When 'Smart' doesn't mean 'Clever'.

The old meter awaits it fate.

This is a meter...of some type. It could be measuring your electricity of water or gas consumption; its' dial continuously turning and converting numbers into those twenty-page bills that make you go 'Huh?'

Everybody has one; well nearly everybody apart from those individuals who somehow splice into a network and help themselves, occasionally killing themselves in the process, but it is increasingly likely that what you have installed in your home or business will not look like the dangerous little box pictured here.

This is because virtually everyone is being offered what is known as a 'smart' meter.

Why, you ask, are they smart? Do they go out and start earning money to pay for the aforesaid massive bill? Can they set the cooker to automatically provide dinner?

No, but what the first generation of smart meters (called SMETS1) are designed to do is keep tabs on your consumption and report back to HQ. How they do that is through existing mobile phone networks. Of course, this isn't always reliable...

"Hi, it's meter 239A here. I'm just calling to snitch on Mrs Jones' electricity use. I tell you, there's something weird going on here. I keep getting a spike about 10.30 pm soon after she and Mr Jones switch off the lights...

Anyway the readings for today are 64457 for electric and 439...Hello? Are you still there? Hello?"

Apart from not being able to provide timely data to the utility companies, these devices are also not able to cope when people switched to new suppliers - effectively refusing to provide metering details to their new owners.

Smart meters are getting an upgrade
We have ways of making you talk...

So the clever people at Smart DCC (which is owned by Capita PLC) are now tasked with the onerous job of ripping out the errant SMETS1 and replacing them with the imaginatively-named SMETS2 which doesn't have an attitude when it comes to switching suppliers and 'talks' to the utility company every 30 minutes to update them on your electrical activities.

DCC was originally tasked with replacing every single meter in the country by the end of 2020 at a projected cost of £18 billion. What they actually have achieved is in the order of 7 million with only another 53 million to go and, oh yes, it's going to cost alot more and that doesn't include replacing the SMETS1's with SMETS2's.

So far, just 5.5 million SMETS2 meters have been installed and some 630,000 SMETS1 meters 'migrated', according to the DCC website - One imagines herds of homeless meters scouring the countryside, knocking on doors and asking people if they want their meters read.

"Oh," continues DCC, "and we have to add a couple of masts so when we finally do get the SMETS2's installed they can actually communicate with us. Sorry about that..."

And DCC need a bit longer to complete the work - about 5 years longer, by which time the SMETS2's will have probably been superseded by SMETS3's.

Perhaps the most depressing part is that while the utility companies tell us that these devices will save us money, that £18 billion is actually going to be added to your bill.

Not in one go, you understand, but the upshot is that your bills are likely to go up, at least for the time being.

Electricity bills are likely to rise. Image by Giorgio Tomassetti.
'Your total this month -£18 billion'.

But back to the purpose of this blog. The aforementioned masts, apparently needed for these devices to communicate, are not existing structures - they have to be erected - 40 of them in Argyll and Bute alone.

And they are no small affairs, being in the order of 10 metres tall (that is 32 feet or about 3 times the length of a car). Nor are they discreet, being erected wherever the company Arqiva (working on behalf of DCC) deem necessary.

A recent example was in a village nearby called Minard where residents awoke to find a large metal pole where the day before was nothing except for a great view across the loch. Worryingly, Arqiva didn't have to ask for planning permission, the community council, who were aware of the plans, didn't tell anyone and Argyll and Bute Council weren't interested in telling anyone. My polite query to Arqiva on the subject of where exactly they are going to stick their poles in Scotland has so far been ignored...

But, surely, the benefits of all this time, work and money will be worth it? This really depends on your definition of 'worth'. A report by Which magazine highlighted the fact that estimates for household savings were about £250 - but this was over a period of 20 years and equates to about £12.50 a year on average.

And you will have to wait until 2035 for the biggest annual saving of £36.

Impressed? You shouldn't be.

Nick MacIneskar 2020