The government has plans to install so-called “smart meters” in every household by 2020. They will apparently release details of the scheme on Wednesday.
The smart meters will replace the current tried and tested gas and electricity meters. Basic smart meters would be able to send meter readings back to the fuel companies, via a government-controlled central hub. So they would replace meter readers as well as meters. The benefit to the fuel companies is clear. But the government is going further.
The meters will incorporate a screen that will show consumers how much energy they are using, and allow gas and electricity companies to send them messages about their bills, or special offers, or “warnings” about when their electricity usage is unusually high.
The government have claimed that each household could save £100 a year because of the meters – because the meters will “allow them to cut down on their energy usage”. And Which?, the self-described “consumer watchdog” (but actually magazine publisher) has “warned” that without the screens, householders could save as little as £1 a year off their bills. Presumably that is the saving in meter readers’ wages.
The government expects the total cost of installing the meters to be between £7 billion and £9 billion. And this is, according to the Telegraph, “one of the biggest IT projects the country has ever seen”. Considering the government’s record on botching big IT projects, I think we can safely double that.
With say 20 million households in the country, that makes £400 per household even on the government’s figure. And households will be expected to pay for that, through their fuel bills.
And all to save £1 a year per household. Which is less than you would earn putting the £400 in a savings account.
So the whole case for this stunningly stupid scheme is based on that £100 saving that the government claims people will make because these new meters “allow them to cut down on their energy usage”.
Unfortunately, the meters won’t really allow anything of the kind. Knowing how much fuel you are using doesn’t actually help you much in cutting down your usage. In order to cut down, you have to turn things off, or turn them down. Not exactly rocket science. But the government expects us to believe that consumers will save say 10% of their entire bills just because a gadget tells them when the central heating boiler is running.
It could be that the civil servants who are driving this scheme really do believe all this nonsense. However, there is another potential explanation. There have been suggestions that these meters could be used to send other information back to the central hub. Like how much fuel people use, and when they use it. This in turn would allow the State to start giving people “advice” about saving energy – just like some local councils have started “helping” people recycle by monitoring their recycling via chips embedded in their bins.
Make no mistake. These smart meters are not to help the public. They are for the benefit of the State. Assuming the Conservatives win the election next year, they should scrap the scheme immediately. The omens on that are not good – the shadow energy and climate change secretary, Greg Clark, has been quoted as saying 2020 is not fast enough to roll out the new meters.
I guess there is one cheering thought, though. The State is so incompetent at running huge projects like this that they are unlikely ever to finish this one anyway – which means the impact on us all would “only” be that we were £400 poorer.