The government in its desperation to put on a public show that it is doing something about rising electricity costs, and to head off a potentially disastrous energy shortfall in the coming years, has introduced a ‘smart’ metering system. Such meters can give online readings of consumption and inform the home owner of areas where they might make energy efficiencies. Except that experience elsewhere has shown that such benefits of this £11billion project are largely illusory:
“…trials show consumers with smart meters save far less energy than predicted; five countries considering such a plan have decided it would cost more money than it saves; the meters do not work in a third of British homes, including high-rise flats, basements and those in rural areas: hackers and cyber-terrorists could break into the system causing chaos in the national grid, or carry out large-scale fraud by fiddling bills…”
The meters are said to be needed because of the push to intermittent renewable power sources which impose unpredictable fluctuations in electricity supply, necessitating some means of discouraging consumption when the renewables fail to deliver. The conventional electricity power reserve of about 11% has been run down in recent years to 5%, and will fall to just 2%, as a consequence of plans for meeting strict EU carbon targets. It is hoped that smart meters will save the government and DECC the embarrassment of energy blackouts if we get the same kind of cold winters which occurred from 2010 to 2013. In 2013 the UK came close to running out of gas at the end of the winter, but no extra gas storage has been put in place. Thus in future winters, not only is there a chance of running out of gas again, but a distinct possibility of electricity supply interruptions as well.
Even the EU, an ardent supporter of ‘green’ measures has its doubts about smart meters:
“… an early study of 743 Dutch households with the meters found they only used 0.9 per cent less gas and 0.6 per cent less electricity than those with old meters…
The European Commission itself has pointed out that of the 19 EU countries that have carried out an analysis of the likely costs and benefits, five have concluded that electric smart meters will lose money and three are not introducing the scheme. For gas smart meters, 12 of the 19 countries ended up with ‘negative’ results.”
The government hopes to benefit from smart meters as a fig leaf for its failed energy policies. The power companies benefit because such remotely read meters mean that they do not need to employ people to be sent out to read your meters, and with the extra data they can now impose even more confusing and opaque tariff schemes. The other beneficiary is Bob Geldof, who has been paid an undisclosed amount to front the campaign to encourage smart meter uptake. The people who fund all of this grand scheme are of course the household bill payers.
The remote reading capability also undesirably puts the metering at risk from Wireless or Internet hacking. If the scheme goes ahead in future with the ability to control households’ electricity consumption, we may have the not so far fetched scenario of bugs or viruses in the meters inadvertently depriving hundreds of thousands of consumers of an electrical connection.
It is an indicator of the government’s desperate position on energy that they have felt it necessary to force smart meters on the UK’s households, and to believe that an eighties and nineties former icon is the best person to persuade us that we have to part with £200 for no real savings. The UK’s energy supplies have become a playground for green experimentation. Past experience of government attempts at picking technology solutions which subsequently fail, such as the £12billion NHS IT patient files system, do not give us any hope that smart meters will be any improvement on that very dismal record.
Why not just put all of that political will into exploiting the potentially huge reserves of gas right under our feet, instead of embarking on showy but peripheral feel good schemes? Christopher Hiew in a recent UKIPDaily article might be right in suggesting that fracking is by far the better way forward.