Smart meters saving customers money despite technical hitches

27 March 2017   By Samantha Smith

ENERGY providers have missed a deadline for reducing the time span during which they can send backdated bills to customers whose smart meters have made incorrect readings.

smart energy meter

Having been unable to reduce this time span from 12 to six months, they've added to a growing list of recent setbacks and embarrassments suffered by the smart meter rollout, with the astronomically high bills being sent out by SSE to some of their customers at the start of March being another high profile blow to its image.

Yet despite the recent bad publicity, over half of the five million people with smart meters installed in their homes are already affirming that they're saving money because of them, according to recent research [PDF] from Smart Energy GB.

Not only that, but 82% report that smart meters have helped them to take at least one step to cut down on their energy use, a figure which points to how, once all their teething pains have been resolved, smart meters will live up to their hype and make the UK much more energy efficient.


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Given the negative or at least ambivalent press they've recently received, the public can be forgiven for assuming that this day will never come.

To begin with, the IT system underpinning the smart meter rollout has been delayed on numerous separate occasions between April 2015 and November 2016, when it officially went "live", albeit in a limited, non-fully operational form.

This means that most of the smart meters installed in some five million homes aren't entirely smart, at least in the sense that, if a customer switches from the provider who originally installed them, they revert to being standard, "dumb" meters.

If this wasn't worrying enough, the reliability of the meters has also recently been called into question, with SSE notoriously having to apologise earlier this month when it emerged that some customers on smart meters were being overcharged by nearly 3,000,000%, at least in the case tweeted below.

And now it would seem that they've been tarnished in yet another way, with Energy UK - the trade association that represents the big energy companies - admitting that providers have failed to meet a deadline for reducing smart meter back-billing periods.

This is important because it reveals that suppliers are still making too many mistakes with smart meters for them to be able to reduce these periods. And if they're making too many mistakes, this suggests that smart meters aren't as accurate as they've been billed to be.


However, before it's concluded that smart meters are one of many elephants in the proverbial room of British economic and political life, some wider perspective and context is needed.

For one, even if smart meters have been involved in inaccurate billing, it's worth pointing out that they've been involved in far less inaccurate billing than standard energy meters.

For instance, it was calculated by charity Fuel Poverty Action in 2013 that around 25% of all energy customers were overcharged every year, providing energy companies with an extra £650 million in revenue.

Given that this survey was conducted in 2013, it's likely that very little of this 25% had anything to do with smart meters, since Government statistics reveal that only 295,700 of them had been installed in British homes by the end of that year.

And more importantly, while the nationwide rollout of smart meters does incur a cost, it's clear that customers will benefit from the overall savings.

This is evident in yet more Government data, which recently showed that average dual-fuel energy bills have already decreased by £90 as a result of recent energy policies, including the rollout of smart meters.


And added to this, Smart Energy GB's latest Smart Energy Outlook report finds that 53% of people who've had smart meters recently installed have already been able to make savings on their energy bills, all without having to move to a better deal.

This is an impressive showing in light of how smart meters are only a recent introduction and of how they require, not simply installation, but also considerable behavioural adjustments in order to be fully effective.

And given that 82% of the people surveyed by Smart Energy GB report that they've already been able to make at least one difference to reduce their energy consumption, it's likely that as they become a more familiar fixture in the UK, these adjustments will be made to an ever greater extent

As such, even if the smart meter rollout is certainly suffering its fair share of hitches at the moment, the difference it's already making now indicates the substantial difference it will make in the future.

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