Are smart meters making bills better or worse?

Today’s blog is is something that I’ve started to do some research on since moving into my new home. Sure, it might not be the most exciting subject but it can make a huge difference to the cost of energy bills so the thrifty gal in me just can’t help but share this information with you all. One of the main ideas behind the roll out of smart meters was that they would help make bills better by avoiding overcharging due to estimated bills. And, while the government has stepped back from making it compulsory to have one, many customers are still opting to have the new technology installed.  But is it making the situation better or worse?

Confusing tech with tech

According to one newspaper report, some smart meters have been giving readings seven times higher than the actual amount of electricity used. The reason appears to be that the meters were being ‘confused’ by energy saving lighting. Modern LED bulbs can be hard for some of the smart meters to measure and using dimmers with them seems to make the situation worse.  This has led to people receiving massively inflated bills and it appears to ruin the benefit of having smart meters (and energy-saving bulbs!) in the first place. The government said that smart meter technology would stop overestimated bills and aims to have them installed in all homes by 2020,  but researchers have found some cases where the bills are 582% higher than they should be.

Crazy figures

The problem comes after SSE’s smart meters had a glitch that recorded electricity and gas use at three million percent the actual use amount – with one customer showing a meter that said he had used enough power to keep a normal home run for 53 years! Citizen’s Advice has said that complaints about smart meters have almost trebled in the last three years, although part of this is obviously due to the increasing number of these devices active in people’s homes. The early tests on devices made between 2004-2014 found that five out of nine meters were reading higher figures than was correct, while two of them produced a figure that was actually 30% lower than it should be. So not all that accurate, eh?

Dealing with the problem

Of course, I don’t want to get scarily high bills so I’ve delved further into the issue. The energy body BEAMA said they were aware that meters made between specific dates and containing one of two types of sensors could sometimes give lower meter readings. But the same body claim it was the first time they had heard of higher readings. They also added that none of the current meters being installed uses the two components, known as Rogowski coils or Hall Effect sensors, so people who are only now switching to smart meters (like me, if I decide to get one) shouldn’t experience the problem.

Overcharging issues

Even though the massive bills seem shocking, overcharging has long been a problem in the energy industry anyway. I’ve had bills for my economy 7 system where the day and night rates were reversed – that was a shock, I can tell you! These kinds of problems were hoped to be a thing of the past once the smart meter roll out is complete yet, as recently as last month, Scottish Power made a mistake by sending a debt recovery team to an elderly couple’s home to chase a debt for a property they have never lived in. When they contacted Scottish Power customer services and got the address of the property in question, they knew it wasn’t theirs – they had lived at their current address since 1970. Scottish Power have since contacted the couple and offered £100 to apologise for the mess, admitting the letter was for someone else.The aim of smart meters is to avoid situations like this where people receive incorrect or estimated bills or pay more than they should. It is also designed to help us to keep better track of our energy spending and to highlight devices that use more power than others so that we can switch them off or change the tech we are using.  But if there is a fault with existing smart meters, then the overcharging problem may not be as much of a thing of the past as energy companies had hoped.

I’m still undecided – and I’ve got to consider having a water meter too, so that’ll be another topic I’ll be looking into very soon. Let me know if you have a smart meter and how you’re getting on with it by leaving me a comment below – hearing about your experiences will be really interesting and helpful as I navigate the bill-paying minefield!

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Cassie is a freelance writer with a Masters degree in Lifestyle Promotion Studies and is trained in Personal Money Management. She loves to ‘get the look for less’ so regularly shares thrifty-living advice, DIY interior design ideas and low-cost recipes on her blog.

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