Smart meters: what's the catch?

Currently I read the electricity and gas meters at the end of each month, fill in an online form, and pay for the actual usage near the middle of the following month. I'm very happy with this arrangement.
My supplier (First Utility) has offered me free "smart meters".
http://www.first-utility.com/home-energy/about-smart-meters
A smart meter takes automatic readings of your energy usage It sends the readings via a mobile communications link to First Utility We make your energy usage data available to view online You receive an accurate, monthly energy bill
Experience tells me that if something is free there must be a downside, but I can't see it. Is there one? Is this a consumer-subsidised scheme like those "free" CFLs?
--
Mike Barnes

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On 28/10/2010 09:47, Mike Barnes wrote:

What if you subsequently want to change suppliers?
When no other suppliers are yet using smart meters they may have you by the 'nads?
Maybe there is a contractual lock-in.
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On Thu, 28 Oct 2010 09:58:49 +0100, Vortex7 wrote:

Presumably a smart meter still has a display so you can check that the data it has sent and appears on the bill is correct. So A.N.Other supplier not using smart meters or on a differnt smart meter system can just carry on using the information from the display.
The only time I've had a meter misread is when they used the optical link thingy... Do smart meters still have to be read manually, by a meter reader and by law, at least every six months?
--
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Dave.




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The FAQ says that the meter has a normal display that you can read yourself if you like. Therefore other suppliers could presumably read it if required.

That's more likely - that in order to make it worthwhile for them they'll want a commitment not to switch for a year or so.
--
Mike Barnes

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On 28/10/10 12:55, Mike Barnes wrote:

We had these installed by E-on a couple of years ago. They worked fine, there's no catch and the reason the companies do it is because they don't have to pay a meter reading company to come round and read your meters, but they still get accurate readings unlike with some of the self-read tariffs around. Basically it's cheaper for them.
There is no lock-in, if you move to another supplier that doesn't use the smart meters then the digits are read from the screen in the normal way.
The interesting one was the gas meter. Of course there is no power supply to a gas meter so I wondered if they just swap out batteries or they rely on a turbine blade in the gas flow to keep a rechargeable topped up.
The gas meter doesn't actually transmit directly back to the company, it transmits locally to the electricity meter (the two have to be paired) and then the electricity meter has a SIM card in it and transmits both readings back to the company over GPRS.
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On Fri, 29 Oct 2010 09:53:28 +0100, funkyoldcortina wrote:

What happens if there is no GPRS signal where your electricity meter is located?
--
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On Fri, 29 Oct 2010 10:09:57 +0100 (BST), "Dave Liquorice"

There's virtually no chance there will be enough signal where my meters are located. Do I get energy for free then? ;-)
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Dave Liquorice wrote:

Tye cut you off, of course.
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From First Utility's FAQ:
Are there any reasons why you may not be able to fit a smart meter in my home?
In most cases smart meters are installed with no problems at all. Occasionally we have found that we are unable to do so due to a number of reasons beyond our control. These include:
* A weak mobile signal (smart meters communicate using mobile technology, therefore a weak signal will prevent the meter sending the reads to our head office)
--
Mike Barnes

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On 29/10/10 10:09, Dave Liquorice wrote:

They check that before they fit the meter.
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There are quite a few scare stories out there about First Utility (FU by name, FU by customer service).
Some relate to mis-billing (over-billing) even when a smart meter is fitted, smart meter readings not filed, over estimates with refusal to accept customer readings as corrections.
Googling for: "First Utility" +"smart meter" +problems gets quite a few, eg: http://www.moneysupermarket.com/community/forums/p/35018/firstutility-158735.aspx
In my personal experience they are fine when all is going well but quickly live up to their initials when things go wrong. Smart meter may be a fine idea but don't expect an easy ride if things start going wrong.
Watch out for their low(ish) unit prices but high standing charges.
--
fred
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Thanks - all useful advice. We're quite high users so the standing charge isn't much of an issue. I've actually been well pleased with the service and prices I've received from FU. I'm thinking that I should leave well alone and certainly look at any terms and conditions such as tariff changes before committing to anything.
--
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I wonder if it draws the power that it needs to run before or after it measures the power that you are consuming.
You might also want to consider the implications of the 'Smart Tariff'.
--
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Indeed I just did that and it works out more expensive.
So much for "free".
Therefore I'll leave things as they are. While investigating the tariffs I discovered that I'm due for a substantial dual fuel rebate quite soon - I'd forgotten about that. People might complain about the service but FU been have very good for me.
--
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On 28/10/10 14:40, Mike Barnes wrote:

When E-on fitted these for us we didn't have to change tariff, there was no lockin, and they were explicit that the power used by the meter is not added to the bill just like with any other electronic meter. They also stated that it consumed less power than the energy needed to spin the disc in the old analogue meters.
For us it was a no-brainer to have them fitted as it meant we never needed to see a meter reader again.
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In theory its a cost saving, they don't have to send meter readers out as often.
Its also an "energy saving measure" and the government wants everyone to have a smart meter so they can see how much energy you are wasting.
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On Thu, 28 Oct 2010 19:38:26 +0100, "dennis@home"

In theory it will cost more in the short term since someone will have to pay for all those smart meters and their installation. But don't worry the utility companies won't lose out and will past the cost onto the consumer :-(

Correct. Everyone will get a smart meter over the next few years.
The thing I am really concerned about is I'll bet there will be little or no security and it will be easy to hack the meter and cut your power off.
All "their" calculations are based on the assumption that no-one knows how much energy they are using and smart meters will magically make them use less.
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On 29/10/10 09:35, Mark wrote:

There is another advantage for the energy companies. The same meters can be used for pre-pay or post-pay billing. For pre-pay billing, the customer can pay on the web, over the phone or at a Paypoint location and the account is automatically topped up a bit like a mobile phone topup account. The credits are added to the meter over the GPRS interface and you can see on the meter how much credit you have remaining. If you switch between pre-pay and post-pay a signal is sent over the air to the meter and it alters its behaviour accordingly.
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you watch too much TV.
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Possibly, but I'm not so sure. We hardly ever see a meter reader, and I assume they'd still send one out every now and then to check for tampering.
--
Mike Barnes

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