Thursday, 20 October 2016

My new electricity and gas smart meters

Let's shelve my Roche adventure for now. I want to say something about my new electricity and gas smart meters, and the handset, supplied and set up for me yesterday by SSE.

SSE (Southern Electric) had been nagging at me by letter and email for months. I had resisted, not seeing the clear advantages of embracing this technology. I'd also been put off by some negative comments on such programmes as BBC Radio 4's You and Yours. It seemed a lot of faff for not a lot of gain.

After all, I was already keeping a watchful eye on my consumption and what it was costing me. I read my meters weekly, and put these figures into a spreadsheet of mine, set up to calculate what the previous week's consumption would have cost me per month, standing charge and VAT included. Then I compared that calculated cost with my present monthly payment.

All was well if I were within 10% of my monthly payment. Or in the summer, were well below it. Or in the winter, not too far above it. And yes, the spreadsheet colour-coded the result using green, amber and red, so that I could easily see at a glance whether my usage was building up credit with SSE, or eating into it.

What was going to be the improvement for me, really, if I had smart meters fitted?

The major domestic factors were (a) I lived on my own, and had full control over what got switched on and off; and (b) the main things involved - central heating boiler, gas cooker, kettle, fridge, freezer, washing machine, shower unit - were used on a regular daily or weekly cycle that hardly varied while I was at home. My use of electricity barely changed with the seasons. My use of gas did, of course, but heavy use in the winter (for heating) was generally balanced by light use in the summer. And my caravan holidays meant that for two months of the year my electricity and gas consumption was especially low. I knew all this. Smart devices could not tell me anything else that might be vital to know. And there was no need to micro-manage my consumption. You can easily become an anxious slave to gadgets that try to keep you to a target, with warning lights and bleeps and stern messages. Not this lady.

In the end I decided that there was no harm in getting brand-new meters for free (while they were still free, and there wasn't an installation queue), even if the handset turned out to be as superfluous as I anticipated. There would at least be no more estimated bills - although those had never fazed me in the past. I can't understand why people ever let estimated bills run and and on until they are paying way over the odds. It was so simple to take my own readings, send them in using the SSE website, and get a corrected bill.

So a month ago, I contacted SSE and arranged for their people to come and upgrade me. The day agreed was yesterday, sometime in the morning, for maybe two hours. This was, it seemed, going to tie me up all morning; but that was OK, as I had plenty to get on with at home.

It was quite a surprise when, still munching my breakfast toast-and-marmalade in my nightie, I got a call from a technician called Andy at 7.30am, telling me that he was on his way and would get to me before 8.30am! I scoffed the rest of my breakfast and hurriedly got myself washed and dressed. Andy's assistant Tim arrived at 8.00am, and sat outside in his van, waiting. Andy himself turned up at 8.15am, and I was by then only just ready to receive them.

They showed me their ID. I showed them my old meters, and explained to Andy what my main appliances were, and where the central heating controls were. Both declined my offer of a nice cup of tea. They worked steadily and efficiently, and were all done in an hour. Andy then took me through the basics of the handset, which was linked wirelessly to each of the new meters. And then that was that.

they had done a neat job, and everything was working fine afterwards. This was the handset:

It was powered by a rechargeable battery, and charged up from the mains via a USB cable, just like a mobile phone. Andy had already paired it with the meters for me, so from the first it was showing information relating to the power being used, what the carbon dioxide contribution was, and the cost of the electricity or gas consumed (matching this to a target I could set, and showing a green, amber or red light, depending on the consumption/target relationship at that moment). This was current information, only a few minutes old. SSE would be getting exactly the same details, and these would translate into various graphs and tables eventually viewable on their website once the flow of information had been going for a while.  

These were the swish new meters:

For me, these new meters were the main thing. I would still be taking my weekly readings and putting them into that spreadsheet. A weekly review was quite sufficient.

The chief thing I'd want the handset to tell me was what the current daily cost of my electricity and gas was, which (if accurately computed and trustworthy) would be useful to know if I needed to turn up the central heating, say, or have it on for longer during the day. But I discovered that the costs displayed were inaccurate - not the real costs my quarterly bill would show. Here's why:

# They were stated net of VAT, so the handset showed a lower cost than the eventual bill would show. It wasn't dangerously misleading for me, as the VAT rate on electricity and gas was only 5%. But for a high-consumption family it would be a different matter.

# Delving into the prices used, I found that the handset's calculations used the standard daily standing charge (26p), and not the lower charge I actually paid (14p), having adopted payment by direct debit and paperless billing. Another source of inaccuracy - even if it tended to cancel out the lack of a VAT adjustment.

As I write this, the handset is telling me that so far today (nearly twelve hours into the day) my electricity and gas consumption has cost me £2.01. That might suggest £2.01 x 24/12 hours x 30 days x 3 months = around £361 for the quarter. But I'd be in for a surprise if I relied on that calculation! The real bill could be quite a bit different.

I think the handset is only a rough guide to current consumption and should be treated with caution. Perhaps its true purpose is to give parents a gadget that will 'prove' to their children that being careful with switching lights on and off makes a huge difference to the household budget.  

So I have turned off the provisional targets I set: I'm not going to switch things on and off just because the handset says I ought to. Not when the thing isn't giving me the true cost. In fact I'm not going to use the handset at all. It can go in a cupboard. It's just so much clutter. If a phone app becomes available, well, that'll be another matter.

I will however be continuing with my own existing cost spreadsheet - which is giving me the information I actually want - and I will be studying SSE's online analyses for my elctricity and gas accounts when they become available.


  1. Does nobody fully work out technology before dumping it on the general public? One step forward, two steps back! More electro clutter and batteries heading for the landfill.

  2. I still have the smart meters left by E-on when I switched to First Utility. Since FU can't read them remotely, the only useful thing they do is save me going outside to read the electricity meter. As for the rest of the data they purport to display, I take not the slightest notice.

  3. You're lucky. From your photo your meters are nice and easily accessible. My 'leccy meter is similarly accessible, but it's going to take several days of moving cupboards, desks, and shelving to provide access to my gas meter for anything more than reading the dials or turning the supply on/off.

  4. Very informative article which is about the eon energy and i must bookmark it, keep posting interesting articles.
    eon energy


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