Smart metering chaos and waste

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Guest Blog by Alex Henney.

Last year Richard Bacon MP, who has been on the Public Accounts Committee for a decade, and journalist Richard Hope wrote “Conundrum: why every government gets things wrong – and what we can do about it”. There were 12 chapters of case studies of government screw-ups of which nine were IT.  There was a chapter “The public sector and IT – a permanent disaster”.  Do you think the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) could learn from the experiences?  Of course not – it has got itself enmeshed in yet another mess, the roll-out of smart electric and gas meters.

In principle smart meters for residential electric consumers are a good idea provided they are installed with clear objectives that will achieve beneficial results such as eliminating estimated bills, speeding up switching, facilitating more responsive behaviour; are designed to be hack-proof so that hundreds of thousands could not be turned off suddenly to crash the grid; and are implemented efficiently.  Although their design and installation is a non-trivial task that needs to be undertaken with care, it can be done efficiently and without a song and dance as has been shown by Enel, the very large Italian electric company, and in Finland.  Enel wanted to cut theft so designed a meter in 2000 and by 2008 had had rolled out 32M at an all in cost for the meter, installation, and transferring the data over the electric network for £65.  The Finnish government legislated a roll-out in and by last year all 80 of the network companies had installed meters and hourly data was collected from them every day.

DECC knew best and has devised by far the most complicated and one of the most expensive (£134 for electric meters, £225 for electric and gas meters) roll-outs in the world for a total cost of £12bn which if it is ever implemented will provide a limited service (the meters cannot communicate with computers and smart phones) using obsoleting technology.  The reasons for the complexity are choosing the suppliers rather than the network companies to roll-out the meters; rolling out not just the electric but combined electric and gas meters; collecting data by wireless via the government promoted Data Collection Company (DCC), which is resulting in 3 types of system because the main one will only work with 70% of dwellings; and requiring interoperability of equipment (rather than of data). This has led to a Smart Energy Code of more than 1000 pages and growing, which is multiples of volume of the documentation required elsewhere.

The government announced a roll-out in 2007.  Work proceeded at a languid pace with endless wheel spinning until it got serious under the Coalition when it became a vanity project.  The cost/benefit analysis was rigged from a loss of £4½bn when undertaken by a competent firm of engineering consultants to a benefit of nearly £5bn by civil servants so that mindless ministers could run around proclaiming the good they were doing.  The roll-out was supposed to start in earnest this year but slipped to next year.  This summer the DCC first said it needed another £11m, then in November it published “Resetting the DCC Delivery Programme” where “resetting” is a euphemism for slipping another year and wasting another £90m. Who wants to bet against further slippage and cost?

The reason for the mess is technical ignorance and gross incompetence by DECC civil servants coupled with ministers who do not have the wit to be able to challenge the officials.The project should be stopped and a number of civil servants fired, as would have happened long ago if this project were run in the private sector.

Notes:

Alex Henney was once a director of London Electricity. In 1987 he was the first person in Britain (and perhaps Europe) to propose a competitive restructuring of the electricity industry, and was involved with the then Secretary of State and officials in the early days of restructuring. Subsequently he has advised on restructuring electric markets from Norway to New Zealand.  Among other things he undertook a study of smart metering in 12 jurisdictions and made submissions to the Minister of Energy and the Energy and Climate Change Committee on the expensive mess being made here.

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24 Responses to Smart metering chaos and waste

  1. Flyinthesky says:

    One problem I can see, I wonder if anyone else has. I have a gas fire and a gas hob, if there’s a power cut I can still stay warm and eat. If I had a smart gas meter if I had a power cut I couldn’t do either.
    I actually see this as a consumer funded managed decline strategy, power rationing and spike leveling, this leads us to a condition where no further generating capacity is required, doubtless to comply with emmision targets.
    All the growing nations are increasing their generating capacity exponentally, while me make do and in some recent cases, by closures of facillities, reduce our capacity.
    How can we possibly compete with TROTW without the capacity to power new and existing industries or indeed attract new overseas industrial investment if there’s nowhere to plug it in.

    • Brin Jenkins says:

      I agree completely. I also question why was this so called industry ever privatised?

      These power companies produce no power, we have privatised meter readers and accounts departments employing few people on minimum wages. This is to reward shareholders through extra layers of profit soaking us consumers.

      Do we benefit from this?

      • Flyinthesky says:

        I agree with the sentiment of the government retaining public ownership of utilities but then it falls foul of the absolute, the government(s) of recent incarnations have proved over and over that they couldn’t run a raffle.
        The government should have retained a controlling share of all our utilities and left the innovation to the private sector. And under no account should any national utility be foreign owned.
        Nothwithstanding, in my opinion, the ongoing intent is the creation of a pan european power grid preventing troublesome countries, as in resistance to compliance, from having autonomous control on power systems and generation. All the switchgear sited in brussells. The last thing the eu wan’t is any nation having autonomous capacity in any area, from currency, defence capability, energy et al, it thwarts the intent.
        We are slowly being disempowered and eviscerated but you have to be vigillant to notice.

