Stirling

    All smart meters must be able to run ‘backwards’ – and account for solar power through a separate connection.

    The regulation on the solar-electric industry should be limited to providing approved meters.

    I can obtain quality solar panels, from a non-approved supplier, and fit them for approximately a quarter of the price of a ‘proper’ installation.

    A professional installation would still be under half of the ‘certified’ price.

    The rates of return should normally be no more or less than the price of electricity charged.

    It is up to the consumer what form of renewable energy source they connect to the meter.

    Unfortunately, the ‘solar industry’ would fight tooth-and-nail against a system that does not have the effect of penalising the poor to pay for the solar panels of the rich.
    The poorest spend more of their incomes on power.

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