Anyone having a gas/leccy meter replaced with a Smart Meter? Something you need to know

(68 Posts)
Tianc Sun 23-Oct-11 19:09:15

As requested, a thread about Smart Meters.

The power companies are intending to replace all electricity and gas meters with Smart Meters starting this year (govt prospectus). They're loudly selling this idea as energy-saving, because Smart Meters have big screens to show your energy consumption.

But Smart Meters do an awful lot more than that. Including things the companies are keeping rather quieter about.

Smart Meters will be reprogrammable remotely. If a power company thinks you owe it money - or makes a typo - it will flick your meter over to Prepayment mode and load it with whatever it thinks your debt is (see p16).

Currently they cannot do this without physically installing a prepayment meter, for which they need a court warrant to access your premises. So they have to demonstrate to a neutral body like a court that they are not talking complete bollocks. And they very often talk bollocks because power company records are notoriously shite (phantom meters, zillion pound bills, and a Mumsnet Classic).

Plus going to court, installing meters, etc, costs money, and meanwhile the company's not getting paid, because the consumer can simply decline to pay an obviously bonkers bill. So the current set-up focuses their little minds somewhat on sorting the problem out.

With Smart Meters, tick a box on your account and lo! your meter is a prepayment one loaded with the debt of £944994594984 they've decided you owe.

There are also other v serious problems with reprogrammable Smart Meters, including that they're potentially hackable and brickable. The cybersecurity people like Prof Ross Anderson are doing their nuts about it. Meanwhile Ofgem, which is supposed to represent the consumers' interests, has in fact been tasked with pushing through the change.

TBF, some of the Smart Meter functions actually are trying to tackle genuine problems, but in such a way the remedy may be far worse than the disease. Other functions are purely for the benefit of the power companies.

I'll shortly do a list of papers from the consultation process and other useful reading, and also try to précis and reference the major issues.

Tianc Sun 23-Oct-11 22:55:54

blush <wonders if can install Smart Brain>

A friend has a jar in her kitchen labelled "raisons". I'm tempted to dip into it: I'm often at a loss for raisons.

gallicgirl Sun 23-Oct-11 23:02:40

£240 might be court costs for the warrant. I know that's the price for a committal application anyway.

It pisses me off that the poorest and most vulnerable are charged more for their power through pre-payment meters. I think Martin Lewis might have something on his website about it.

oksonowwhat Mon 24-Oct-11 10:18:44

Yeah, think they £240 is because they have got an excuse to apply for a warrant, i'm in arrears. Not massive arrears but i suppose i've left it easy for them to go to court and apply for a warrant to put one in as i'm in arrears and they can just say thats the only way to get the money.

Can't do a link i'm useless at stuff like that, but i'll keep an eye out for any other local news about it and i'll pm you or something if i see something.

Gotarty Mon 24-Oct-11 11:00:46

Smart Metering should resolve the issue of prepayment consumers paying more their electricity.
Administering a prepayment smart meter is no more costly than administering a non prepayment meter - which isn't the case for a standard meter and is the defense power compaies have for higher charges. So in theory power companies will no longer to able to charge extra and the poor and the vunerable will potentially pay less for their power.

I believe the Data Commisioner has decided that the data collected from a smart metered customer belongs to the customer and the customer would have to agree to the power company using that data. So although they may be able to force you to change the meter - which belongs to the power company anyway, they cannot force you to sign away your data.

Of course you may not get the best rate if you decide to withhold your data.

garlicBreathZombie Mon 24-Oct-11 12:52:13

Tianc, if we all write to our MPs using using WriteToThem.com, what points do you recommend making? You're not allowed to invite cut-and-paste messages, but the main points should be reasoned and consistent.

I could set up a website giving fuller details for it, too, but haven't got time to research and write the copy for it [hint]

Tianc Mon 24-Oct-11 13:43:25

I'll try to get some précis of the main points down today. There's a lot of stuff, and I haven't read up on it since the results of the consultation came out.

If you're likely to disseminate it further, I'd better not do this just from memory damn.

garlicBreathZombie Mon 24-Oct-11 14:03:36

That's kind, thanks smile

Tianc Mon 24-Oct-11 14:15:15

And garlic, it's wonderful if you can take this forward. I know people are (quite rightly) clamouring for solutions, but actually my brain will explode if I try to do research/précis and write sparkling prose about positive action in the same calendar month. <feeble>

So I'll concentrate on getting the grumbles down – hope you can transform them into something better.