      • Roger Helmer MEP says:

        Brin, I think you may be missing a point. Smart meters are not about privatised companies. They’re about government interference and regulation and green obsessions. The problem is not privatisation: the problem is regulation which is reproducing the problems of nationalisation by the back door.

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      I was going to get a gas hob/cooker last year till I saw the requirements for power – wire up. I probably could get round that, but that increases a risk. No need for it.

      The digital modern world…too often filled with cr*p.

      • Flyinthesky says:

        There may be a power requirement for the oven but the hob only requires power for ignition, box of matches sorts that out. Post smart meters those who live in power cut prone areas had better stock up with LPG.

  2. Eric Worrall says:

    I was once fired from a contract because I refused to implement a change which would have grossly compromised login security.

    I’ve heard Government IT contracts include signing the official secrets act, whistleblowers face grave personal consequences – so I can’t be talking about a government job, right?

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      The j*rks are still employed in IT, particularly in London. I am surprised it (IT) works at all?Taking employment in UK Gov IT depending on security requirements opens you to HMRC in the 1st instance….for anything they want to stir up? My son refused a job on just that at the HoC, the rest would send you to sleep (NHS IT….!!). I have been signed up to the OSA since I was about 18, no worry with that for me (45 yrs of it). I was not in IT, just safety critical software systems and there was plenty to blow whistles about, largely money waste.

  3. David says:

    If these incompetent types in da Gov, wrote a manual on sex we would be doing it stood up in a hammock. ie the most difficult way. ( No I have not tried it)

  4. Ex-expat Colin says:

    All I have noticed with IT systems over many years as regards OGD…is fail, fail, fail. And I have been involved in trying to save a few related systems from the bin as a part of MoD. However, being called in at crisis time was/is too late. And once we were TUPE’d out the the chance of saving anything at any time was fatally too late. Some managed to limp along and they had a safety relationship….!!

    How many times is it necessary to say….get the requirements right and stick to them. All of that is far too difficult for the Civil Service.

    With the amount of hacking going on I doubt anything will be safe..ever. However, with Smart Meters it will be wise to watch if they include a switching relay. Some say they do and others say they don’t. MPs need to be asked that question, because this little game appears to be hidden. Well, where is the big mouth BBC for instance?

  5. Richard111 says:

    I live in the middle of a town and I have a 1,200 litre gas tank. It only needs topping up once a year. I have gas powered under floor heating which I only need to run for one hour to keep the ground floor rooms cosy in the evenings. The gas unit is computer controlled and has a UPS in the event of electricity failure. Matches take care of the cooker. I have a multi fuel stove in the lounge we can cook on if needs be and finally there is a 2.5kVa diesel generator onto which I can transfer the ground floor ring main which feeds the fridge/freezer, TV, and sundry table lamps and all the many chargers for phones computer etc. No smart meter yet but if they force one on me I think I can cope. I am more worried about how people in general will cope of power is switched off in the middle of cooking Sunday lunch. I see the possibility of civil unrest in the future.

    • Flyinthesky says:

      A few comments:
      You lucky blighter.
      In this day and age we shouldn’t have to be making these considerations should we.
      The movers and shakers will have all these contingencies with knobs on, prepaid by us.
      As you infer, this may not end well.

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      The problem for us all is this:

      Is the meter a passive or active device. The latter meaning you can be disconnected by the Supplier or perhaps as the result of hacking/failure at IT centre.

      The former…ignore till you get a bill….or watch it?

      Put the question to your MP… I am doing that very shortly (Tory…the dog end one)

      • Flyinthesky says:

        Sorry fot the delay I’ve just lifted this from wiki:
        “Example of a smart meter based on Open smart grid protocol (OSGP) in use in Europe that has the ability to reduce load, disconnect-reconnect remotely, and interface to gas and water meters.”

        I think in time it will be able to talk to your appliances, freezers washing machines etc. turning them off and on for load balancing.
        When you think about it, if it didn’t have active capabilities there would be very little point in it. It’s all a bit 1984.

      • Brin Jenkins says:

        We should have realised this from the early 2000’s when we started dismantling generating capacity in favour of green devices. It is still argued that it will all be OK with the new super grid, but I doubt it very much. There has been far too much secrecy of intent when the load is unbalanced. Perhaps it may be considered satisfactory to just disconnect 20% of low priority, or non party members.

      • Ex-expat Colin says:

        Currently its pedalled as a way that you “may save energy” – may, might, could? If anyone does not monitor what they are doing with energy then simply they are very rich or just stupid…perhaps both?
        Its pedalled as such because any mention of a termination function would either cause confusion or perhaps protest? Its a PAYG device if a termination function is present, despite paying monthly etc.

