Smart meters- yes or no? [UK]
November 21, 2017 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I got a text from my electricity company today, with a date for my smart meter installation, which I haven't requested. Should I just go ahead with the installation or cancel?

I'm slightly irritated by the text, which is probably making me irrational (anxiety about having people in my house means I hate unexpected stuff like this). But I also know a few people who've had problems with smart meters and I've read articles about overbilling (which we cannot afford). I also switch energy companies most years and I'm worried that this will end up with us tied into the current company (our fix ends next Feb, so not long). Pros and cons appreciated.
posted by threetwentytwo to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Well, do you actually have an option to refuse? It seems likely that you don't. Smart meters have certain benefits in that utilities can avoid the costs of meter readers, and can often more rapidly identify problems and outages.

You hear about people who've had problems with smart meters, because people assume the technology is faulty, but people have problems with conventional meters as well. You don't usually hear about those because they're normally considered just something that happens, like lightning hitting a transformer and causing an outage.

Anytime you switch out meters, you want to make sure you capture the final reading of the old meter and the first reading of the new meter. This helps to make sure that you are billed correctly. Take pictures or even a movie of the installer. In the unlikely case that there is a billing dispute, a picture is worth a thousand words.
posted by jgreco at 8:29 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

US here, so some of what I say may not be relevant.

I would go ahead with the installation. Our smart meter install didn't involve anyone coming into the house - in fact, I didn't even know they did it. (Our meter is outside though.) We've had no problems with accuracy. We did move to a smart plan, which offers a small discount over 'normal' rates for most daytime usage, a more significant discount for overnight usage, but up to 30 days per year, the company can (with 24 hours warning) announce a conservation day where the rate is significantly jacked up. The idea is to incentivise unneeded usage on days where demand is expected to peak.

As for tie-in to a particular company, we don't have that with the smart meter either. Again, US experience may be different, but no matter who generates our electricity, it's still delivered and the meter read by the same company.
posted by neilbert at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

UK here: I'd say no. I've had these letters from EDF saying that I'm legally required to have a smart meter, which is a straight-out lie. I've reported them to the regulator and the ombudsman for this. So far I've cancelled three pre-arranged appointments I've not asked for and do not want.

The current generation of smart meters might not be compatible with other providers if you decide to switch supplier.

On the other hand, some suppliers are offering lower tariffs to customers who have their smart meters.
posted by essexjan at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yep, they mostly aren't compatible with other suppliers, so you might find yourself having to get a new meter when you want to switch power companies. I would avoid until the compatibility issues are solved.
posted by henryaj at 9:06 AM on November 21, 2017

I said no enough times to my provider that they stopped asking. So, I have old-style meter still. I really didn't see that I got any benefit from a smart meter to justify the disruption, lock-in, and risk of problems. But I'm old-school - I pay the bill quarterly, by cheque, based on current reading of what I've actually used. That system seems like it works OK, I'm not in a hurry to change it.
posted by rd45 at 9:26 AM on November 21, 2017

I'm also in the UK and using it as a means to get out of paying for an upgrade. My flat still has Economy 7 which doesn't work with me, we also have gas heating. If I wanted to get a normal meter they'd charge me a hefty fee, but they're doing the smart meter for free. Something to consider.
posted by teststrip at 9:49 AM on November 21, 2017

Do you own or rent because changing the meter is technically something you need landlord permission for if the latter. As they are not able to cope with switching between suppliers (whhhhyyyy was that even allowed?), you end up with having to do it all over again if you want to be gouged slightly less by another supplier down the line. My vote is cancel.
posted by halcyonday at 9:58 AM on November 21, 2017

Seems like having the smart meter would keep the meter reader from having to enter your property, which seems like some you'd be particularly interested in.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:01 AM on November 21, 2017

which we cannot afford

Smart meters in the UK are optional. If you are on a marginal income or a tight budget, do not do not do not get a smart meter. When I get my traditional electric bill, I have three months to pay it before they start threatening to cut off the electric and if I am really fecked, can negotiate a payment plan with my electricity provider.

That is not possible, or is almost impossible, with a smart meter. You will get your power cut off, or choose to feed the meter one day instead of feeding yourself.

I live in Ireland and one of my best friends has the job of speaking for utility providers on behalf of smart meters. We discuss them often and even he agrees off the record that they are a terrible choice for the poor and working poor.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:19 AM on November 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

My colleague got a similar text, insisting that he switched to a smart meter. He phoned, and after ages on hold with various call centres, they told him they didn't actually offer it in his building. So I think you should see the text as a kind of phishing, and ignore it.
posted by lettezilla at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2017

In tests smart meters have produced readings up to 583pc higher than the actual energy used.
So called "green" devices such as energy saving light bulbs, heaters, LED bulbs and dimmers change the shape of electric currents which can result in a distorted reading. The greatest inaccuracies were seen when dimmers combined with energy saving light bulbs and LED bulbs were connected to the system.

It may be worth switching suppliers as a way to avoid this.
posted by Lanark at 10:33 AM on November 21, 2017

Smart meters are not mandatory, despite what some suppliers might tell you. Some properties just can't have them, e.g. where is no mobile network available for it to 'phone home'.

You won't be locked in to the current supplier. However, the current generation of smart meters are unable to report meter readings after you switch, so it effectively becomes a dumb meter, with a wifi connected display showing your current usage (- inaccurately, as it won't know what your new supplier's tariff is). However, if you're offered one of the new "SMETS 2" meters then it should be compatible with all suppliers and do its own meter readings.

You don't necessarily need your landlord's consent. A meter doesn't belong to the landlord, and your contract is between you and your supplier, not the landlord. However, some tenancy agreements contain terms which would make changing the type of meter a breach of the tenancy. Check your agreement. In particular, some landlords may be unhappy if you replace a credit meter with prepay.
posted by wilko at 10:40 AM on November 21, 2017

(UK) I'm quite happy to have one - particularly having had issues with mis-billing in the past. That said, I'm not getting one put in until it can change provider with me - it seems a complete waste of time, given I change most years.
posted by prentiz at 10:40 AM on November 21, 2017

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