Tianc Mon 24-Oct-11 14:15:54

X-posted. No, thank you!

Tianc Mon 24-Oct-11 14:51:11

/rant/
Can I just let off steam before I pop a blood vessel reading these documents? It's a tangent, but I need to get it out of my system.

The DECC Prospectus continually discuss the benefits of X or Y, where the beneficiary is almost entirely the power company.

Eg. "Valve functionality in smart meters also supports benefits associated with remote switching between credit and prepay, as well as remote disconnection which will help to better manage debt in the future." (Disablement / enablement functionality for smart gas meters, p4)

Obviously remote disconnection or switching to prepayment (now charmingly renamed PAYG) benefits the company hugely. But unless you're planning to change your meter type several times a year, it's not a particularly big deal to the consumer .

Nonetheless, the language rolls on claiming that things are either direct benefits to the consumer, or that benefits to the power companies are really just indirect benefits to the consumer. (This from the people who pass on wholesale gas price hikes immediately but mysteriously can't pass on price falls.) hmm

"Consumers lie at the heart of the smart metering programme", states the Consumer Protection chapter (p1).

Yeah, like turkeys lie at the heart of Christmas.

/end rant/

Tianc Mon 24-Oct-11 22:32:16

Right. There are serious problems looming in energy provision in the UK, as old power stations close but demand increases, and in the coming decades there's a high probability of power rationing and cuts. Some - not all - of the functions in Smart Meters are responses to these problems. But the solutions are themselves controversial. These are major decisions worthy of informed democratic debate in the sunlight, because they involve fundamental questions like cybersecurity, privacy, and criteria on which to ration (money or per capita).

There are also functions bundled into the Smart Meters which are there purely for the financial benefit of the power companies.

I think we need public, well-informed debate of everything to do with Smart Meters. Over the next few days I'll do my best to list and unpack some of the issues.

So, what are Smart Meters for?

1) Smart Meters will have an In-Home Display (IHD) so the consumer can easily see how much power they are consuming.

This item is top of the consumer benefits summary by the DECC.(ref 1) And it's the primary aspect of Smart Meters some power companies promote to consumers.(ref 2) The theory is that you'll easily see what you're using the most power on and when, and make lifestyle changes so reduce your energy use and carbon emissions.

But.

a) You can achieve similar monitoring with a clip-on display meter for about £25. And the £40 meters store data so you can analyse and compare your usage over different time periods. (ref 3)

b) The power companies have been posting out free clip-on display meters for years.

c) The DECC's original plans did not require Smart Meters to have IHDs.(ref 4) This a late addition to the required spec, and the DECC only requires that the power companies support these IHDs for one year.(ref 5)

d) The above is because what evidence there is suggests that if people are going to make a change it tends to be a one-off shift to new habits, like turning the themostat down, or a one-off home improvement like insulating the water heater. Average energy savings varied from 2 to 15 per cent.(ref 6)

Summary
The In-Home Display is not the main purpose of Smart Meters. Anyone who claims it is, is attempting to mislead you.

IHDs may help households make some changes to reduce their consumption, but this could probably also be achieved by clip-on display meters.

References
ref 1 Smart Metering Implementation Programme: Consumer Protection, DECC, Summary
ref 2 "What are Smart Meters", British Gas
ref 3 home energy meters, Ethical Superstore
ref 4 ?Smart meters 'need live displays'?, BBC News
ref 5 Smart Metering Implementation Programme: In-Home Display, DECC, Summary & §3.21
ref 6 Smart Metering Implementation Programme: In-Home Display, DECC, §3.14-3.17

plupervert Mon 24-Oct-11 22:49:51

In that case, what about taking it from the perspective of the Information Commissioner's remit? After all, "data protection" as a concept is by definition concerned with "mission creep", using information for purposes not intended (e.g. tachometers on company cars), information falling into the wrong hands (even potentially - companies have to warn you if information they gather is going to be transmitted to a jurisdiction which has laxer information protection than ours).

