This is tech and the Telegraph so anyone know the true story?

Last night consumer experts described the smart meter roll-out as a “cock up” while sources at major energy firms admitted the cost was “spiralling” despite customers receiving “sub-par experiences”.

Until now the Government had presumed that the problem of “first generation” meters going dumb would be fixed as they could easily be connected to the system through simple computer programming.

But now it has emerged that many are incapable of being adapted to the central system, meaning they will have to be replaced.

It has also emerged that an unknown quantity of other meters may require expensive engineer visits to be brought onto the system.

To avert a potential multi-billion pound blow the operator behind the scheme is mulling various IT solutions. But even a programming overhaul would come at a cost of £500m, according to a consultation paper seen by the Daily Telegraph.

Meters not connected to the system “go dumb” when consumers switch energy suppliers to get a better deal, meaning they are no better than traditional meters as customers have to rely on estimated bills.

Did they really install millions of dumb smart meters?

21 thoughts on “This is tech and the Telegraph so anyone know the true story?”

  1. The Register covers smart meters fairly regularly. Here’s an example of how just one of the companies involved wants £7m to manually upgrade all the smart meters they’ve installed.
    Given that there are several companies operating in this space, a total bill of £500m sounds plausible.

    Why has it happened? My best guess is twofold: first, that the people managing the project don’t have enough technical knowledge to ask the right questions of those below them. Second, nobody checks anybody’s homework: company A is hired to write the technical specs, companies B and C are then told to build smart meters which implement the spec; but nobody has verified that the spec actually works. We only find out when the things are installed.

    The French had one company responsible for both spec and implementation, which meant they could have a feedback loop between spec-writers, meter-builders, and installers. The British method is fragmented so there’s no feedback.

    As I say, this is all just my best guess. But I’ve seen it happen on plenty of smaller projects.

  2. From a technical blog:
    On Saturday, 29 April 2017 15:07:15 UTC+1, Andrew Gabriel wrote:
    In article , Scott writes:
    On Sat, 29 Apr 2017 14:24:35 +0100 (GMT+01:00), jim wrote:
    [email protected] (Andrew Gabriel) Wrote in message:
    All existing Smart meters will need to be replaced (6M) and all meters installed this year will need to be replaced (probably another 10M).
    Existing meters are SMETs 1. The country-wide network for smart meters (which went live in November) is SMETs 2. The original aim was that SMETs 1 meters would be upgradable, but GCHQ wouldn’t accept the security in the original SMETs 2 as good enough to prevent hacking smart meters and switching off the supply of millions of users. (I would presume all the SMETs 1 meters are vulnerable to this too, and could be even moreso that the original SMETs 2 spec.) This redesign has resulted in a significant upgrade of the SMETs 2 standard and increase in internal complexity, and it is now extremely unlikely any SMETs 1 meters can be upgraded.

    Although the SMETs 2 network is now live, it’s only being used for interoperability testing of products under development – there are no SMETs 2 meters available yet, and probably won’t be this year. At current rollout rate, it’s estimated there will be 16M SMETs 1 meters installed by the time SMETs 2 meters start becoming available.

    The cost of replacing all the SMETs 1 meters completely wipes out the predicted savings from smart metering (and most experts never believed the savings figures in the first place).

    [Radio 4 Money Programme]

    This doesn’t quite make sense. I had a call from my supplier (Scottish Power) on Thursday wanting to install a Smart meter. I said I already have a Smart meter, installed in 2012. They said it needs to be replaced. Are you saying thay are proposing to install an SMETs 1 meter as SMETs2 is not available yet?

    I’m gussing, but a smart meter from 2012 might not even be SMETs 1. It might be that it’s something which won’t work with some upgrade to their billing system.
    I asked if it was voluntary or if they were using statutory powers of entry. When told it was voluntary, I declined the offer. The chap was a bit persistent but not persuasive.
    At the moment, smart meters are voluntary. They were to be compulsory originally, but that was dropped. However, the industry still needs to get a large number installed by 2020, and they’re miles behind the target set by government.
    This is why they are installing meters which won’t work when you change supplier – they don’t have any other type available at the moment, and to meet their target, they don’t have the option to stop installing new ones.
    Giant waste of money, which you are paying for in higher fuel bills.

