343 - Dumb Smart Meters | Scoins.net | DJS

343 - Dumb Smart Meters

IMG 4097Smart-and-Dumb-Gas-meters

As part of the upgrade process we went through with this house, I installed solar panels. I was well annoyed that the Feed-in Tariff, by which one was recompensed for exported electrical energy, had stopped and that the promised replacement scheme was well hidden and not found by me until October 2020. All such schemes require one to have switched to a smart meter, so as to be able to collect a return on what energy is exported; obviously we needed a smart meter.

Mistake. This government initiative has, like so many others, failed. Oh, it looks good, but it fails in so many ways. You can't switch suppliers – well you can, but the smart meter reverts to pretty stupid in too many cases. The signal that the meter uses to send data off (often, like every 30 minutes) to your supplier is easily interrupted and upgrades made at a district level cause not a few local meters to cease to function at all smartly; they smartly become not at all smart. As happened to the gas part of our meters. In perhaps November 2020, meaning we had only about a year's provision of this allegedly 'better' information. The smart (this time meaning it's quite good to look at) in-house display (IHD) says when we're exporting to the grid and you can understand that the usual behaviour is to go find something electrical to turn on so as to reduce that export, reducing the surplus gifted to the grid. There is an assumption that the power grid has ways of directing what is exported from the many solar panels. It does not produce any income, though it reduces what we're charged for. Of course our biggest demand is not when the panels are best generating.

The covid interregnum has had some effect on the belated scheme to update smart meters from SMETS1 to SMETS2, simply because any change requires 'a little man' to enter your property and ascertain what can be done – sometimes a software upgrade, more often a wholesale replacement. Not only is that an issue, but the demand for replacement meters is very much higher than was expected, being the demand for 'first' smart meters plus the demand for replacement of 'old' smart meters. 

Finding out quite who is responsible, not in the sense of needing a scapegoat but in trying to understand the situation and whether there is sense in chasing someone for progress, or even if there is a someone to chase, is surprisingly difficult. Meanwhile, of course, there is very little incentive to the power companies to proceed with any speed. A lot of this mess has been passed on to a third party, the Data Communications Company  [DCC], but the cost of all of this is, supposedly covered by the power companies.  The political outfall is invisible but ought to be dramatic. Read what Dieter Helm ¹ had to say in March 2017.

The National Audit Office, the NAO, is a source we're supposed to believe. [4, page 6, Key Facts} -->

The deadline 'end of 2019' was set in 2012 and reset a year later to the end of 2020; at some point in 2020 the end point was moved again to the far end of 2021. The Department, BEIS, is responsible for the whole, OfGem for ascertaining that suppliers have complied, DCC ² for making the communications happen. That still does not make it clear who is actually responsible for causing one's smart meter to be upgraded. See [4] among others for a timeline of events detailing the whole mess.  ³

A SMETS1 meter can be upgraded rather than be replaced, but realistically that is a stopgap measure and eventually a SMETS2 will be required. Roll-out of the first generation meters started slowly and then the faults were discovered, most to do with what happens when you switch energy provider. There was another connectivity issue to do with how connectivity was arranged, so that an upgrade at district level caused some meters to switch to dumb mode, which is, in effect, returning to the same state as not having installed a smart meter at all. This is what happened to us, restricted to the gas meter only. No, I don't understand how this is, but I think some of the issues circulate around the frequency band of the signal used. I'm just grateful we (the UK) didn't insist on all meters using 5G protocols. It doesn't need to be fast at all; it needs to be reliable and to work over distance, so 2G would be fine and very long wavelength would be okay given the capacity for a lot of redundancy in signal. Which is what Essay 243 said was supposed to be happening; 2G technology.

Some of the general problem is the persistent inability of a UK government to succeed in any IT task. The problem is always handed off to others who then show, very often at length, that the task as described is insoluble. That makes the state incompetent at the point when it hands out contracts, quite possibly by allowing these to be open-ended instead of describing a problem and paying for a solution. This might well be a consequence of permitting decision-makers to be non-technical; how is any non-tech person equipped to make tech decisions?

