Saturday, November 11, 2017

Are Smart Meters as smart as they like to think they are?

My energy company in the UK has been bugging me at every turn, by email, post, notes through the door, random people knocking on my door, to persuade me to have a smart meter installed and to get me to book an appointment. This is part of a government initiative to have smart meters installed in every home in the country between 2015 and 2020.

The thinking behind these smart meters is sound. It allows a household and an energy network to better understand its energy usage and in turn, access different energy tariffs based on usage patterns and may help the nation use less energy by the energy companies being able to plan better and individuals to take more control over their consumption. It's part of the vision and thinking about what smart cities will look like in the future.

All the blurb makes it sound like having one of these meters is compulsory. The consumer ends up paying for the cost of the installation over time in their energy bill. Hmm. Not so keen on that extra expense thank you very much.

I checked. It is NOT compulsory to have a smart meter installed in the UK, not now, not ever. You can get on installed at any time in the future if you change your mind. You don't need to be forced into it by your energy supplier. There's more about it on the OFGEM site here (that's our energy regulator for readers from outside the UK).

The trouble is that British energy suppliers don't have a good reputation, especially when it comes to anything technology related. Their websites are clunky, unintuitive and often inaccurate. I know from friends working at large agencies how painful the process has been to rollout any kind of digital technology with energy company clients. Their culture and organisational structure has exacerbated this and made things worse. That's not to say they don't have helpful, intelligent people working for these companies. They do, but not nearly enough of them and with, I'm guessing, inadequate leadership and inadequate ways of innovating or putting the customer first.

My instinct with the rollout is to not have a smart meter installed. I don't want to be spied on. I don't want the hassle of a workman or woman in my house fiddling around. I don't want an algorithm deciding to switch off anyone's access to energy. And I certainly don't want to have my system vulnerable to hacking. That last one is probably the clincher for me. So many of our large companies and corporates suffer data breaches. I can't trust them with my personal data so I'm definitely not ready to trust them with managing my 'smart' energy supply.

I also  don't want to have to think about my energy supply except that I get it and the bills are paid. I'd rather we had a simpler pricing structure so the we can forget about it and not have to worry or check that they're on the right tariff. And the bottom line is that I just don't trust them that they're getting this right.

I've read too many reports in the news of massive billing issues of people being overcharged hundreds of pounds (often those who can least afford it), people being cut off inexplicably, of units failing and giving wildly inaccurate readings so I have to question why there is this insistence on rolling out a system that is clearly flawed.

In case my mind has been made up as a result of #fakenews, I did a straw poll of my friends, both techie and non-techie, and what they thought about it. The feedback was overwhelmingly negative from both camps.

The techies had real concerns over personal data and how they would (mis)use it and just couldn't trust them with it, worries about security and hacking and also the lack of ability to implement and manage. Non-techie friends were also very worried about personal data tracking and the vulnerability to hacking but also the health concerns around the radio waves they're emitting.

I think there's also a question around the units they're using, the cost of the programme when there are other, cheaper ways to do it. I'm sure there are more reasons that I haven't yet considered.

So, when it comes to smart meters, I'm being a refusenik. I've also signed this petition. I'd be really interested in your thoughts and experiences with smart meters too.

This lovely tongue-in-cheek animation from the campaigning site StopSmartMeters is a great quick intro to the issues.

Day 11/30 NaBloPoMo

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