‘Smart Metering’ – A Heretic’s View.

Having worked some 20 years in energy management, the basic principles have remained the same, what I call the 3 ‘Ms’ – Monitor, Manage, Mitigate – and in that specific order; if you cannot do the first, then the next two are just guess work. Data gathering, and analysis has always been the backbone of utilities management, making metering an essential technology, and its interpretation and understanding paramount.

This technology has developed gradually over the centuries (And it is centuries, as the first measuring valves came about during the steam age – 1700s onwards), via initial revolution, then evolution to provide more detailed and accurate data. And as this development has progressed, metering technology ideas have come and gone, some leaving us with useful technology, and some falling by the wayside.

Burn The Heretic

This is where I rattle a few cages, as in my view, Smart metering is running a very real risk of falling into the latter category, something that promised so much, but has singularly failed to deliver. And the reasons for this are the almost panicked rollout of the technology, and the failure to ensure that the new meters were accurate and reliable.

Taking the first issue, instead of taking a gradual phased approach of rolling out, using demonstrably reliable and accurate systems, persuading customers (Both commercial and domestic) that they make sense and are in their interests; we have had what amounts to salesmen making indefensible claims and outright misleading statements or even with-holding information, such as deliberately not informing customers that they are not actually obliged to have them at all. Even I have had this at home from one of the ‘Big Six’, telling me that I must have smart metering at home, only to be told by me that a] No I don’t and b] as I live in a block of flats with a common supply, they cannot be fitted anyway at the moment.

This state of affairs damages the reputation of the industry, and leads customers to doubt the efficacy of good metering, making the task harder for us professional energy managers.

The second issue reflects badly on the metering industry.

ND Solutions last year released a report on the accuracy of the presently available Smart meters, and it does not make good reading; 70% of the meters tested in real life conditions failed to show accurate readings, most over-reading which of course can have dire financial consequences for customers – one even showed an inaccuracy rate of +400%. But the main point here is the scale of the failures, 70% of all the smart meters manufactured cannot be relied on, so the roll out is a slowly developing car crash which even a parliamentary committee has commented on, and it is the customers on the receiving end.

Blasphemy

The problem is that the usual rush to use the latest silver bullet answer to all our energy problems, which was nothing of the sort; politics being allowed to take precedence over basic quality control and good advice from professional energy managers being ignored. A situation that could and should have been avoided from the very start, by some simple basic concepts.

Taking the proper route would have been to test a number of the meters in real world scenarios over a two to three-year period, to establish any accuracy and reliability issues, instead of just relying on bench testing, which rarely if ever reflects actual reality of use in practice. Making sure that there are well designed and tested products to enable all customers to receive them if they so choose, not having to develop a second and possibly third phase of roll out, to complete these supplies and to rectify the issue from the first roll out.

But the question to this is – does the industry (Primarily the Big Six) and Government have the sense to realise the issues, and to find a way to solve them?

Or will it be another expensive sticking plaster, that eventually comes unstuck, and makes the situation even worse?

Lies, damned lies and statistics

The adverts stating that smart meters will save energy really annoy me as they imply that simply having a smart meter saves energy, which is blatantly misleading if not an outright lie. Meters have never saved a single watt of energy, it is the human behaviour in using energy that saves such. The great hope is that if customers see how much they are using and spending they will change their usage habits – and they will – initially, then they will slowly go back to the old habits out of laziness, forgetfulness or simply assuming the meter is saving energy; which I have heard from several consumers already.

Hallelujah

For larger commercial customers, there at least is some hope, in the form of aM&R; a proven technique, with reliable and accurate technology. But for the rest, mainly domestic and SME customers, my recommendation is to avoid Smart metering unless the supplier can prove that their product is reliable and accurate such as SMETs2, and I don’t just mean taking the manufacturers claims at face value; even if this means having a consultant energy manager review the data against past usage data, and clamp on temporary meters.

This may sound complex, but can you really afford to spend money on energy, when you don’t have to?’

Roger M Low, Consultant Energy Manager, Speedwell Energy Services Roger0910@BTInternet.com