Smart cookies go for smart meters?

electricity-meterIn case you’ve not heard of smart meters, they are electrical contraptions that show you exactly how much it costs you (in electricity and £sd) to run a bath, make a cup of tea or watch Neighbours. However, according to British Gas (who also sell electricity), about £1 in every £4 spent on heating is currently wasted, with televisions left on standby and mobile phone chargers that are left plugged in at all times are contributing to the £1.3 billion that is lost every year through British households not fully switching off electronic gadgets.

British Gas felt so strongly that smart meters could be a useful marketing tool, that they commissioned some research by some economic sorts in Oxford, and between them they have worked out that British homes and businesses could be nearly £14 billion better off thanks to smart meters. Unfortunately that is not £14 billion each.

The report analyses the costs and benefits of smart meters from 2012 to 2030 and finds that, the national roll out of smart meters will cost £11.5 billion, but the benefits of smart meters could total £25.3 billion, which would mean an overall gain for the country of nearly £14 billion.

In detail, the report suggests that smart meters will give

> £11.2 billion in energy savings for households and businesses. The report finds that smart meters, by helping households and businesses see the energy they use and by providing personalised energy advice, will help save the average household 5% (around £60) on their yearly bill.

£10.7 billion in efficiency savings for energy suppliers. Unfortunately, the report authors have clearly not met may energy providers as the report expects “much” of these savings will be passed onto consumers by giving them additional reductions on their energy bills, rather than going straight into shareholders’ pockets.

£3.2 billion in generation related savings. This is known as the knock-on effect. Lower energy demand from smart metering will reduce the amount of energy generated. The savings will be made from reduced costs around the trading of carbon. Again, not something that normally impacts the pocket of your average consumer.

So, whether or not we are better off depends entirely on who is paying for the smart meter roll out. If it is the consumer, through green levies or by increases in energy bills, then really, we will all be worse off, spending £11.5bn for a £11.2bn saving. The Department for the Environment's own figures suggest they are anticipating an increase in bills at 2015 followed by a redutcion in bills in 2020, so unless those energy companies really do give us back all the money they are saving, it looks like the consumer is the mug here.

However, all may not be lost-we could change supplier. Andrew Tessler, Senior Economist at Oxford Economics, said that “in addition to the energy consumption savings identified in our report, our research also highlights that smart metering… can greatly reduce the time and convenience costs of switching suppliers for customers.” Of course, this presupposes that any energy company will be any better a prospect to switch to.

And there are other question marks over the report’s findings. Ann Robinson, Director of Consumer Policy at, says: "This report is a welcome first step in opening up the debate about smart meters and starting to explain the benefits to consumers… However, many of the benefits highlighted in the report rely on consumers changing their behaviour - our research shows that less than half of consumers know what a smart meter is (45%) while just over a third (35%) have heard of them but have no idea what they do. If consumers are to fully realise the cost savings, they can no longer be kept in the dark.” Arf arf.


  • Hand j.
    Crikes, don't these people get what a smart meter is? They don't turn the telly off for you, all they do is give you a running commentary on what power you are using. Snag is you have to look at the info. Most people don't even look at the readings on their good old cheap & dumb meter, so what is the point of adding more information. If anyone wanted to know about energy usage, they can start by reading their own meters regularly and doing a few sums.
  • badger
    But I thought somebody worked out that leaving a TV on standby only costs you 8p a YEAR? When "British" Gas are trying so desperately to flog us the idea of smart meters, it only makes me suspect their motives even more.
  • Mr M.
    @ badger I've heard similar things too. Also chargers that are plugged in without anything attached aren't using any electricity
  • Jeremy
    "chargers that are plugged in without anything attached aren’t using any electricity". Not so - they use a tiny amount of electricity! However, in the Winter that small amount of heat "wasted" will offset the amount I would have to pay for the central heating anyway. Net effect is close to zero. BTW how much power does a "smart" meter consume?
  • catweazle
    Some of the power companies were giving away free power monitors over the last couple of years. You can place these where you can view em without rooting in a dusty cupboard. Unless the smart meter actually follows you round switching stuff off, I see no advantage in fitting them. Also chargers that are plugged in without anything attached must be using electricity because they stay warm, or do you believe they are alive?
  • Marky M.
    The energy monitor I had from E-On was rubbish; it spent more time displaying an error message than actually doing anything, so I threw it away.
  • Delberto
    Had a monitor from Southern Electric (iPlan). Power usage was constantly low (lower than neigbours and others in same type of house) but the bills still went up. Put monitor in drawer, didn't think it helped lower our usage.
  • Inspector G.
    The point of a smart meter, as I understood it, was for your appliances to 'negotiate' the price of electricity. For example, you put some washing on but you only need it ready for tomorrow morning, so your washing machine negotiates with the power station or supplier. The powerstaion has already worked out that it will have less load at 3am, and therefore cheaper, tells the washing machine that that's when its time to get to work. Since all your appliances are going to be doing this the powerstation can predict what electricity its going to need to generate throughout the day and make it.s life much easier (ie more cost effective). Now...I might be getting this wrong, but if the smart meters that they're trying to push on us don't do this then are we then going to have to upgrade again when these super smart meters come in?
  • Mr E.
    Shame the people fitting them aren't so smart - they turned up to my house to fit it, couldn't get a mobile phone signal and left. I could have saved them the journey! According to facebook, I'm not the only one around here they've done that to.
  • Businessman
    The UK does not have enough generating capacity to supply enough electricity for the future. That's right, people will need more electricity than we have got. Solution? Simple! Rolling blackouts. That is the plan. (Anyone remember the 1970's equivalent during the miners strike?) This can only work if you get your smart meter, otherwise you cannot be remotely turned off when it is your turn to suffer.
  • ssilrf
    That's not what this study says. [Benefits - Costs - Privacy - Security - UK] The Perils of Smart Metering by Ross Anderson - Light Blue Touchpaper - Security Research, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge, UK - September 17, 2012: - Or these. Who controls the off switch? by Ross Anderson and Shailendra Fuloria - Cambridge University Computer Laboratory - July 26, 2010: - The Foundation for Information Policy Research - Consultation response on Smart Meters by Ross Anderson, Chair, Foundation for Information Policy Research - September 28, 2010 The Foundation for Information Policy Research - Consultation response on Smart Meters by Ross Anderson - Cambridge - January 2010 On the security economics of electricity metering by Ross Anderson and Shailendra Fuloria Cambridge University Computer Laboratory

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