The costly UK rollout of smart meters to monitor electricity and gas use is providing a model for the rest of Europe to avoid amid questions about their ability to cut consumption and the spiralling cost of installation.
Smart meters are deterring residents from getting better energy deals by switching to a new electricity or gas supplier, according to a consumer survey.
More than half of the households with the devices, which give real-time data on how much gas and electricity is being used and how much it costs, are estimated to be put off getting a new contract with another company because they fear it would stop working or go “dumb”.
A “dumb” meter might only show power consumption in kilowatt-hours used without giving a monetary breakdown, which is apparently more valuable to users.
Research by uSwitch said 52 per cent of residents with smart meters would not change supplier. And about 10 per cent of consumers who did sign up for a better deal elsewhere have found their meter did not work with the new supplier.
More than 11 million smart meters have been installed in the UK as part of an upgrade programme ordered by Britain’s centralised government in 2008.
Around 2,000 people were questioned with about 65 per cent saying they did not know smart meters could go “dumb” if they changed supplier, with 18 per cent saying they did not want a meter if it would not work if they did move suppliers.
The meters automatically send readings to suppliers as often as every 30 minutes and it is feared they can be used to boost tariffs in times of high demand.
The price-compare website said it found 54 per cent of respondents would be “angry” if their smart meter did not work with a different supplier.
Some UK users have complained that because the meters use mobile signals they do not work if the reception is weak.
Around 11 million smart meters have been fitted across the country, with the government aiming to have 53 million installed by 2020. Improved second-generation meters were set to be introduced in 2014, but only about 80 are reportedly in use.
Richard Neudegg of uSwitch said: “It’s encouraging that households with smart meters are making changes to use less energy. But those benefits are in danger of being squandered by the fact that smart meters can go dumb if consumers want to switch energy supplier.
“Two-thirds of energy customers aren’t even aware of this problem, which suggests that communication about smart meters has not been good enough, while more than half of energy customers with a smart meter say it would put them off switching.
“We’ve seen no evidence so far of the promised ‘over-the-air upgrade’ to first-generation smart meters to resolve this issue, nor of the roll-out of second-generation meters which don’t suffer from this glitch.
“These issues need to be resolved. Smart meters must not end up sticking customers on a tariff or with a supplier that isn’t good value. Likewise, industry and government must work to avoid 11 million meters needing to be ripped off the walls and replaced again.”
Smart meters are costly to install. Picture credit: Energy Reporters