Slimme meter ellende in Engeland

woensdag, 24 mei 2017 - Categorie: Berichten Internationaal

23 mei 2017

No one's noticed, but the Tories are quietly killing off the smart meter revolution


Normally politicians promise much and deliver little.

Last week brought a rare example of the converse: a manifesto burying a huge policy change that will save every household in Britain fifty pounds a year.

It’s lurking on page 60 of the Conservative offering: “everyone will be offered a smart meter by 2020”.

If you blinked, you missed it. A national programme committed to install meters in 80pc of homes by 2020 has just become voluntary.

Twenty years ago, the electricity meter industry thought up a wizard wheeze.

Why not replace old meters that cost £15 and lasted 50 years with new meters that cost £50 and lasted only 15? The story was that if you could see how much electricity you were using you’d use less of it, and we could recoup the cost by building fewer power stations.

When Ed Miliband become climate change secretary, he seized on this chance to save the planet.

Three successive impact assessments had shown that smart meters would not be viable in Britain, but no matter: a new one was ordered which argued that smart meters could save enough energy to pay for themselves.

Britain pressed the commit button, and promised Brussels to put smart meters in 80pc of homes by 2020.

There was just one small problem. British electricity meters belong to the retailer, which has no incentive to help you use less of its product.

Ontario and Germany are the same. In the former, a $2bn smart meter programme failed to save any energy, while Angela Merkel ordered an honest impact assessment and decided to leave well alone. The Miliband project quickly got into trouble.

The power industry couldn’t agree a common specification, so the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) decided to build a central computer system to collect your meter data and reroute it to whichever retailer you buy energy from.

One commitment led to another, with the design becoming more Heath Robinson at every step, and nobody at DECC having the engineering know-how or political confidence to take the hard decisions.

So while Spaniards have a standard smart meter costing 40 euros, we’ll get three or four devices in each house, at a cost in the high hundreds. But why should the Treasury care?

It’s not tax money being wasted, as the power companies can just add their costs to your bill.

Criticism from despairing engineers and energy economists fell on deaf ears. As a Labour leader’s policy triumph had become a Coalition commitment, no MP or civil servant dared question it.

Contractors licked their lips. But while Centrica and Ovo already sell proprietary smart meters, the integrated national system Miliband dreamed of is still far away. The radio network won’t reach enough homes. The meters won’t communicate with appliances.

The ever-changing standards for a British national meter have become too complicated.

Oh, and people who fit smart meters and then change supplier discover a whole new world of pain.

So for a prime minister who wants to drive energy bills as low as possible, the sacred cow has to go.

Otherwise every household in Britain will end up paying about fifty pounds a year more on their fuel bill, a regressive tax that would hit the elderly poor the worst.

But how can a government kill a £20bn programme without getting roasted alive by the lobbyists? Easy: split the industry. Let companies who don’t install smart meters charge their customers less.

And do it quietly in the middle of an election – when the lobbyists have no access to anyone. On June 9th it will be a done deal.

Ross Anderson is professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory

Lees verder in de categorie Berichten Internationaal | Terug naar homepage | Lees de introductie