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The Smart Money - Josh 206

I wonder who will benefit the most from Smart Meters?

Cartoons by Josh

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Reader Comments (39)

Is that a picture of Tim Yeo?

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon keiller

Of course ;-)

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:09 PM | Registered CommenterJosh

Josh, should have put a mortar board on the smart metre. :)

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

A Wheatstone Bridge too far, cf Poll Tax Riots.

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

In fairness, smartmeters themselves are can help to solve at least one problem linked to debt and fuel poverty.

Consumers who are least well off, tend to be on prepaid energy tariffs which not only tend to be more expensive, but also suffer from problems with the same consumers falling behind with payments; metres must be manually recalibrated, and in the period before this happens, the customer underpays for energy used.

This can happen to perfectly responsible and honest people, who make every effort to budget and pay their bills.

Smartmeters at least hold out the promise that this can be eliminated by allowing tariffs to change almost instantly and avoiding the problems and its damaging knock on effects.

The downside of course is that the meters themselves, fitting them, and maintaining them represents a significant capital cost and ongoing financial commitment for an uncertain return.

I worked for Powergen / E.ON for around 5 years and smartmeter projects foundered on the basic problem of who pays for the meter to be fitted initially and who owns it when its fitted - what happens when a new tenant or owner moves into an existing property? What happens when a new supplier takes over?

No idea if those problems have been satisfactorily resolved from a consumers perspective.

(This was the same period where I learnt first hand that consumers would spout any old bollocks about their willingness to pay extra for green tariffs when questioned by a pretty marketeer, but that translated into bugger all actual sales when it comes down to it)

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermrsean2k

Just a thought but do they require the householder's permission to instal a 'smart' meter?

If they do I think I'll refuse - got to make it harder for them to control when I can or cannot receive a supply!

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Not sure if you had the same in the UK, but many decades ago some cities in Australia had coin-in-the-slot gas meters for domestic gas supply. Perhaps we could bring in coin-in-the-slot meters for politicians and/or senior bureaucrats? You would only need to pay for them when you required their services.

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Pond

Brilliant, Josh. Right up there with the best of your work.

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:44 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Stephen Richards: "Josh, should have put a mortar board on the smart metre. :)"

Yes, good idea. But you gotta love the pig-fellow in what I take to be a tin-foil beanie with a wind turbine on top.

Feb 25, 2013 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

An aside on Smart Meters - an acquaintance of mine who's some considerable record in electronics + computing has been digging away at smart meters and discovered that for some manufacturers - the software side of things has been found wanting - his curiosity was piqued by an anomalous reading from a non-smart but still microprocessor controlled meter.

Apparently the algorithmic rigor usually associated with real time control systems has not been adhered to and the utility concerned are unwilling to enter any further dialog after initially digging themselves quite a hole...

Then of course - there is the matter of "on the fly tariff adjustments" that BT and the telecoms crew have busied themselves with for some time.

Feb 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I remember the shilling in the slot meters in the 50s in the Rhondda Valley. Several nights in an aunt's house when no one had a bob between them. Firelight and an old gaslight in the back kitchen were the only lights in the house. Plenty of coal in a collier's house however at 30/-s a ton.
Seems those dark days are returning.

Feb 25, 2013 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterG.Watkins

Doug S @ 9:33. There are communities in the US in which the installation is mandatory.

Feb 25, 2013 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

What if you are growing a couple of grands worth Cannabis plants in your loft .How you going to explain all that Extra Electricity you using for the lights and the fan heaters.

With the old meters people i know just used to cut the seals and bypass straight to the consumer box.

Feb 25, 2013 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I'll start off by acknowledging that smart meter is a bit outside my area of work. I deal with collocation of commerical wireless equipment on utility owned infrastructure. There is some overlap. In addition, I have some involvement with our AMR program (Automatic Meter Reading). Our company was an early user of remote meter reading. The system is passive, i.e. it only reads and cannot send.

There are several areas where AMR / Smart metering can save customers money. The first is reduced operating costs. you no longer need a large number of meter readers physically traveling to homes and businesses. The second is time of service savings. Because an AMR system can continueously update, you have the ability to determine when a customer is using energy. This allows for the utility to provide an insentive through means of lower rates to customers who take advantage of off peak hours. Neither of these two require what are considered "smart" meters.

A smart meter will (in theory) expand opportunities to save. They can manage load by instructing business and household equipment and appliances to turn on or off. For example, a customer can program a dish or clothes washer to activate when told to by the electrical network operator and forget about it. The network then figures out the most efficient management of this activity, which gets magnified over the entire customer base.