Therefore, the centralising, rewritable nature of the meters is a legitimate target for some Information Commissioner intervention. Particularly if it makes consumers vulnerable to the Distributed Denial of Service Attacks mentioned in that BBC article.

Could that be an angle?

Tianc Tue 25-Oct-11 00:36:54

Yes, I imagine the Information Commissioner will have a lot to say about this. Will report back as I pick my way through the docs.

I think part of the problem is that we're putting in place physical infrastructure that is profoundly vulnerable to both attack and abuse, and relying on legislation to stop these happening. Like leaving your front door open and saying it'll be OK cos there's a law against stealing your telly.

And I suspect the ICO will only be able to complain after the abuse has happened.

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure is likely to be more into prevention – but they're discreet folks and we won't necessarily know what they're doing about it.

As an aside, the central database system (DCC) is not scheduled to be licensed until autumn 2012 (more on the DCC anon). So maybe the Smart Meters already installed are operating in dumb mode for now.

caramelwaffle Tue 25-Oct-11 00:42:35

Thank you for this information

Tianc Tue 25-Oct-11 21:33:16

2) Smart Meters will probably create a record of your power usage at half-hourly intervals

The data will be kept on central databases by the DataCommsCo (DCC – not to be confused with DECC, the Dept of Energy & Climate Change) so that it can be easily accessed by a variety of parties. Thirteen months of data will also be stored on the Smart Meter itself.(ref 1)

Data this fine-grained inevitably creates a profile of what's going on at an address, when it's occupied, what times people are awake or cooking or showering, etc.

Ofgem acknowledges that this will be a step-change in the amount of information available(ref 2), and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says this does indeed constitute personal data under the Data Protection Act.(ref 3) Meanwhile, "Dutch courts have already found fine-grained central data collection by smart meters to be an unacceptable infringement of citizens' privacy and security".(ref 4)

It would not be surprising if the DCC database joined the DVLA records, phone records and the other long list of databases being illegally accessed by newspapers, private investigators, etc, either by technical hacking or social engineering.

The DCC or power companies will also be able to share your data with third parties. Supposedly you will be able to refuse permission for this, but given how cavalierly many organisations treat sharing your phone number and other personal data – eg insurance companies selling information about accidents to personal injury lawyers(ref 5) – it’s hardly a reliable safeguard.

And the data on the Smart Meter itself will be accessible to anyone who has access to the premises in the 13 months (eg abusive partner, fake meter reader, next tenant).

Why do the power companies want half-hourly data?

Clearly, it's not needed for accurate monthly bills. Nor is it used for the IHD, which works separately.

They want the data to interact with "smart homes" via your house's Home Area Network (HAN). This is a huge topic, explained more in Point 3. But in brief, allowing the power companies to vary their tariffs every half-hour, and have shared control of your smart home, are two of the main purposes of Smart Meters.(ref 6) The companies intend to offer lower priced packages in exchange for control/variable price, and correspondingly higher prices for the ordinary, constant power provision which is the norm at the moment.

Whenever the literature uses phrases like "innovative energy products and services", it means these control and pricing packages.

The ICO has been pushing for the use of aggregated, anonymised data wherever possible,(ref 7) eg for technical grid management. But it's clear that aggregated data is in direct conflict with the aim of controlling or variably charging individual households, and Ofgem foresees that, whatever the current grain of the data, half-hourly data may eventually be made mandatory.(ref 8)

Summary
Half-hourly data is being sought by the power companies to enable Time-of-Use pricing and shared control of smart homes (HANs). This aim has serious implications for privacy and personal security. The matter was unresolved as of March 2011 and a likely longterm outcome is that the poor will be economically forced to give up their data while the rich may or may not be able to choose.

References
(ref 1) Response to Prospectus Consulation: Data Access and Privacy, DECC & Ofgem, §4.4 – 4.8
(ref 2) Smart Metering Implementation Programme: Consumer Protection, DECC & Ofgem, Summary
(ref 3) Smart Metering Implementation Programme: Consumer Protection, DECC & Ofgem, §1.13
(ref 4) "Who controls the off switch?", Ross Anderson, Cambridge University Computer Laboratory, Chap. IIA
(ref 5) "'Dirty secret' of car insurers: selling accident victims' details to no win, no fee lawyers" The Telegraph
(ref 6) Response to Prospectus Consulation: Data Access and Privacy, DECC & Ofgem, §4.3
(ref 7) Smart Metering Implementation Programme: Consumer Protection, DECC & Ofgem, §2.14
(ref 8) Response to Prospectus Consulation: Data Access and Privacy, DECC & Ofgem, §5.2

Tianc Tue 25-Oct-11 22:01:03

Just realised refs in Point 1 should read "DECC & Ofgem" rather than "DECC".

