Letters to the editor: volume 17, issue 2
Image credit: Patrick Tomasso/Unsplash
In the March 2022 issue of E&T, readers discuss the pitfalls of smart meters, the need to think carefully when installing a home electric vehicle charging point, and more.
Smart meters need reliable power
A friend recently lost domestic heating, with a fault code showing on the boiler. The repair person visited, and found that the gas supply itself was the issue. The smart meter had shut down, because it depends on an internal battery. The solution requires the energy provider to schedule a complete replacement of the meter.
That would seem reasonable enough, if the devices can achieve the hoped-for ten-year lifetime from their cells, although awkward and wasteful. However, this is the third such meter my friend has had fitted in three years. I imagine this is not an isolated case. That’s a lot of potential WEEE waste.
There would seem to be some obvious design flaws here that could be addressed: A domestic remote energy monitor could warn the consumer of an impending meter battery-low condition. The battery – presumably a 10-year small lithium cell – could be made user-replaceable, ideally of a universal type. An option for powering the gas meter from the electricity supply, which is often in an adjacent panel on the wall, could be considered. The power draw would be tiny, and possibly use wireless coupling if direct connection is considered a hazard.
Alternatively, the meter could have an option for an external single-use battery to permit continued operation in extremis. A set of terminals for a PP3 or 2xAA could suffice.
Meter choice is made by the energy supplier, not directly by the consumer. Clear information on the better and worse meter options could be made available to the public, so they can ask when choosing a supplier. Timely advice and solutions could prevent vulnerable people suffering loss of heating.
Get the timing right for EV charging
I was interested in the letter from Brian Fisher (February 2022) regarding home electric vehicle charging points. While I have not fallen foul of the local DNO rules (yet), we have always had to be very careful of total electrical load. Our property only has a 60A fuse. The charger I had installed does have the feature of monitoring the total house load and limits this to the 60A by cutting back the car charger current if the total load looks like exceeding 60A. The charger is programmed to charge only during the off-peak period.
If we get up (we are early risers) and are showering and the kettle is on for early morning cuppas the car could still be charging and this could exceed 60A. To reduce this risk I have programmed the charger to a maximum current of 20A. This should allow a seven-hour off-peak time slot to provide up to the battery capacity of 32kWh.
I have charged up the car, a Mini Electric, 29 times with no problems. But twice it did not charge and the car reported an error message: ‘Failed to charge, contact your service provider.’ I did wonder which service provider – the car or the charge point?
I contacted both and both checked out that their part of the process was OK. After the failure-to-charge incidents, we just recharged the following night and all was well. I think I agree with Brian Fisher in that both the charger and the car seem to have features that suggest ‘I am in charge here!’ and so there is every possibility of a clash of settings if care is not taken.
I have programmed the car to commence charging over the off-peak period and then the charger is given a time slot inset from this and all seems to work OK, though the reason for the two failures to charge is still not clear. It did lead me to check just how accurate the timings are on the property energy meter, and the times are in error by around three minutes; also, how accurate the clock is in the car and in the charger itself. Three clocks are involved so opportunity for maladjustment here – so I have inset by around 15 minutes to be safe.
I have carefully logged mileage/fuelling on the family car (a petrol UP!) over eight years. This suggested only about five journeys a year exceed 80 miles round-trip. All other trips shorter than that are now done with the Mini and as a result the UP! fuel consumption has dramatically improved.
Electric car chargers with their attendant apps can make the process look simple and straightforward, with just a few taps on a touchscreen. But behind the apparent simplicity both the car and the charger are very complex electronic systems offering plenty of opportunity for maladjustment.
Right advice at the right time
I’m the owner of an electric vehicle charging services business and read with interest the letter from Brian Fisher about the challenges he has been facing with installing an EV charger at home. His idea to publish a short pamphlet by the IET is a good one. His points are valid and some guidance on this would be helpful to the many others who will be looking at doing the same thing very soon.
My business only stocks and installs a small range of chargers that cover the different requirements our customers face. For example, the load-balancing functionality that Brian requires is available with other solutions, so if that was an important requirement for him we would not have offered him the solution he opted for. It’s all down to getting the right kind of advice at the right time.
In my experience putting in EV chargers is no different to any other project: get the requirements right, get the job right.
Andrew Atkinson CEng MIET
Are smart meters a waste of £11bn?
The primary purpose of the UK smart meter programme is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Data I have collected from publicly available government sources suggests this is not happening.
There was a marked downward trend in gas consumption between 2006 and 2016, due mainly to the widespread installation of combi and condensing gas boilers plus the government-sponsored loft-insulation programme. In my personal experience, loft insulation and a condensing boiler gave rise to average annual gas useage reductions of 7.3 per cent and 17.4 per cent, respectively. The rising trend since 2015 coincides with the commencement of the smart meter programme, which is most unfortunate. It is unlikely that immigration could account for the upswing because net immigration to the UK has averaged about 200,000 annually since 2005.
Annual domestic electricity consumption is about one-third of annual gas consumption. The widespread adoption of more efficient domestic electrical appliances will help keep consumption down. These automatic energy savings will certainly outweigh any householder interventions. A large proportion of domestic electricity is generated by nuclear, wind and combined-cycle gas turbines. This means that the resulting carbon dioxide emissions per GWh of electricity are much less than per GWh of domestic gas useage. Notwithstanding this inconvenient fact, most smart meter propaganda concentrates on potential savings in electricity consumption.
An additional future benefit claimed for smart meters is ‘time of day pricing’. Householders will inevitably be more prodigal in the use of energy if it is known to be cheaper. This means that more energy will be used with a corresponding increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
My conclusion – the smart meter programme, which will cost at least £11bn, is ill thought out and a complete waste of money.
JR Ball MIET
We can get status if we really want it
The status of engineers in the UK has improved little if at all in my over four-decade career.
There are numerous other countries around the world that have achieved recognition, we can if we want to. We must make slow and positive change, phase it in, don’t eat the elephant in one sitting. We could start by choosing a forward date and make it illegal from then to use the term engineer or any variance unless professionally registered. The statement on the Engineering Council website saying it’s totally impractical is quite frankly nonsense. The Engineering Council must act on our behalf and continue to lobby Parliament and not give up until we achieve our goal.
In addition, institutions should lobby businesses to ensure only registered engineers use the title. Only when this is achieved will engineers achieve their rightful status.
Malcolm Joynson CEng FIET
Roger Todd (‘Reverse Charges’, Letters, December 2021) reports that his electricity supplier allows him to operate a disc meter that reverses direction when his premises exports power. The requirement from BEIS and Ofgem is that this should not be allowed. In fact, meters without backstops were not procured after around 1985, so this meter is well beyond its operational life. Further details are available on the Association of Meter Operators website, www.meteroperators.org.uk.
Tom Chevalier MIET
Consultant to the Association of Meter Operators
Where in the world?
An article – ‘Decision time for UK nuclear’ – published in E&T in March 2018 suggests that the one instance of Magnox technology being used outside the UK was in North Korea, yet according to Wikipedia a small number of Magnox reactors were in use in Italy and Japan for some decades from the 1960s. Can a reader with knowledge of the industry confirm this?
Keith Sylvan CEng MIET
Realistic savings claims?
Has anyone experience of devices that claim to “cut your electricity bills by 90 per cent”? It sounds too good to be true and no doubt is. The advertisements give the impression that the device works like a glorified filter/power-factor control capacitor, but even so domestic watt-hour meters only register in-phase currents, so where can the 90 per cent savings be?
EurIng Derek Rimington
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