Because I am not directly involved, I am not familiar with all of the problems. I believe the comment above about software and algorithims is accurate. Certain aspects of the technology are not yet mature. Perhaps a bigger obsticle is customer perception. Along with the ability to more efficiently manage and bill for load comes the collection of a lot of data. Consumers are wary of someone being able to collect this information and what they might do with it. Another has to do with impact of the metering system itself, both from a health aspect and a visual one. The resistence - at least in the US - from residents to wireless cell sites is extremely strong. Many people are going to see Smart Meter in a similar manner.

Finally, there is the issue of security. As a system comes to rely on smart devices dependant on computer control, the susceptibility to hacking and other cyber attack increases.

Feb 25, 2013 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

Don keiller

Cant be a picture of Tim Yeo not fat enough.

Feb 25, 2013 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I hope that's not meant to be a yarmulke on the pig ...

Feb 25, 2013 at 11:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

Excellent, Josh - you're on a roll!

Feb 25, 2013 at 11:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

How many BTU:s are there in a politician and how many politicians are there?

Feb 25, 2013 at 11:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Yes Josh, that is a superb illustration of the inequities and malign wealth re-distribution of 'smart meters'. Highlighting, how indeed the serfs energy consumer now funds the technocracy of green totalitarianism, just as they were so designed.

Feb 26, 2013 at 12:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

jamspid@10:55pm - the wallopers in Australia use well above area median electricity usage as one indicator of such private enterprise activities.

Feb 26, 2013 at 12:41 AM | Registered CommenterGrantB

jamspid@10:55pm - Install an outdoor jacuzzi and claim that's where the power's going. That's the way it was done in Marin County, anyways.

Feb 26, 2013 at 1:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

El Reg were warning back in 2010 that smart meters were a security risk:

However, Ross Anderson, professor in security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory, warns that the move to smart metering introduces a "strategic vulnerability" that hackers might conceivable be exploit to remotely switch off elements on the gas or electricity supply grid.

and later in 2012

The off switch creates information security problems of a kind, and on a scale, that the energy companies have not had to face before. From the viewpoint of a cyber attacker – whether a hostile government agency, a terrorist organisation or even a militant environmental group – the ideal attack on a target country is to interrupt its citizens’ electricity supply… Until now, the only plausible ways to do that involved attacks on critical generation, transmission and distribution assets, which are increasingly well defended.

Smart meters change the game. The combination of commands that will cause meters to interrupt the supply, of applets and software upgrades that run in the meters, and of cryptographic keys that are used to authenticate these commands and software changes, create a new strategic vulnerability.

Feb 26, 2013 at 4:58 AM | Registered CommenterAndy Scrase

Peter Pond: "Not sure if you had the same in the UK, but many decades ago some cities in Australia had coin-in-the-slot gas meters for domestic gas supply."

That brought back the memory of the film of Barry McKenzie from the 1960s, when as a visiting Australian, he stays in a bed sit with Spike Milligan as landlord, and a meter that took pound notes, IIRC, that whipped them out of his hand quicker than you could see.

Feb 26, 2013 at 8:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

If anyone had suggested to me 30 years ago that they were planning to install smart meters I would have been quite happy, for all the reasons you give.
My aunt was quite taken with the night storage heaters she had installed in c1960 and the 'white meter' tariff was a boon to many. Smart meters would simply have been a more sophisticated version of this idea together with remote meter reading and possibly even fault diagnosis.
I would still be happy to see smart meters today, except that I no longer trust the people that are in power. Time was when they would have been used for the benefit of the user; now I believe they would (will?) be used as yet one more form of centralised control on individual behaviour and ultimately — because this is the way all societies tend to go — as a means of reward or punishment for activities totally unrelated to energy consumption.
Imagine if you were limited to two hours of electricity per day, probably between 3 and 5 in the morning as punishment for contributing to a sceptic blog. Or think up your own "crime". Is this such a far-fetched idea?

Feb 26, 2013 at 9:29 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

(cross post from DECC thread, as it's approporiate here too).

Wow. Smart meters cause cancer. It's official.

Feb 26, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Registered Commentersteve ta

Smart Meters are not infallible

Feb 26, 2013 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Just found myself a job for my upcoming retirement, 'adjusting' smart meters for other old folks so they can afford to keep the power on. ;-)

Feb 26, 2013 at 10:46 AM | Unregistered Commenterabout-to-retire

A British government web page about smart meters says that we will all have to have them by 2019.

Smart meters: a guide

Did any political party include the compulsory introduction of smart meters in its election manifesto? I don't remember the subject receiving any publicity before the last general election.

The web page I cited above does not say anything about using smart meters to disconnect consumers. Would I be too cynical if I assumed that means they are likely to be used for that purpose when, thanks to successive governments appalling mistakes in energy policy, demand for electricity (and probably gas too) exceeds supply?

