Monday, 25 July 2016

Are smart meters really smart?

My meter is dumb - and I like it that way
Interesting news that British Gas is finally offering the first real benefit to the consumer of having a smart meter - 9 to 5 free electricity on either Saturday or Sunday to people on the appropriate plan. And that's great, possibly - but it also needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

I've always been a touch suspicious of the way smart meters are being sold. We have been told that they enable consumers to be more aware of their electricity use, and hence to save money. But I'm not really not convinced that seeing that your kettle uses more electricity when it's boiling water than when it's off is really a great surprise to anyone - even if we can actually see the smart meter while boiling the kettle, which often won't be the case.

In practice, what these meters are primarily about is enabling the energy supply companies to get more of a real time monitoring of individual usage, which in principle could benefit the consumer, but is primarily aimed at being able to extract more cash.

In principle, the British Gas 'all you can eat for free' on a weekend day of your choice 9 to 5 (odd times for the weekend) is a clear benefit to the owner (though it hardly encourages good green thinking - 'Hey let's use as much energy as we can today, it's free!'). And you certainly would save money, estimated to average £60 a year, compared with being on the same tariff without it. However, bear in mind that most households can save between £200 and £300 a year by switching supplier - so it looks suspiciously like offering lollipops to tie the consumer into paying more.

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