    It sounds like they’ve cocked up at nearly every point. The meters don’t meter load correctly, they don’t have a proper user display, they’re not all compatible with all suppliers, they failed security clearance, they offer no significant advantage to anyone except remote disconnection, and an idiotic political program means that they’ve got to keep installing them regardless. The latter part is especially stupid.

    In a more sensible world, politicians would not have leaned on suppliers, so they would not be rolled out fast & widely until they were more sorted out, and until suppliers regarded it as worth their while to do costwise. So often I wish politicians would b off and leave people who know what they’re doing to continue being relatively sensible.

    Quote “They’ll give you more control over your energy use,”

    “help you understand your bills”

    “and allow you to see what the energy you use is costing you.

    “Smart meters will also benefit Britain as a whole.”

    Yet another area where we’d be better off without politician interference.


  3. Well we are talking about a government program in Blighty, the same nation that ordered upgrade-able aircraft carriers without ensuring they are actually upgrade-able. It wouldn’t shock me if you’ve wasted enough money to fully fund NHS for a decade on piss-poor smart-meters.

  4. The whole bloody idea was stupid. Typical gov cock up. And they think they can make hs2 work. Bonkers.

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    Andrew M,

    “Why has it happened? My best guess is twofold: first, that the people managing the project don’t have enough technical knowledge to ask the right questions of those below them. Second, nobody checks anybody’s homework: company A is hired to write the technical specs, companies B and C are then told to build smart meters which implement the spec; but nobody has verified that the spec actually works. We only find out when the things are installed.”

    Probably right, but by that stage it never have had a chance. The preceding steps will have been:

    Osborne thinks smart meters are a good political story and needs infrastructure projects during recession so that Osborne can have photo ops wearing yellow hat.

    Treasury allocates a budget and timescale for completion based on the political cycle.

    Treasury/relevant ministry hires favourite consultancy full of shiny new PhDs and MBAs who write massive complex spread sheet and produce large PowerPoint presentation that concludes, lo and behold, that it can be done within the Treasury’s budget and timescale.

    Relevant ministry starts industry consultation. Industry says WTF, are you mad, it will take x times more and take at least z years longer. Industry told to wind neck in or else…

    Relevant ministry forms a project team: Project leader likely to be on a fast track career and needs an infrastructure project on their CV and has been working on fisheries protection at DEFRA. (They will have moved on before it finishes so it won’t need to say whether it was successful or not). Rest of team will be plucked from around the civil service. Perhaps one has just finished working on the Remembrance Day ceremonies. You get the picture.

    A project manager with PRINCE 2 will be found (see my comments to BiW on PMs a couple of days ago).

    Finally they will hire someone with some industry experience who will look at what they’ve been doing and say, WTF, you’ve no chance, but the team will be told to get on with it by senior civil servants who have their fingers in their earls singing la la la la I’m not listening because they will have moved on by the time its obvious to everyone that the original proposals were madness.

  6. Good. Glad to hear of the cock-up.

    Smart meters are a potential tool of oppression and control–since they can cut your house off without including anyone else.

    They are also essential to prolonging the Green-freak renewable circus. They won’t save it as it will black-out and collapse in the end but smart meters will prolong the agony.

    It is a shame folk can’t think past a few quid off their already exorbitant energy bills in the short term. But if people had a lot of brains and gumption then evil would have no chance.

  7. Ecksy,

    Evil like corn ethanol supporters or the currently irrelevant supporters of other stupid ideas.

    Sometimes it’s hard to not Godwin a threat. Especially when enough food for 3+ billion is being used to increase CO2 emissions in the name of CO2 emissions reductions.

    Yes, I am on still on a murdalate corn ethanol kick again. Once that is done we can bomb Drax so we stop cutting down perfectly good forests for wood pellets.

  8. I assumed it signalled over the power line in some smartarse way but I just checked and it’s only IoT over Zigbee. It’s also an EU initiative, btw. Just thought I’d mention that.

  9. In reply to Mr Ecks.

    “It is a shame folk can’t think past a few quid off their already exorbitant energy bills in the short term. But if people had a lot of brains and gumption then evil would have no chance.”

    There will be more than a couple of quid going ON the bills if these are rolled our fully, someone has to pay for them and it ain’t going to be the suppliers or the government.

