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How the smart meter roll out became such an expensive failure its own minister has thrown his out

July 28, 2018

By Paul Homewood

h/t Philip Bratby

It has taken them a few years, but finally the MSM is catching up with the disastrous smart meter roll out:

 

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Are you fed up with your smart energy meter? Mike O’Brien is. He used to use one of the devices, 53 million of which are due to be rolled out across the country by the end of 2020. “I had an early version,” Mr O’Brien told The Telegraph this week. “After a while I barely looked at it, didn’t use it.”

The difference between you and Mike O’Brien, however, is that in 2008 Mike O’Brien was Minister of State for Energy at the newly-created, Ed Miliband-led Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), which launched Britain’s smart meter revolution – the biggest and most expensive in the world.

It is an IT project which will not meet either its 2020 deadline or its £11bn budget. That seems certain. What seems much less sure, however, is whether the whopping £16.73bn savings the plan’s backers claim for it will ever materialise.

After all, according to the Government’s own analysis, a full third of those savings are due to come from reduced energy usage, driven in no small part by consumers staring at the screens of their smart meters then frantically turning off electrical appliances at home.

That’s what Ed Miliband told a select committee in 2009. “As a user of a real-time display,” he said, “I know that it makes a difference and it makes you careful when you boil the kettle and all that sort of thing.” Yet his Minister of State for Energy had a different view. “We got rid of it,” he recalls of his own smart meter.

Mike O'Brien was MP for North Warwickshire and Energy Minister

Mike O’Brien was MP for North Warwickshire and Energy Minister Credit: Getty Images Fee

Still, just because the Minister of State for Energy “got rid” of his smart meter, that’s no reason to imagine you will not be getting one. Indeed many people, including readers of this newspaper, have complained of heavy-handed tactics from energy suppliers to force them to accept installation, despite the fact that there is no obligation.

It’s true that the suppliers are in a hurry, having fallen profoundly behind schedule. So far, about 13 million smart meters have been installed, at the rate of a little over 10,000 a day. To hit government targets, 40 million more must be installed before the end of 2020 – a rate of more than 40,000 a day.

That would be hard enough, even if suppliers had the right meters to install. Unfortunately, the ones they have been putting in so far (known as Smets1 meters) are far from smart. For a start, they rely on mobile networks to communicate data, so if you live in a mobile network blackspot, they don’t really function.

We got rid of itMike O’Brien, former Minister of State for Energy, on his smart meter

Most significantly, however, they stop working properly if you change energy supplier – an issue known as “going dumb”. To consumers who have had them installed, this can act as a disincentive to change supplier. Yet one of the principal motivations for the whole project was to create a seamless, user-friendly system which would put consumers in charge and allow them to switch suppliers easily, so getting the best energy prices.

“The big stuff was around energy efficiency and [customer’s] ability to switch,” says Philip Hunt, Baron Hunt of Kings Heath, who was Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change at DECC with Ed Miliband. “For me that was the core thing. So going dumb – that is obviously not great. Not great at all.” 

The “going dumb” phenomenon is hardly a surprise. According to one senior source who worked inside Miliband’s DECC, “there was already a suspicion that the tech was on the road to being out of date” even as it was being approved a decade ago. Due to delays and overruns, however, the very meters which looked old even in 2008 are still being installed today and can continue to be offered by suppliers until October.

Whether second generation “Smets2” meters, which are supposed to iron out problems, will be ready by that time is open to question. According to the initial timetable, they were supposed to have been ready by 2014. But the kit is so beset by technical niggles that, by January 2018, only 80 had been installed in what DECC’s successor, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), called “a live environment”. Only another 39,990,920 to go.

So how did a nationwide IT project costing billions turn into what Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, calls a “cock up and a catastrophe”? For the answer to that, it is necessary to turn to Article 13 of Directive 2006/32/EC of the European Parliament, dating to 2006.

That political climate led to the creation by Gordon Brown of a new department, DECC, at the head of which he placed one of his most trusted lieutenants, Ed Miliband.

DECC’s establishment only contributed to the sense that energy had become an issue of universally-recognised importance. For example, when the Climate Change Act – to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 – was introduced in 2008, just five MPs voted against. That consensus only intensified as the, ultimately doomed, Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change approached in 2009.

“Everything was leading up to Copenhagen,” says one official who was at DECC at the time. “There was a lot of interest in climate change targets. DECC’s job was set up to work out how these targets were going to be met. And smart meters were one of the building blocks to meet them.

“Britain was trying to take a leadership role on climate change,” the official continues. “There was a sense we should be an international role model. There was such enthusiasm for that from all sides.”

“It was,” Lord Hunt remembers, “a very exciting time.”

Exciting, but not without problems. In fact, from the moment the decision was taken to gold-plate the EU’s 2006 directive, the roll out of smart meters was struck by a series of disasters. These included failing to spot a security loophole so serious that GCHQ feared a hacker could “start blowing things up”, according to a Whitehall official.

