According to a report in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, the UK government is drawing up plans to allow people to reject smart meters. Previously the five-year implementation plan, due to start in 2014, did not allow for any such individual requests.
It’s not exactly clear what’s been said. Some news outlets are reporting that energy minister Charles Hendry, said “We believe people will benefit from having smart meters. But we will not make them obligatory”, but I don’t know where this comment came from. Hendry did write a letter to the Daily Mail on January 20th (it seems that that newspaper is now an official communications channel for UK government) which referred to the Public Accounts Committee’s reservations about the roll out and also said that ‘consumer protection is at the core of the programme and we’ve been consulting consumer groups over the past year’.
Anyway, in response to the coverage Mark England, CEO at smart grid and metering technology company Sentec, made the following comment:
“The news that smart meters will no longer be compulsory shows that more work is needed to educate consumers about the benefits they can deliver. Although the concept of half-hourly data may seem to threaten privacy, in reality this granularity is needed to enable smart decisions, for example time-shifting certain activities to reduce bills or to manage capacity on transmission and distribution networks. It certainly won’t be possible to effectively compare different tariffs and suppliers without this detailed data. As prices rise, so too will the importance of smart meters and the behaviour change they can inspire. Consumers who opt out may lose the opportunity to benefit from favourable tariffs and other incentives from energy suppliers, which will become more important to households as energy bills increase.”
Whilst I agree with his comments, the problem is that much of these benefits won’t really be available until we have smart grids. And whilst in the UK we have a fixed programme for meter introduction, smart grids are still a long way off. So at the moment there are limited benefits to a costly plan to introduce meters that some see as detrimental to health and privacy.
But spare a thought for the companies that have been working hard to put together plans for the ICT infrastructure to support the UK-wide implementation. They are just approaching the tender phase but now must be wondering just how many meters they will actually be supporting.