What makes no sense at all is that having our gas meter not work is what we've been left thinking is why we can't claim a return on exported electrical energy. This is patently wrong, since we don't export gas. So there are faults with both of the meters but we can't see for ourselves what is wrong with the electric meter – which I suppose means that there are issues with its ability to export information. It is one thing for the supplier to collect the meter reading, but quite another leap in technical synchronisation for the export to be collectable.

An OfGem open letter is, I thought, remarkably unhelpful; where I wanted to read something hard-hitting and demanding results what I read seems very soft and conciliatory. I quote a bit I found typical. ³

Since the end of July 2019, the DCC and suppliers have been enrolling SMETS1 meters into the DCC with over 3.8 million SMETS1 meters having been enrolled to date and we anticipate that this will continue at scale throughout 2021. The Enrolment and Adoption obligation requires suppliers to take all reasonable steps to facilitate that their SMETS1 meters become eligible for enrolment. Once eligible, suppliers must take all reasonable steps to enrol their SMETS1 meters into the DCC within 12 months of the meter becoming eligibleTo date, millions of SMETS1 meters have become eligible for enrolment and we expect suppliers to plan for the timely enrolment of the SMETS1 meters in their portfolio. This is the route to ensuring that SMETS1 customers who have lost smart functionality when they have switched have this restored and that those that switch supplier in future retain their smart functionality. This is vital as this will enable customers to realise the enduring benefits of smart metering. We further note, that as the process continues to gather pace, it is important that suppliers plan their enrolment profiles across the 12-month enrolment window and provide accurate migration forecasts to the DCC in order to ensure they are using the full period available to them and do not end up backloading enrolment and leaving it too late. 

Another source offers this chart and says:

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year more than 5.5 million smart meters have been connected to the DCC network, bringing consumers the benefits of accurate billing and the ability to switch suppliers while retaining smart functionality.

The number of second-generation smart meters, known as SMETS2, is still growing steadily, at slightly below pre-pandemic installation rate. 

Much of the recent accelerated growth of the DCC’s network is attributed to the mass migration of more than 3 million first-generation meters (SMETS1). These meters pre-date the DCC network and the industry has worked hard to retrofit the many technology variants to the platform, giving the meters full smart functionality, which is retained even when the consumer switches supplier.

Trying to improve on that chart I found this from the BBC which is saying that my earlier numbers are all wrong. So I'll go back to the the sources to see what I may have misunderstood. 

I've written already on an earlier page (245) that the cost of comms (broadband, phone access, streaming services, tv supplies and so on) is about the same as energy costs and that this is typical for UK households; the comms bill is generally a bit higher than for utilities. As that earlier essay showed, you can't merely compare the cost of broadband with your energy bill. But the political and media fuss is about energy; while this might tie into climate change and while we might all save significant spending by diverting capital into our homes so that it is better insulated or more efficiently heated, we're spending a lot more on being able to vegetate in so many ways. That said, it is not at all surprising that there is little will to do anything about energy at a personal level. So, politically, any progress on this front has to be perceived as free, even when it clearly isn't. Smart meters fit into this category, as does any upgrading of the domestic housing stock, the electrification of transport and so on: we'll pay for it sure enough, but indirectly.

Two significant problems are displayed in the thinking behind the smart meter fiasco. One is that meters apparently belong not with the energy companies but with the distribution network.  The energy companies supply energy and want to make money. It has become clear that one effect of energy supply deregulation is that the face that the customer sees is that of a middleman buying wholesale (even if from a different part of the same company) and selling as best he can. The network owner ought to be the state and the objective is to have the most effective possible network. The other fault is that the smart meter needs to include electricity, gas, water and broadband (meaning multiple digital services including the phone landline); again the need is for a regulated (high) standard network quite separate from the services or volumes purchased and supplied via that network. In the same way that we pay for the road network through state bodies but purchase transport and fuel / services for that from a quite different and very varied group of suppliers. Of course, moving to a single supplier builds in the likelihood of legacy problems, such as BT going for copper wires. We need innovation to be built into such systems, but we simultaneously need our networks to be compatible and universal. So, if we choose not to have a monopoly we must have vigorous well-funded regulation, approval and fault-finding. Ofgem and OfQual but for power network services. What we have is a collection, perhaps as many as ten, of DNOs, distributed network organisations; they exist to keep the network functioning (and one hopes, to improve it as much as possible). Nine of the DNOs are electrical, one gas. I think this needs extension to other fields and I think OfGem needs a reboot.

