The roll out of smart meters in the UK has been complicated, slow and expensive (about 14 billion euros at last estimate). But the old generation of smart meters is an obsolete technology with limited functions. For the most part they do not even allow switching providers, further complicating the market. Andrew Warren of the British Energy Efficiency Federation says in an article on the BusinessGreen website that there is a further complication: current SMETS1 smart meters are not equipped to enable smart Electric Vehicle charging. With the growing interest in electric vehicles, this could severely affect the expanding market. Have you found similar problems in your country?
Smart meters are set to hamper, not help, the EV rollout
Earlier this month, BusinessGreen published an (unusually, anonymous) article entitled “New survey suggests advanced smart meters could help drive customer interest in plug-in vehicles”. It referred breathlessly to a “new Populus survey of over 2,000 UK adults, carried out on behalf of Smart Energy GB, the government-backed agency tasked with promoting the UK’s smart meter roll out”.
“The poll found (sic) that while there is already considerable consumer interest in the fast-expanding EV market, engagement is likely to rise further once people realise how plug-in vehicles can integrate with advanced smart meters to help curb energy costs.” Splendid. Except for one key factor. This integration is simply not going to be possible for practically anybody who has already installed a so-called smart meter into their home or small business to date. Why?
For the simple reason that almost all of the 11 million “smart” meters that have been installed to date has been under the existing scheme, with the acronym SMETS1. This is the technical name of the current statutory requirement placed upon all electricity and/or gas providers – charging them with supplying 53 million such meters by 2020.
Obligated suppliers are, perfectly legally, still installing completely obsolete technologies. If you take the analogy with telephony, what is being installed is the equivalent of the old eight-kilo chunky handheld mobile phones prevalent in the 1990s. With no facility to text, or go online, let alone take photographs.
And the most disgraceful aspect is that, to “persuade” customers to have these antiques installed, several of the electricity suppliers are withholding access to their lowest tariffs to “refuseniks”. No wonder customer satisfaction levels with energy suppliers are so woefully low.
We know that many of these antiques lose functionality when switching suppliers. As doing precisely that is now the main initiative promoted by the UK government to help householders save money on their fuel bills, this matters. Some 2.3 million households did so last year. Those consumers with smart meters already installed who took up that government advice will likely find their meters lose any smartness they may once have had – a fault that has been acknowledged for five years. But still never rectified.
Last July Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s announced that by 2040 every single motor vehicle sold would be electrically powered. This all-electric transport announcement prompted immediate speculation that recharging such batteries would add enormously to electricity demand. Some tabloids even headlined an anticipated 50 per cent increase in consumption levels.
Saner voices, led by National Grid, suggested the actual increase could be fairly marginal, around 10 per cent – much less than the decline in electricity sales of over 15 per cent during the past decade. But achieving this would require ensuring that such extra demand was shifted to off-peak times. Cue the survey cited above, linking EVs to the government policy offering to install 53 million smart meters into SMEs and homes by 2020 (or soon after).
The trouble is, the “smart” technology that government is mandating to be installed simply isn’t offering that option. This doesn’t just affect customers of the Big Six. Take First Utility, the largest of the insurgent. Their agents Siemens specifically tell prospective smart meter recipients “if your current meter has multiple reading rates (for example day and night rates), and you no longer require that functionality, we can install a single rate smart meter for you. First Utility do not support multiple rate smart meters at this time.”
Until the smart meter SMETS1 specification is modernised, it will be very expensive to recharge a battery. Not so much for the individual car owner, who will simply be paying at standard tariff rate. But everyone else on the entire system would end up paying for all those extra power stations needed to meet excessive peak demand – if sophisticated load-spreading cannot take place.
Problems Not New
It is not as if these problems are new. They have been acknowledged from the time that the mass roll-out of so-called smart meters began. A far smarter SMETS2 meter is available. According to a recent parliamentary statement, just 80 of these have yet been installed.
A formal change over to genuine smart meters has long been promised. An anticipated introductory date of 2015 was publicised initially. Since then, there have been interminable official promises about their introduction occurring ‘shortly’. There is still no final date set.
In the interim, the clunky old meters keep being installed. Some 400,000 more each month, as the famed 2020 completion of roll-out date looms ever nearer. The trouble is that there is no intention of returning to any of these premises to upgrade at a later date. Once a so-called “smart” meter has been installed, that is the end of the obligation upon energy companies.
The trouble is not just that loss of any smartness for those who switch suppliers. It is also the horrendous realisation that so many electric vehicles are going to be recharging at one of those 11 million premises, served by smart meters that are simply not capable of providing sophisticated pricing so as not to overload the entire electricity system at peak times. And pushing up the real cost of rolling out EVs so dramatically for everybody.