Editorial – not that smart the trouble with our rollout

How can smart meter rollout ever hit the 2020 deadline when we haven’t got the logistics anywhere near correct?

By Sumit Bose

On Monday I was greeted with a cheery knock on the door just after 8am. It was my ScottishPower smart meter engineer.

He was a friendly bloke who told me he was down from Glasgow for a week, his first trip to London, so he was naturally taking in the famous sights, such as the Premier Inn in Enfield. However this wasn’t a fun break, he had to cover the lack of installers in London, yep that’s right he had been flown down and put up for a week because there were not enough people in the capital of our nation to fit a smart meter.

Ok that can happen, though it sounds an exorbitant cost to me, logistics can mean shortages in parts of the country but it did worry me that our rollout depends on moving people across the nation.

Let’s move on, my installer told me to go around and unplug all my appliances as there was a risk of a power surge once he removed the old meter. As I was doing so I heard an exasperated cry. He told me there was a problem and it’s a common one in many cities.

London…we have a problem…

I live in a downstairs flat and my mains supply comes into my property and then spurs off upstairs to my neighbour. Each of us has a fusebox and meter off the branches of the power cable. But and here’s the big but, before the spur there’s a fuse which needed to be disconnected to install the meter. Trouble is removing the fuse would mean affecting the power upstairs and also risk blowing out my neighbour’s electronics too.

The engineer told me he would need not only my neighbour’s permission but also for him to unplug all his devices too. I know my neighbour and suggested ringing him to get permission but no, that wouldn’t do as the liability of any damage would fall on ScottishPower.

Alas my cheery engineer packed up his ladder and tools and said the only thing I could do was re-book my installation on a day when my neighbour would also be in!

Logistical nightmare

All this made me think. This is the second time I have tried to get a smart meter. My previous supplier npower ran out of meters (yes you read that right), so had to cancel my installation. This time the logistics of where I live have wasted my time and that of a very expensive engineer.

Just think how many properties in cities across the UK are like mine, purpose built or conversions. All of them would have been built and supplied decades if not in some cases centuries ago, my flat itself is 140 years old, without any thought of where power cables might need to go.

If everytime one of us has to get our neighbours to be in and unplug all their devices when we need to change a meter, I can see this taking decades to do. I’ve always thought this was a nice idea but stupidly hard to impliment. Now I just think it’s stupid.

Err we’ll get back to you

So I asked the group backing the joys of us getting smarter, Smart Energy GB for a reaction to this logistical conundrum. After a while I got a brilliant response:

“Smart Energy GB is the organisation tasked by government with promoting smart meters and their benefits. As such, your query isn’t within our remit and I suggest you make contact with BEIS and Scottish Power who should be able to help you with the topics you’ve asked about.”

Smart Energy GB

Mmmmm – so it’s all very good promoting something but if it doesn’t work or there’s a problem it’s not my job. Ponder that one.

So I did do exactly that – go to those at BEIS that are behind it all, of course they would give me a detailed reply. They would investigate the valid point I raised and in detail, respond to my query on how long rollout will take if such issues are commonplace? Wouldn’t they?

“Everyone who wants a smart meter will get one by the end of 2020 and more than 400,000 are being installed every month, helping people to take control of their energy use and save money.”

BEIS

In other words we are burying our heads in the sand. We know this is way behind schedule and many sensible voices agree with me, that it will never happen by 2020. But not BEIS, oh no it’s ploughing ahead putting the burden squarely on the shoulders of suppliers.

So my final port of call, my supplier ScottishPower. Finally I got a decent reply to my issue;

“ScottishPower has completed the installation of more than 1 million smart meters, working with four installation partners across the UK, installing at peak 2,700 meters per day with a UK-wide workforce of over 500 people. We have engineers working the length and breadth of the country, and often engineers work in different areas depending on concentration of planned jobs.

“Unlike many other countries, where meters are outside and easy to access, UK housing stock does present a number of unique challenges. In the vast majority of circumstances, solutions can be found to ensure that meters can be installed. We strive to work closely with householders in these circumstances to find the best solutions possible.”

ScottishPower

I also got asked for more details so they could investigate further.

Not so smart are we?

Where has this all left me? Well I don’t think smart meters are a bad idea but I think their rollout with a stupid arbitrary target of 2020 is folly. The government have not thought this out. Consumers are generally apathetic about smart meters but it appears even if you are in favour of getting one, it can be a ridiculous challenge.

Far better to build all new properties with smart meters and find a way of retrofitting them to our fuse boxes or by some other means. Perhaps we could just plug one into a socket? I haven’t got the answers but I also know we haven’t got the time or logistical ability to get them to everyone who wants one by 2020. Whatever BEIS says!

Doesn’t seem smart to me at all.

 

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