    And the idea that they will save money for the consumer is a load of bollocks. People will continue to boil the kettle and watch the telly box the same way they always have. Now in an industrial setting, were you have full control of whats happening then yes you can save and you can save a lot. And I have the spreadsheets of 25 years worth of energy management to prove it. But in a domestic setting? Nahhh never, its only to cut the costs of reading the meters and managing defaulting client accounts.

  10. Had a smart meter installed just over a year ago.
    Yes it allows me to see useage, allows me to estimate my bill before it becomes payable. And my electricity useage and gas useage have gone down a little.
    Had Hive installed earlier this year – that has made the biggest difference. Cut my gas bill between January and April by over £70 a month.

  11. Martin,

    I know exchange rates have dropped but £70 is still close to $100. That is roughly 50% of my maximum gas bills and 150% of my maximum electric bill. If we are talking nominal values over the course of a full year I’d pay roughly -$50/mo, outside of taxes, for my home energy usage.

    In my case, assuming I saw that type of result, bring on smart meters any day. £100 in extra taxes is worth it if I save £120. Comparative advantage rules the day.

  12. they offer no significant advantage to anyone except remote disconnection

    That’s what they’re there for. The only way to make renewable power ‘work’ is to be able to cut people off at will when there’s no power coming out.

    Of course, that just means everyone will install a generator for the times when the power isn’t available, so fossil fuel usage will rise even higher as power is generated locally with low efficiency rather than in high-efficiency, centralized turbines.

    Still, at least the ‘smart meters’ haven’t been setting houses on fire, like the ones the power company installed over here.

  13. I look forward to the day when, if one of your neighbours has an all night house party, you slip a few quid to your local Russian hacker for a good night’s sleep.

    I have no inside knowledge I’m afraid, I just googled it in response to Chem Eng’s reference to a faraday cage. Wireless? Really? Seems so.

  14. We’ve got a simple wireless display unit that shows useage but can’t be controlled​ remotely as far as I know.

    If there’s any suggestion​ of an outside body controlling my house’s energy I’ll make sure it is effectively disabled, as my job is in high tech IT 🙂

  15. @ Firefoxx
    A basic function of these meters, both gas and lecky, is the remote disconnect. YES they CAN remotely turn you off – that’s a key part of the spec.
    As above, the PRIMARY function is what is known in the business as “demand management” – the rest is all marketing bollox. With the rise of intermittent and non-dispatchable generation (ie windmills that turn off if there isn’t enough, or too much, wind) coupled with a decline in backup capacity – there is a concern that we no longer have enough real capacity to meet peek demands. When that happens, the first stage is to drop the grid voltage a bit – that makes many loads reduce in power* and gives them a % point or two drop in demand.
    Beyond that, they need to start turning off loads – and that means contacting industrial customers who get a discount on their bills if they will accept an interruptible supply agreement. The grid operator will contact them and tell them to reduce demand – which may mean shutting down some production, or office aircon, or … The industrial users get paid for this as well – both the discount and the activation payments go onto our bills.
    And if that doesn’t work, then they need to turn people off – and that’s where the remote disconnect comes in. Instead of the “large block” switchoffs used in the 70s, they can now do it house by house. *IN THEORY* vulnerable users can be registered so they don’t get cut off, do we trust the systems to get that right ?

    The other use for the remote disconnect is to make it easier to disconnect people for not paying the bills. Before, (AIUI) they had to get a court order, and send someone round to your house to pull the main fuse. Now, in theory they still need a court order, but disconnecting you is a click on a computer screen – nothing to go wrong there then !

    The only benefit I can see of these meters is that they can be easily, and remotely, switched between pre-pay and credit modes. That, in theory again, makes it cheaper to have a pre-pay meter “replaced” with a regular meter – we all believe that the suppliers will pass on the savings don’t we ?
    Flip side is that they can also remotely flip it the other way – so it’s effectively zero cost for the supplier to switch you to pre-pay as they no longer have to visit your premises to replace the meter. Of course we believe they won’t be at all trigger happy to do that to people.

    * That’s complicated. Resistive loads such as heaters and incandescent lamps will reduce power. But that is short lived in the case of thermostatically controlled heating – the kettle will take a it longer to boil, the immersion heater will be one for a slightly higher duty cycle, … But in the short term (measured over minutes, not hours), it’s one means of managing demand.

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