Smart meter technology

Smart meters turning dumb for majority of users when switching energy supplier

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Research from consumer group Which? has shown that more than half of people are finding their smart meters turn 'dumb' when they switch supplier.

The first generation of domestic energy-management smart meter devices have suffered from a number of technical issues, including weak mobile network signals and interoperability problems.

The Government wants to roll out 53 million such devices across the country by next year, but in November 2018 Which? said that installations would need to triple in order to make that happen.

The consumer watchdog group found that almost six in 10 of those surveyed (58 per cent) found that either their smart meter, their in-home display, or both stopped working when they moved to a new energy company.

More than 13.5 million smart meters have been installed in the UK and a quarter of homes have had one of the devices fitted.

The vast majority of these are first-generation SMETS1 meters, while over 300,000 more advanced second-generation SMETS2 devices have also been installed.

First-generation smart meters can go ‘dumb’ when a customer switches, meaning that the device stops sending automatic meter readings or the in-home display showing energy usage in pounds and pence stops working properly.

In the survey of energy customers who have tried to change supplier after getting a smart meter, only two in five people (42 per cent) said they were able to switch without any problems.

A third of people (32 per cent) who switched after getting a smart meter said their new supplier replaced their smart meter.

However, Which? said it had received numerous reports of customers whose replacement device also stopped working.

Energy customers have been advised for years that the most effective way to ensure they are on the best deal for their gas and electricity supply is to check regularly and switch if appropriate.

Other customers had some positive things to say about smart meters. More than seven in 10 of those with a smart meter rated their supplier good or excellent at helping them understand and reduce their energy use, compared with just over three in five (63 per cent) of those without smart meters.

Which? chief customer officer Sarah Threadgould said: “Consumers need reassurance that the smart meter roll-out will bring greater convenience and a fairer energy market - not just hassle and soaring costs funded by their bills.

“The Government needs to outline clear solutions for millions of people stuck with smart meters that risk cutting them out of the benefits of being able to monitor their energy use and use this information to switch to a better deal.

“For now, our advice is for energy customers with a first-generation meter not to be discouraged from switching, as they could still save money, despite the risk of their meter going ‘dumb’.”

Robert Cheesewright of Smart Energy GB, the national campaign for the smart meter roll-out, said: “We share the frustrations of consumers when it comes to losing their smart service, but we are well on the way to solving those issues.

“The first-generation end date is just a week away (15 March 2019) and over half a million second-generation meters have been installed, putting us a step nearer to a greener and more affordable energy system.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokeswoman said: “The upgrade to the national smart metering network to support the enrolment of first-generation smart meters has started and will be completed by the end of 2020 to ensure all devices stay smart when switching.

“Around 90 per cent of smart meters installed continue to operate in smart mode and those which have temporarily lost smart functionality will be prioritised for enrolment into the network.”

Which? surveyed 2,910 members of the public who have smart meters online in September 2018. At the time, Which? believed it was unlikely that energy firms would meet their 2020 smart meter rollout.

In 2017, E&T looked in detail at the UK’s proposed smart meter programme and the technical challenges that beset an ambitious nationwide rollout.

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