Dr Ian Levy, the technical director of GCHQ’s communications electronic security group, even gave an interview to a cybersecurity journal in which he said of the security breaches: “The issue is will they let someone disconnect all the power to your house? Or can someone turn off the right number of meters in the right way to cause a collapse in the grid’s systems?”

There, in a paragraph of utterly bland text, lies the seed of Britain’s smart meter madness. Note, the directive did not insist on smart meters. It was not a three-line whip. In fact it offered plenty of get-out clauses – that meters only needed to be installed if it was “technically possible, financially reasonable and proportionate”.

But despite this, the directive was seized upon in Britain, where politicians on both sides of the House were vying to outdo each other in demonstrating their green credentials.

“Far from opposing us, the Tories were saying we weren’t being green enough,” recalls Mike O’Brien. “These were the days of David Cameron chasing huskies.”

 

 There is a lot more here. But this comment sums things up nicely:

 

“None of the people initially involved in the project [under Labour] knew anything about technology,” says Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the University of Cambridge. “None of them was an engineer. They all had degrees in Latin or something. Then, when Cameron was made aware he wasn’t having any of it.  He said ‘It’s in the Coalition Agreement’ – and anyway the chickens weren’t coming home to roost until 2020.”

22 Comments
  1. Dave Ward permalink
    July 28, 2018 8:55 am

    But did the minister actually have his smart meter(s) removed, and replaced with old style “dumb” meters, or did he just chuck the in home display in the cupboard? He might be in for a shock – well actually NOT a shock, if they cut his power off…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6001231/Energy-giants-use-new-smart-meters-cut-power-homes.html

    • dave permalink
      July 28, 2018 10:01 am

      “If they cut his power off…”

      Aaaaahhhh!

      • Duker permalink
        July 29, 2018 1:39 am

        What do you suggest for when customers dont pay their bills ?
        Cutting off the power is standard ever since power supply was indroduced and for gas before that.

      • July 29, 2018 7:55 am

        They can remotely switch the meter to prepayment mode.

        https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/about-smart-meters/benefits-for-you/benefits-for-prepay

      • Fred Streeter permalink
        July 29, 2018 9:06 am

        @Duker
        Domestic users, we negotiated repayment of the debt in instalments and put them on monthly billing.

        If that did not work, we switched them to prepayment meters.

        (Sleazy strip joint owners, we disconnected. This usually required forced entry under the 1948 Act, often with the assistance of a passing Police Constable.)

      • July 30, 2018 2:45 pm

        In practice you are not allowed to disconnect the supply to a house with children in
        So I am not sure they can legally switch the meter mode in that circumstance.

  2. July 28, 2018 9:01 am

    I love the comments about:
    “degrees in Latin or something”
    and
    “The problem was they didn’t have anyone within the elite of the department who could tell the difference between a spanner and a banana.”

    I think those comments just about sum up the politicians and civil servants who form the establishment and who have tun the country for over 20 years (i.e. since Blair came into power).

    We definitely need a Trump to drain the Westminster swamp.

    • Athelstan permalink
      July 28, 2018 9:55 am

      “The problem was they didn’t have anyone within the elite of the department who could tell the difference between a spanner and a banana.”

      but don’t you see?

      The green Macaques and proselytisers of Climate change, these yammering monkeys always love, are fixatedly determined to waste other people’s money ie ‘us’ the taxpayers and consumers – that’s the idea, that’s the deliberate policy!

      The UK energy policy disaster: is ‘smartingly’ evident and the green blob/investment banksters make a £killing, politicians, bureacracy and meejah in their pockets or filling their pockets, ref; lord deben, PotatoED and chris ‘perjuror’ huhne. It’s such easy money!

  3. Saighdear permalink
    July 28, 2018 9:07 am

    Quite agree @ PhillipBratby: I have googled – but never found to my satisfaction: Just what does a smart meter really do? what is smart about it. How does it cut my consumption, etc. When I need to use something, I need to use it…. Our meter is far from the point of consumption and a Wart which we got years ago around the time they spoke about these smart thingys, is too far from the meter to be of any use – it’s eerie display and red diode light attracted the pigeons!

  4. FrankSW permalink
    July 28, 2018 9:08 am

    This what a smart meter should be. (Telegraph Letters 2017) instead of my choice of block monthly historical bar chart and incessant need to “compare” with “similar” houses or

    £70,to purchase for dual Gas/Electricity

    Now that’s smart

    SIR – Since the power companies appear to have a hidden agenda (such as differential charging) behind their installation of smart meters (Letters, July 26), I have opted for my own arrangement.

    A smartphone app, Loop Energy Management, provides inexpensive tracker/reader devices for existing gas and electricity meters, displaying the results in a variety of visual formats. These include real-time use cost and historic consumption graphs; daily and monthly bills are also broken down. Furthermore, the app compares usage costs across energy providers, making it easy to change supplier.

    Adrian Lawrence
    Christchurch, Dorset

    • Sam Duncan permalink
      July 28, 2018 3:44 pm

      Is there a link to Loop’s source code anywhere?

