Monday, 06 March 2017 11:51

Can we rely on smart meters when they can go so wrong?

Smart Meters are the new big thing and tonnes of people from across the country are taking up the option to fit them in their home, with figures showing that 4.9m have been installed across the country. After all, the adverts for it make a lot of sense. You don’t get an estimate when you buy your groceries from the supermarket or clothes from a department store, so why would you do that for energy, one of the biggest monthly expenses a household has? They could potentially save you a lot of money, which is why the government wants every house to have one by 2020.

But this is new technology run by companies that have often been criticised for profiteering, so of course there has been problems and one of them has cropped up this weekend. Over the weekend, many people who had got smart meters from SSE, one of the Big Six energy providers, noted that their bills had gone dramatically up with them saying that it was telling them their daily bill would be in the thousands.

Most shocking was the case of Mark Umpleby, a priest from Batley, who posted pictures on his Twitter account of his daily bill rising until it reached a staggering £33,183.31. That is much higher than the average annual wage of £27,195, never mind the average annual energy bill of £830, which many would say is too high already.

Of course this caused a lot of panic for the affected customers, as if SSE had tried to take this money out of their account it could cause issues for them for years to come. Luckily they realised the problem quickly and have started an investigation into what caused the issue as well as assuring customers that they will not be charged the amount that was shown on their smart meter. But these incidents have shown there are problems with this technology and that we should maybe slow down on installing them in our homes.

The reason this error was noticed was because of how ridiculous it was. Unless you are heating Wembley stadium, it is unlikely that you will have an energy bill north of £30,000. So of course when this figure appeared on smart meters, it could be quickly solved, rectified and now investigated. But if they can be this wildly inaccurate, it opens the question that many smart meters across the country may just be slightly off, and that’s even worse.

For instance, let’s say your smart meter reads that you have used £3 worth of energy a day. That seems pretty realistic, you wouldn’t really bat an eyelid at that. But this huge error shows there are kinks in the system, and it turns out you might only use £2 worth of energy a day. And even as I tell you that, you may not be too annoyed. After all a pound is a pound and can’t really buy that much. But then you think that is more than £300 you’ve lost through what could be as simple as a computer error. One neither you or the energy provider will notice, because it seems so small. 

Of course smart meters will improve. Hopefully SSE will discover the problem that caused this and will be able to fix it so this panic can never be caused again. But this creates an environment of uncertainty around what is meant to be a revelation for the consumer, something that is meant to be saving us hundreds of pounds. Because for all we know, it might actually be taking more money off us than it should, and it certainly wouldn’t be smart to install one without questioning this.