DJS 20210503

Extracted from the April snippets

Yes, we switched suppliers, but we only did that AFTER the gas side slipped into dumb mode and our (then) supplier was very clearly not at all interested in a fix. We have slightly better information from the new supplier, but no action. Both suppliers are blaming a somebody else, without actually making it clear who that party is. Very frustrating. The best answer I have had is 'Wait". As answers to "Until when?", I do not believe 'July 2020', nor 'August 2021' and I'm doubtful about 'December 2021'. There are far too many meters to be installed and far too little incentive to get the job done. Perhaps we need to give this task to the NHS; they seem to get necessary things done at pace.

Update Sep 2021:  E.ON. after my third letter of 'complaint', realised that I can read. In particular, that I can read my meter, which says how many hours of output to grid there have been. I can photograph this as proof. They have now in some sense 'approved' my application and I suspect it has joined the 10-20 week queue for formal ratification that the recompense (SEG, Smart Export Guarantee, replacing FIT, Feed-in Tariff) will apply. But of course, this is still three summers late. And it also means that whatever process is in hand to upgrade my SMETS1, I've lost what minute leverage I had to get that actually done.

Related pages : 243 Smart Meters

319 offshore Wind Farms 


245 Essential Communications 

249 British Social Attitudes

What could possibly go wrong? Imagine we have everyone on a smart meter. Aside from hackers managing to 'blow things up', we could also have pricing that varied by the half-hour (the frequency at which smart meters are sampled, in theory anyway), so that for example the adverts in the middle of Coronation Street might become a high-price zone, as might having a shower at bedtime; conversely, if the sun shines brightly on a cloudless day, the price of home-generated electricity exported to the grid would go down. Even lower than it already is.   For those who get a non-zero return.

Do you think you're permitted to own your own spring?      [Yes, you are, in the UK]    

1 https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/smart-meter-problems-and-solutions-a32nQ4f3LKV8

http://www.dieterhelm.co.uk/energy/energy/not-so-smart-what-has-gone-wrong-with-the-smart-meter-programme-and-how-to-fix-it/  20170317 and apparently prescient. I'd like to find an update but it may be that I have to write it myself.


4  https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-smart-meters/  2018

5  https://www.dyballassociates.co.uk/smart-meter-installations-rebound-strongly-and-held-steady-during-lockdown-2-0

6  https://www.current-news.co.uk/news/october-sees-a-quarter-of-a-million-smart-meters-installed-in-2020-high

7   https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/887809/Q1_2020_Smart_Meters_Statistics_Report_FINAL.pdf


¹   ²  ³   ⁴                   

1 Sir Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford and Fellow in economics at New College, Oxford. Why is prof not capitalised if Fellow is? I'd like to understand how come he published a lot in 2017 but very little in 2020. Perhaps he retired.

2 Simply put, the DCC is the data system at the heart of the smart meter rollout as it was identified early on that there was a need for secure, automated interaction across the industry. In order to operate smart meters, suppliers must connect to the infrastructure provided by the DCC. DCC is an owned subsidiary of Capita who in 2013 was granted the licence to build and manage the Smart Meter network by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The DCC is regulated by Ofgem. Source.  Oh, not Capita again! Importantly, first generation Smart Meters (SMETS1) are now under the remit of the DCC which has created a challenge for some suppliers. The move means that suppliers must switch to the DCC and ensure their SMETS1 meters are incorporated into the DCC.

3  Timeline of the smart meter fiasco found here. It's older than you think. Gems:  2016: GCHQ blew the whistle on smart meter cybersecurity. Since all smart meters shared the same encryption key, it meant that the whole system had a single point of failure which could result in hackers “blowing things up” according to a senior Whitehall source. 2018: Greg Pytel, an economist overseeing the smart meter rollout for Ofgem, was threatened with criminal prosecution after internally bringing to light irregularities in the scheme, according to a report by The Guardian. Those concerns were never made public because Ofgem invoked a national security ruling, effectively imposing a gag order on most of their employees. Sep 2018 13 million smart meters installed - of the 50 million to be installed by the given deadline. At least 10% work 'dumb'.