Has anyone asked the Prime Minister for a promise that smart meters will not be used for rationing power supplies? Of course, David Cameron has already shown us the value of a "cast iron promise" when he said before the last general election that he would hold a referendum on the latest EU treaty.

Feb 26, 2013 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I think smart meters are not a totally bad thing. I can though, see problems with smart meters on a variety of levels. My primary concern though is with speculative billing - a practice that has become endemic in the telecom business (amongst others...) - spawning a mini industry of billing reconciliation hardware and software (that I am familiar with - "billing adjustments" generally aren't disputed).

That the number of kWh / calibration can be adjusted remotely, operators can upload new firmware without specific permission from the end user, that software isn't subjected to rigorous third party evaluation - is a recipe for abuse of customers on an epic scale. Make no mistake - if it is possible to abuse it somebody will. Malpractice is massively facilitated by uncontrolled roll out of smart meters. I see that Google have latched on to this and seem to have been working on being an independent repository for metering data.

I don't think for a moment that they'll be handing out half price clothes washes at 1am to do load balancing or 30 minute deals to dump windmill waste.

I'm trying to persuade my acquaintance to put the "cacky firmware" story into a digestible format as I think it deserves a wider audience - not only for the direct technical issues but also - for the errant, arrogant arbitrariness and technical ignorance displayed by the utility company in question.

Feb 26, 2013 at 11:12 AM | Registered Commentertomo

My suggestion for a prime use of a smart meter would be to establish a data base of all those who contribute to organisations promoting wind turbines and solar power or promote these forms of energy generation or pass laws to further their use or cash in on their installation and running. These individuals and organisations would be the first to have smart meters installed and be disconnected from the grid when an overload occurred due to a lack of wind or sunshine. Hopefully that would leave the rest of use with 24/7 power.

Feb 26, 2013 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

As ever the French administration tend to think things through sensibly.

With their commitment to nuclear power French CO2 emissions / head (at 5.77 tonnes / year) are already 16% lower than Chinese emissions / head (at 6.75 tonnes / year) even with the Chinese population of 1.3 billion.

The French also have a smart meter tariff. It is optional as opposed to being mandatory and complicated as is bound to be organised in the UK. It results in substantially reduced loading on the days that have greatest demand.

Three tariffs are applicable according to the day’s of maximum demand. Normal tariff applicable in the summer, a median tariff 1.6 times the summer rate and a high tariff a massive 5.8 times the summer rate.

This gives the thrifty Frenchmen the option of turning of the appliances he thinks are not essential on those days and make the decision to light a fire.

Feb 26, 2013 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered Commenteredmh

Tomo said:

That the number of kWh / calibration can be adjusted remotely, operators can upload new firmware without specific permission from the end user, that software isn't subjected to rigorous third party evaluation - is a recipe for abuse of customers on an epic scale.

This is similar to the situation with petrol pumps. The law used to say that pumps were required to be accurate to within 2% by volume, whereas modern electronic pumps are accurate to 0.5% by voume.

So the operators set all pumps to underdeliver by 1.5% so ensure compliance with the law and minimal delivery to the customer.

Standards have since changed - pumps must now be between between - 0.5% and + 1%.

Feb 26, 2013 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

11:58 AM | steveta_uk

an individual I know had his pumps turned way down and got 24 hours notice of a "Weights 'n Measures" check...

Not that pumps are checked much these days - I don't recall the last time I heard of a check being performed... Trading Standards / Weights and Measures now being subsumed into the jungle of centralised call centres costing more and doing less than ever.

20% overcharging is not unheard of in POTS telecom land.

I bet the utility marketeers are readying a whole new blizzard of tariff marketing initiatives with idiotic themes to go with the new metering plans...

Feb 26, 2013 at 12:25 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Why are they called Smart Meters?

Meters measure.

Switches, switch.

Feb 26, 2013 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Joe Public
Smart meters can switch and measure (and probably do various other things we would rather they didn't do as well).
That means they can multi-task. That makes them smart. Ask any woman!

Feb 26, 2013 at 1:38 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

So, joe public would not necessarily be concerned at having a "Smart Meter" installed.

But ask him if he wants a "Smart Switch", and most will ask - why & what for?

Feb 26, 2013 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public


>But ask him if he wants a "Smart Switch"

Which is why that question won't be posed. A campaign to rename them could be worthwhile, though. 'Switching meter' might raise questions, too.

Feb 26, 2013 at 3:19 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Smart snitch.

Feb 26, 2013 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Mike Jackson - the 'smart meters' on our electric and gas service are purely data-reporting devices, they have no switching capability.

The gas-meter unit, in fact, was just a retrofit with little rotary encoders that fit over the old dial meter needle shafts.

Feb 26, 2013 at 5:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterJEM

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