UK Utilities Deny Lobbying Against Smart Meters

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British Gas, npower and others say they have nothing against their customers using smart meters to cut their bills

Experts in the field of sustainability are almost unanimous when it comes to the secret of any truly successful push for efficiency – getting the right metrics.

But according to accusations doing the rounds this week, not everyone is entirely on board when it comes to consumer and businesses getting accurate information on energy usage provided by smart meters which the government has mandated should be installed in every home in the UK by 2020.

According to a report in the Times, the Local Government Association has accused a coalition of power companies of lobbying the government to block the inclusion of wireless display units in the smart meter scheme. The LGA statement more or less accuses the Energy Retail Association of trying to snuff out the technology as it doesn’t want its customers to have a truly accurate picture of the energy they are using and difficult questions over pricing which might arise as a result.

“The plan to put a smart meter in every home is good but unless it is accompanied by an in-home energy display, for consumers, it is virtually worthless. What you can see, you can save. Why not give people all the information so they can make better choices about how much energy they use?”, Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA told The Times.

Understandably in a world where corporate social responsibility rules and any company with any nous is keen to be seen as green, the members of the Energy Retail Association – who include British Gas, npower and EDF – are vigorously denying any suggestion they might not want their customers better informed.

In a letter responding to The Times, posted on the ERA website – an unusual move as companies responding to bad press don’t generally shout out the news so publicly – the head of the organisation Garry Felgate says his members aren’t opposed to providing customers with more information but don’t like the idea mandated technology.

“It is very misleading to say that the Energy Retail Association is lobbying Government to prevent energy customers from receiving digital displays, as your article implies (Energy Retail Association in bid to block bill-cutting device (online, 19 August). Energy suppliers are not against display devices. They are against mandating them for all households,” he said.

As a former IBM employee, Felgate presumably has some expertise in technology, and has also served time at the Carbon Trust and maintains that the ERA simply wants customers to be able to choose how they check their energy usage. “The ERA and its members firmly believe that energy companies should not be restricted to providing a ‘one size fits all’ device over the next 12 years and should be allowed to offer customers precisely the kind of display they would find most useful. For example, this could be through a mobile phone, a digital TV page, or your PC.”

Earlier this year the government voiced a commitment to roll out smart meters to every household in the UK by 2020. In preparation for the roll-out, the government launched a consultation in May on what information should be available via the meters aimed at consumers which closes this month. The government already issued a consultation aimed at small businesses in July this year.

But despite the potential benefits of smart meters and smart grids – some experts have raised issues around the security of the technology. In March this year, researchers from US security consultancy IOActive created a worm that could spread from one smart metering device to another thanks to the wireless technology that is used to connect them, according to reports.


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