4  The numbers are often confusing. Using the NAO as gospel, there are 39 million more meters wanted, of which 95% should be relatively straightforward to fit mostly because the data connection will work. That is consistent with there being 56 million meters in the country, 11-12 million of which are working at the higher standard and 4-5 million like mine, acting stupid while looking clever. The last 3-5% is generally classed as remote to data connection (e.g. at a farm) and will take more work and time - and, if it is like the supply of internet, will somehow never quite get fixed. There are or were or have been 5.4 million SMETS1 meters installed and some of these can be upgraded while some need to be replaced. Eventually all will have to be replaced, since there are some things like handling EV car charging that the first-gen meters cannot do.

Source [7] says that as of Q1 2020 21.5M smart meters were installed, of which 4.2M [7, p4] were smart but dumb for various reasons. Working backwards from numbers given in [7] the numbers of non-domestic meters is 3.2M, while domestic meters come to 51.6M, (from knowing that the 16M smart domestic meters are 31% of the whole). The numbers [7,p5] then check that there are a bit over 4 million domestic meters that are smart but acting in dumb mode. 

It is our gas meter failure that irks me. I really don't like smart but dumb.

5  The grand political plan behind switching meters was to save money at a national level. The cack-handed result puts that saving into significant doubt. Worse, the whole thing was supposed to cost the consumer nothing but we all know how that always ends up – the consumer will be paying for this through its bills. Per anum, as I read once. So the whole thing is funded in an open-ended way that leaves very little incentive to fix the problem in a timely manner. To quote [4], the facts are that the programme is late, the costs are escalating, and in 2017 the cost of installing smart meters was 50% higher than the Department assumed. 7.1 million extra SMETS1 meters have been rolled out because the Department wanted to speed up the programme. The Department knows that a large proportion of SMETS1 meters currently lose smart functionality after a switch in electricity supplier and there is real doubt about whether SMETS1 will ever provide the same functionality as SMETS2. The full functionality of the system is also dependent on the development of technology that is not yet developed. 

Also from [4] from Fig3, p11 of Summary pdf, expected benefits: Long term (2021–2050) The potential benefits of a smart energy system were not included in the programme’s value-for-money case. These are estimated at up to £38 billion by 2050, but require further investments (beyond smart meters) of up to £18 billion.

6  Quite who is responsible for what remains remarkably unclear. Talking to my energy provider, both EDF and E.ON are carefully vague whether they hold any responsibility for getting the meters out or upgraded or replaced. Both pointed me to DCC as if it was DCC's problem to solve, not the provider. The material from the state department, BEIS, strongly suggests to me—without explicitly saying so—that the onus lies with the provider. That may be because they're perceived to be the biggest business involved but it seems to me that responsibilities should have been made very clear at the outset and be findable by such as myself. The supplier is who you contact to switch to a smart meter. The printed material that comes with your new meter gives you very little understanding what it does, how it works, what you ought to do with it, how it will improve your circumstances — it doesn't in our case, because we were already aware of our consumption, having had solar panels (which make you very much aware) before. There is supposed to be instruction ('advice on energy saving' often referred to as training, meaning it is not a booklet) at the point of installation. I know we had none but I was expecting none, yet some 2.1M customers at 2018 have no recollection of receiving any oral instruction. So if any occurred, it was not recognised as such; probably it didn't happen at all. That continues at a level of 27% [link [4], summary para 21 and para 30c]. I reckon the 'advice given' box is ticked immediately after the fitter says 'Any questions?'. If you don't know what you don't know, how can you ask any intelligent question?

A re-read of the NAO report [4] says that 'the Department' (BEIS; Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) has overall responsibility. Well that gets me nowhere at all. If you've ever tried to get a straight answer out of any government body, you'll already know this. No part of the meter swapping process included any official paper, nor would it if you believe that the meter is owned by someone not the householder. But that makes the collection of data a non-householder problem, which is not what occurs when the meter actually works; it most definitely makes it a householder problem when you want it to work so you can collect a return (however small)  on capital investment such as solar panels.

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