Is your smart meter actually ‘smart’?

New research reveals some energy companies are still rolling out outdated smart meters that fail to work when consumers move to a different supplier

Festival Net Zero 2021

Smart meter

Eight energy suppliers, including two of the Big Six companies, are still rolling out first generation smart meters which lose the smart functionality when customers switch energy firms.

That’s despite the government’s deadline of ending the installation of the previous models and rolling out second generation (SMETS2) smart meters from mid-March 2019.

New research from autoswitching service Look After My Bills reveals Bristol Energy, British Gas, Ecotricity, E.ON, Nabuh Energy, Octopus Energy and Simplicity Energy are still rolling out the outdated smart meters while Nabuh Energy, Simplicity and Utilita are only installing the first generation (SMETS1) meters after encountering difficulties with the new system.

It adds the rollout has become a “postcode lottery” as people in the north of England are more likely to receive a “dumb” meter while those in the south will get the newer SMETS2 meter.

Some of the reasons given by suppliers for that include shortages of SMETS2 meters, technical difficulties in the north of England and not enough engineers trained in installing the second generation smart meters.

The research also found nearly 16 million smart meters were installed in homes as of March 2019 but only 1.9 million were the updated second generation meters that continue to work when customers switch suppliers.

The first generation smart meters do not work when customers move to a different energy company because different suppliers use different technology to manufacture their meters.

“Unfair postcode lottery”

Lily Green, Head of Research at Look After My Bills said: “While the smart meter rollout is good in principle, it beggars belief that six months after the deadline, we are seeing these outdated smart meters – which ‘go dumb’ when you switch supplier – still being installed in people’s homes.

“Worse still, the smart rollout has become an unfair postcode lottery. While people in the south are first in the queue for a newer smart meter which works when you switch, people in the north are more likely to be shortchanged with an old version.

“One of the key points of the smart meter rollout is to save people money but that is precisely what these old meters prevent people from doing. Switching your energy supplier right now can save you £400 but people will be put off from doing so because their smart meter will now go dumb. It defeats the purpose of getting a smart meter in the first place.”

SMETS1 installed after end date”will not count towards 2020 target”

In an open letter published earlier this year, Ofgem said some energy suppliers indicated they would be continuing to install some SMETS1 meters after the end date.

The regulator added any SMETS1 meters installed after the end date, or outside the allowed derogations, will not count towards a supplier’s milestone or 2020 target.

Ofgem added: “Where a supplier decides to proceed with a SMETS1 installation after the end date, we expect a record to be kept of why the supplier could not install a SMETS2 meter and why they considered it to be in the best interest of the customer for the SMETS1 installation to proceed.

“We also note that we expect suppliers to be enrolling all SMETS1 meters that are eligible into the DCC [Data Communications Company], regardless of when they were installed.”

A BEIS spokesperson said:

“Nearly 15 million smart and advanced meters are now operating across Great Britain and the network for the North is fully operational, with thousands of second generation meters being installed every day.

“Smart meters are the cornerstone of a national energy infrastructure upgrade that will help make our energy system cheaper, cleaner and more efficient, and millions of consumers and businesses are already reaping the benefits they provide.”

Responses 

ELN contacted the energy suppliers for their responses.

Bristol Energy said there have been a “very small number” – less than 100 – of “exceptional circumstances” in the last six months where SMETS1 meters were installed since the deadline.

A spokesperson added: “We only authorise these to occur where it is in the best interests of the customer (for example where the customer has a prepayment tariff or requires prepayment – which is not currently supported in SMETS 2).

“We are unable to comment on the north/south divide – as we aren’t installing SMETS1 meters in quantities that would provide a statistically meaningful answer. Please also note that Bristol Energy uses a third party meter operator for its smart rollout, we do not have our own engineers or meter stock.”

British Gas said it has installed more than 370,000 SMETS2 meters, with a spokesperson adding: “Credit customers in all regions will receive SMETS2 meters.

“There have been some industry wide delays with the infrastructure for SMETS2 prepayment meters which means we’re not yet installing SMETS2 to all of these customers. This is not an issue specific to any region.”

A spokesperson from E.ON added: “Majority of the time we install SMETS2 for our customers and where we can’t, we’ll install a SMETS1 meter which will be enrolled into the DCC remotely meaning it will operate as a SMETS2.

“Smart meters are a great way of ensuring customers get accurate bills as well as giving them the visibility they need to better manage their energy use irrespective of which model they have.”

Greg Jackson, CEO of Octopus Energy said: “Octopus Energy’s primary concern is to ensure customers’ needs are met with a functioning meter. Where a second generation meter can be reliably installed and commissioned, we will do that. However, where a SMETS2 might not work right now, we will offer customers the choice between first generation meter or waiting until the second generation is available.”

Utilita believes abandoning SMETS1 meters at this time “will have the reverse effect for millions of low income households” that use pay as you go (PAYG).

A spokesperson said: “It’s been suggested SMETS2 meters are more advanced than SMETS1 meters – this is simply not true. Indeed, for the PAYG market SMETS1 are secure, cost effective, interoperable and provide additional functionality not supported by SMETS2 meters. 

“Our motivation is purely in the best interests of PAYG households – many of whom are among the most vulnerable in the country. It is indisputable that SMETS1 meters currently offers them a better level of service.”

Simplicity Energy added it has been preparing for the installation of SMETS2 meters and expects to start shortly.

A spokesperson said: “We fully understand and support the benefits of smart metering for customers and the industry so our strategy is to complete our roll out programme and run down our stocks of SMETs1 meters to avoid them becoming landfill and provide the benefits to our customers.”

An Ecotricity spokesperson added: “We are not ignoring government guidance. In fact it’s clear that in documented instances where a SMETS2 meter cannot be used, or in areas where connection is not possible, we are encouraged to use SMETS1, or non-smart meters.”

ELN has contacted Nabuh Energy for a statement.

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