Jayne Dowle: So much for a smart plan for energy meters

Jayne Dowle is still waiting for a smart meter to be fitted.
Jayne Dowle is still waiting for a smart meter to be fitted.
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I’VE heard of not having the “right” type of accent or even failing to wear the “right” kind of shoes, but until recently I had no idea that both my house and my gas and electricity arrangements are not fit for purpose.

For more than a year, I have been begging my dual-fuel energy provider to install me a smart meter. Literally begging. By phone, social media and by registering my interest on the website. I’ve been told over and over again that there are no appointments available in my area and I will have to wait.

Given that this new technology – which can measure how much energy a home uses on a daily basis – is not exactly universally popular, you might think that the man with the kit would be banging down my door.

It would be good customer service, for a start. And it would stop me reaching for a plant pot when those annoying “smart energy GB” campaign characters “Gaz” and “Leccy” pop up on TV admonishing the nation for not signing up.

Some people say that the units, which employ secure wireless technology to transmit energy use data direct to British Gas, EDF, Scottish Power and so on, are a short step from “Big Brother” surveillance. It’s also said that the total cost of this roll-out is expected to top £11bn, partly borne by increases in household bills.

No such scruples here. In my previous home, the energy bills were shocking. So shocking that they were one of the reasons why we moved to a smaller property last year. The fact that I couldn’t see how our costs were racking up caused serious anxiety. That digital display hooked up wirelessly to the meter would put me in control.

Although our monthly direct debit has now thankfully reduced, I still need all the back-up I can get to convince my two children to extinguish lights and turn off televisions and consoles. As for my partner and the central heating, let’s just say that we don’t agree about settings for thermostatic radiator valves.

Yes, I am Scrooge. And with my hat and fingerless gloves, there’s more than a passing resemblance. As soon as everyone leaves for work and school, I switch off the radiators and underfloor heating in the kitchen. I would find a strange pleasure in watching the digital figures on the screen barely shift all day as I sat typing under a blanket.

It’s a pleasure I can only anticipate. And it would seem that it’s all because I live in a 1920s house with the meters in the cellar. Now I know the reason why my pleas to have a smart meter installed are falling on deaf ears. It’s nothing to do with postcodes, really.

To my chagrin, my parents, who live so close to me that I can see their modern bungalow, had their smart meter installed last week. We share the same dual-fuel energy supplier and the same three digits in our postcode. A leaflet popped through their door, a quick phone call followed and a few weeks later they are the proud owners of a digital display on the kitchen worktop.

However, the chap who came to do their installation let slip that properties with meters in cellars are difficult to tackle. It’s not just a matter of access, it’s to do with the technology.

All that nonsense about waiting for an appointment is just a smokescreen. I contacted the press office for my energy provider and it admitted that I may be “ineligible” for a smart meter due to “possible signal strength issues”.

Why promise me something and then not deliver? I did some further investigation and discovered that other frustrated homeowners have been told their walls are too thick, or that their homes are too tall, with too many floors for the signal from the smart meter to connect effectively with the digital display.

Without conducting a scientific experiment, I’d say that the irony of all this is that many homes which might especially benefit from close monitoring of energy use – old, larger-than-average and so on – are the ones least likely to be able to take advantage.

For once, I’m not laying the blame for false promises entirely at the feet of the energy companies. To be fair, they are only acting on the Government’s orders. If the technology isn’t up to scratch, it needs proper investment and planning.

What I’ve learned shows a crazy lack of foresight and basic common sense. It makes a mockery of the Government’s promise to roll out smart meters to every property in England, Wales and Scotland in the next two years. Here it is on the gov.uk website in black and white: “All homes and small business sites will be offered smart meters by their energy company between now and the end of 2020.”

I presume this means all homes without cellars and thick walls. That’s a lot of homes. Is this great smart meter revolution just another way to divide the country into the haves and the have-nots? If so, it’s not a very smart plan at all.