Smart meters are being rolled out across the country – if you haven’t had one installed in your home already then chances are you’ll be getting one soon.
The government have set a target to install 53 million by 2020, a project that’s costing British households £11 billion. But will ordinary families actually be better off once the rollout is complete?
This is the question being asked by the National Audit Office, who have launched a watchdog to review the ‘economic case for rolling out smart meters’. This will involve
- Assessing whether smart meters will actually save the money that they promise
- Seeing if the government are on track to meet their target
- Considering whether the government are maximising chances of success
The scheme is being funded through energy bills, however over time it’s expected to save £16.7 billion as less energy will be used and consumption will be accurately monitored.
By monitoring energy consumption in real time, smart meters make it easy for people to view and control their own usage. This is a great example of modern technology putting data that’s already being collected back in the hands of the people who created it, and it means that energy spending should be far more transparent going forward.
Crucially, they are designed to stop the need for estimated bills and instead ensure that billing is based on the gas and electricity actually being used. This could stop people from overpaying – while you can currently claim back any extra money that you’ve paid, it’s far simpler to pay the right amount in the first place.
However, there are also downsides as the technology is not completely foolproof. Some people have complained about receiving inaccurate readings, or meters failing to send readings back to the energy companies. This could potentially lead to inaccurate billing – one of the main issues that smart readers are supposed to address.
A second concern is that they may prove to be a barrier to switching suppliers. Changing to a different energy supplier can be a great way to cut down on bills and get a fair deal, and we are often advised to do just that. While smart meters won’t stop people from switching suppliers, it could mean losing access to the smart features and reverting to manual readings.
All that said, these issues are expected to be addressed in the long-term. Eventually, all smart meters will be compatible and connected to a central system. This should mean that people are not only able to switch suppliers with ease, but that they’re able to do so based on accurate quotes.
There is also consumer protection in place, to make sure that you’re treated fairly. To start with, you have the right to refuse a smart meter if you don’t feel that it’s suitable for your needs. Beyond that, there should be no sales or attempts to upsell during the installation visit and you should be given energy efficiency advice at the time the meter is installed. You should also be given a choice about the frequency with which data can be collected and how it can be used.
All told, it seems like most households will benefit from having a smart meter installed. Where there are concerns, the hope is that this watchdog will help to address them while we’re still at an early stage in the process.