UNDER my house is a very deep and dark cellar with its own well where, at some time in the past, a very brave man fitted the energy meters. They are so hard to get to that you need a hard hat and for the first time ever, the meter-man refused to go down, saying it was too dangerous.
It was only a couple of days later that I got a call offering me a smart meter. The salesperson told me that it would save me money and I could be on the cheapest tariff possible. It was obvious that this was some kind of bribe to get me to change my meter and after a little research I knew why. No smart meter – no cheap tariff.
For some reason, the Government wants all houses in the UK to be fitted with these new smart meters and, before 2020, we will all be offered one. This £11bn project is an expensive priority that the energy companies are taking very seriously. The vast cost will be spread over all of our energy bills over the coming years. It is definitely not a free meter, as it works out at a contribution of over £200 per household, whether you have a meter or not.
However, like a growing number of people, I will be refusing their kind offer. Currently, one in five people don’t want a smart meter and that number is growing.
The hyperbole that I will save £27 per year looks to be incorrect, with the true figure being around £11. Smart meters don’t automatically save you money. Consumers have to actively engage with the meter and change their behaviour based on its information, or they won’t see their bills fall.
In other words, all the meters do is tell you the amount of power you are using and you have to switch off to save money. Not really much of a saving, especially when they have a downside.
The meters are fraught with problems and make it difficult to change energy suppliers as some of them stop working if you do. Smart meters are not that smart. One man received a bill for £33,183 for gas used in one day. Another was told to pay £9,600 for his daily electric. Out of the 15 million meters fitted up to 2018, 2.3 million don’t work.
I am not one for conspiracies, but it concerns me that the Government should be pushing a device that can record private data within the home. Although energy companies say the meters record only the gas and electricity we use, that information itself can be sold for advertising purposes.
The analytics company Onzo was quoted as saying: “We take energy consumption data from smart meters and sensors. We analyse it and build a highly-personalised profile for each and every utility customer.” Onzo says it will have “the ability to monetise their customer data by providing a direct link to appropriate third party organisations based on the customer’s identified character”.
In other words, they can assess your needs by the way you use energy through the week. Some say that companies will even be able to tell how many times you switch the kettle on or when you open the fridge door – important information to an advertiser wanting to know when you are watching the TV with a cup of tea.
Guy Herbert, of the public campaign group NO2ID, said: “Smart meters are presented as an environmental and power-saving initiative. But it’s a high surveillance model. It can tell how many showers you have had, when you are cooking, when you are in and out of the home.”
This sort of data is not only of interest to advertisers wanting to target you, but also to security services. It has been said that smart meters really are a spy in the home. Is it right that commercial companies and Government agencies can have access to data that shows our daily routines?
One of my major concerns, following detailed research, is the amount of radiation that the meters will give out. Wifi is still in its infancy and there have been no long-term studies on its effect on health. Energy companies say there is no cause for concern, but across Europe, 5G and wifi are being banned from public spaces and schools because of health fears.
The World Health Organisation confirmed that radio-frequency electromagnetic fields can be carcinogenic to humans. Wireless phone use has been linked to an increased risk of brain cancer. Smart meters work on the same principle. That is one of the reasons I will never have a meter installed.
And one thing is certain – I will not be bullied or manipulated by energy suppliers to have a smart meter. This Government white elephant is doomed to fail and will be another huge waste of public money clawed back from the energy users and hidden in their ever-growing bills.
GP Taylor is a bestselling author and broadcaster. He lives in Whitby.