      It certainly looks better than what the government’s trying to force down our throats, but if they aren’t prepared to show people what their devices are actually doing, it’s still unacceptable. Mind you, at least a security flaw in Loop couldn’t result in your electricity being cut off. Presumably.

  5. July 28, 2018 9:08 am

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    Good to see the mainstream media taking notice of this issue created by monumentally stupid MPs more concerned with virtue signalling than whether the scheme ever had a chance of working in practice.

  6. Peter Stokes permalink
    July 28, 2018 9:12 am

    Bloody Milliband again. What an unmitigated disaster for this country that man was and is. Climate Change Act, Smart Meters. How many 10’s, nay 100’s of £billions has that idiot cost us. Anyone else would be locked away for a long time after that sort of dillusional thinking. But we still have a lot left in our halls of power it seems. What happened to the MP’s who were selected on the basis of their track record in the real world? As the article says we have people making decision on critically important issues who don’t know a spanner from a banana!

  7. GeoffB permalink
    July 28, 2018 11:09 am

    in all the adverts for smart meters no mention is made of “Time of Use” (TOU) pricing. Without this how the hell can you save money with a smart meter unless, you do not actually do the washing or boil a kettle. There is no incentive to shift washing, tumble drying etc to the small hours of the morning. (incidentally you will not save money, just not pay more).

    In Ontario where smart meters are compulsory TOU pricing was quoted from the off, initially peak was 3 times off peak. I just checked Hydro ones prices and mid peak is 1.44 times and peak is 2.03 times. Peak is 11am to 5pm, Off peak is 7pm to 7am and the rest is mid peak.

    They started this in 2004 and the net result today is NO significant change in usage patterns.

    see the report http://www.auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arreports/en14/311en14.pdf

  8. July 28, 2018 12:27 pm

    WiFi may be a much better technology for meters than mobile telephony, cheap as chips, what with “the internet of things”, and almost as good at reducing the need for manual meter readings. Driving down a road would allow the latest data to be read from all meters, and manual visits to remote properties would not require the owner to be at home, and ultimately could be done by drones.

    • Russ Wood permalink
      July 28, 2018 1:32 pm

      Yes – that worked in a test suburb in Johannesburg – until they fired the meter reading company and reverted to guessing your consumption. Oh yes, and the meters (using Bluetooth) all went funny one day and started jamming all of the Bluetooth frequencies! So, for a week until they could be remotely reprogrammed, they were jamming every remote in sight – car locking, powered gate or garage door, house alarm – even my remote weather station!

    • Duker permalink
      July 29, 2018 1:31 am

      Why bother with wifi- when they already use SMS or Txt messaging with the data in the middle of the night!
      Driving down the road Seriously?

      • July 29, 2018 7:30 am

        I’m guessing that they already have WiFi to drive the in-house display. My road regularly has BT Openreach vans driving down it to do repairs and upgrades.

  9. Athelstan permalink
    July 28, 2018 6:51 pm

    Know it, we’ve been telling you for ages, smart meters do the opposite of what they advertise, it’s all about control – true but the control is all in the hands of the energy suppliers (and grid/HMG) – not the consumer.

    Be afraid, be very, very afraid!

    But experts warn that smart meters give firms unprecedented power over their customers, including access to reams of data about how and when customers use energy and the ability to control a customer’s supply remotely.

    Major energy companies said they had not yet used the feature, but admitted it was possible.

    “but admitted it was possible”

    I’ll rephrase that, ‘but admitted it will happen, you bet your life on it mate’.

    • Duker permalink
      July 29, 2018 1:36 am

      Ripple control to remotely control usage – in my case electric hot water- has been around for decades.
      I currently have the choice of a supply company whos price is based on the wholesale spot price every half hour or a company that has same rate all year long or a choice of every other combination in between. All use smart meters just to avoid sending out meter readers

  10. jeremfg permalink
    July 30, 2018 3:33 am

    SMETS2 always was and still is doomed to fail, however much money you throw at it.
    It’s design at a technical level is a complete nonsense, impossible to implement in a real world environment. Looks good on paper but that’s about it.

    Furthermore this is managed by lawyers and government officials that know nothing about the technology and always take the wrong decisions.

    No wonder it’s 4 years late and counting… And so many costs overruns when you see how the companies involved leaches to this limitless cash flow, like with any IT project these days. It’s easy to overcharge the tax payers when nobody understands what the actual value is or what they are actually buying.

  11. July 31, 2018 3:29 pm

    Today : Yorkshire Post letters
    Robert Cheesewright the SmartEnergyGB top man

    says ‘yeh but, but yeh, but yeh’
    ‘This MPs report that says meters only save £11, same data says they will save £50 in 2030
    and some people are saving “more than £100/year … through making small changes”

    “Small changes” like dying …or cutting the power cable ?
    https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/opinion/yp-letters-time-to-revive-tv-studios-in-the-north-1-9276858

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