        If its a pathway (no permission) to a device on your property I suggest thats wrong/illegal. For me it would be a cause of sudden modification if I could not purchase an appliance without it (wifi link). That act puts me in contention with a suppliers guarantee and so on.

        I have a internal gas meter that is separate from external elect meter by about 10 feet. I presume a device controlling/monitoring a gas meter is battery driven. Stupid stuff

        However, the danger is to reliable supply of electricity using additional equipment (risk) that we do not have any say or control over.

        This needs killing dead and all monies recovered from those who commissioned it…or assets seized.

      • Flyinthesky says:

        Colin, The way I understood it the technology only needs the electric meter to be monitored, the gas meter is then monitored and controlled as slave to it. The one in use in some parts of Europe can also monitor the water meter.
        From Wiki: Example of a smart meter based on Open smart grid protocol (OSGP) in use in Europe that has the ability to reduce load, disconnect-reconnect remotely, and interface to gas and water meters.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_meter

  6. Derek says:

    In my opinion smart meters are a complete waste of time and money. Customers will not wish to sit and look at them in order to switch off appliances, so no savings will occur. I am wondering when the government are going to switch off our gas? That is going to be a tough decision, but if they are going to continue with the Climate Change Act then it is a decision that they must take. Then all the gas smart meters will become redundant along with all our central heating boilers and cookers, gas fires etc. These smart meters could become a sinister form of Big Brother, deciding which appliances we can use and when, and that’s quite apart from the possibility of the system being hacked into.

    • catweazle666 says:

      My wife finds our Owl monitor very useful indeed.

      It tells at a glance whether the washing machine/tumbler drier cycle is complete without having to go out to the utility room.

      Apart from that, however…

    • Flyinthesky says:

      “In my opinion smart meters are a complete waste of time and money.”
      It depends on what the intentions are.

  7. Anne says:

    We cannot afford to Keep our Forces (Airforce, Army or Navy) up to speed and the capacity required for an Island nation but we can find the money for an EU Directive on SMART METERS.

    The main catalyst for the government’s mass installation of smart meters came in July 2009, when a European Commission Directive made it a requirement that 80 percent of EU households have a smart meters installed by 2020. The British government felt that it could be more ambitious still, unveiling a strategy in March 2011 that would see 53 million smart meters installed in 30 million homes and businesses across the country by 2019. Yet the role that smart meters play in producing these benefits is far from clear. The meters themselves do not save energy, they simply show how much energy is being consumed. It is this newly available source of information for the consumer that the EU hopes will apparently result in new energy efficient habits.
    While energy companies have been tasked with installing the smart meters and footing the bill for the installation, there is nothing to stop the energy companies transfering cost of the roll-out onto consumer’s subsequent energy bills — a risk which has led consumer group Which? to call a halt to the smart meter roll out.

    It is time to say NO to the EU. What is the point in having a Government and two Houses of parliament when all they can do is obey EU Orders?

    • Ex-expat Colin says:

      There has never been an easy answer to MoD procurement…they tried a few ways and SMART got into that sometime ago. Complexity, Reliability and Support present major long term problems…sprinkle software procurement/management on top of it. Thats not Off The Shelf Software which has been pushed greatly. A number of projects have worked well that I know…fortunately requirements did not change significantly on the way through.

      However, the MoD has access to specialists to handle much of complexity. It is however hamstrung by Other Gov Departments (OGD) as regards IT and wherever any OGD is concerned nothing is at all smart. It is usually expected to be a repeat failure, or simply very poor. SMART meters…well?

      Francis Maude has made clear what he thinks about the Civil Service and Ministerial relationships. Another tricky arrangement.

  8. Anne says:

    The role that smart meters play in producing these benefits is far from clear. The meters themselves do not save energy, they simply show how much energy is being consumed. It is this newly available source of information for the consumer that the EU hopes will apparently result in new energy efficient habits.
    While energy companies have been tasked with installing the smart meters and footing the bill for the installation, there is nothing to stop the energy companies transfering cost of the roll-out onto consumer’s subsequent energy bills. Are we truly sure the BILL for all this will NEVER be eventualy put for the people to contribute to? Want a bet?

  9. Stan Hubbard says:

    My personal experience with Smart meters British Gas came to fit gas and electric smart meters last October. The electric one was fitted and appeared to be working, then for some reason, beyond me something went wrong and the gas one could not be fitted.
    The engineer apologised and said he could not rectify whatever fault occurred and another engineer would be out to put things right within a couple of weeks.
    I then received a communication from British Gas congratulating me on having both meters fitted and wishing me a pleasant experience in having their usage.
    I contacted British gas and was told their is a technical problem with these Smart meters which has not been resolved. Here we are nearly 3 months later still waiting to see when they will resolve the problem and be able to fit a smart gas meter.

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