Tianc Wed 26-Oct-11 10:29:40

/steam/
" In the initial stages of the roll-out, it will be particularly important to ensure that consumer confidence is maintained. Moreover, the value to suppliers of having access to data for different purposes may change over time, for example. as settlement rules change. It will therefore be important to allow for the policy to evolve over time." (20)

Translation: "We'll tell you that you can keep your data private until we've installed all the Smart Meters. Then we'll change the rules."

/endsteam/

brokenwingedflier Wed 26-Oct-11 11:08:12

'Data this fine-grained inevitably creates a profile of what's going on at an address, when it's occupied, what times people are awake or cooking or showering, etc.'

That sounds Orwellian.

Tianc Wed 26-Oct-11 11:28:12

And you haven't even read the speculation about identifying whether it's a washing machine or fridge or TV being used – something to do with frequency signals on the power line.

If this stuff weren't reffed with all the govt docs, you'd be calling the men in white coats and taking my green crayon away from me. shock

Tianc Wed 26-Oct-11 11:37:56

On the plus side, it looks like the ICO has done a good job with the consultation, prompting this, "Smart Metering Implementation Programme: A call for evidence on data access and privacy" by DECC, asking power companies to narrowly demonstrate their case.

But it doesn't solve the fundamental issue that a cornerstone of Smart Metering Networks, ie Time-of-Use tariffs, will require half-hourly metering.

Tianc Wed 26-Oct-11 15:22:42

Oh I'm so out of date.

A device which recognises which appliance is on, from its data signature on the power line, is already on sale at Amazon.

This one's a clip-on monitor giving info to the householder, not a control device, but once the technology's out there, what the power companies you do with it is up to them you.

Tianc Wed 26-Oct-11 23:51:43

Apologies, general explanation of HANs/smart homes/Smart Metering Systems will have to wait to Point 4. Sorry this is all so choppy, 'tis all just a first pass at explaining.

3) Power companies claim Smart Meters will help them manage three specific pressures

a) The UK’s demand for energy is soon likely to outstrip supply, so generating companies and the DECC are trying to increase the consumers’ efficiency of usage, as well as increase generating capacity.(ref 1) Managing this well could also be good for the consumer, for national energy security, and for the planet.

The power companies claim that the IHD of Smart Meters causes consumers to behave more energy efficiently. But as explained in Point 1, you don’t need a Smart Meter to achieve this. There’s evidence that accurate monthly billing which immediately reflects reduced use encourages people to embed their lifestyle changes,(ref 2) but this doesn’t require half-hourly meter data.

b) Regardless of total demand, the differences between peak demand and off-peak are a technical nuisance for electricity generating companies. Which is why Dinorwig Power Station pumps water up a mountain all night and lets it out again at the sound of the EastEnders dff-dffs or World Cup final whistle.(ref 3) This is horribly energy-inefficient. Technical management would be easier for electricity companies, and less of the nation’s generated energy would be expended on load-management, if consumers shifted some use to off-peak times (as per Economy 7). Managing this would be good for national energy security and for the planet.

Time-of-Use tariffs based on half-hourly Smart Meter data might encourage consumers to manually switch off appliances at peak times;(ref 4) DECC would like the electricity suppliers to use your HAN to switch off your appliances at peak times.(ref 5)

c) Electricity suppliers buy electricity from generating companies and wholesalers at half-hourly prices which can go up significantly at peak peak times. Currently the suppliers just average this out when charging consumers, as they don’t know who used how much when (except for Economy 7). The suppliers would love to pass the price variation directly on to the consumer, so that, say energy consumed between 7pm and 8pm is charged much higher than energy consumed between 10 am and 11 am.(ref 6) This would need half-hourly Smart Meter data.

Summary
a) Power companies and DECC would like to curb total consumer demand for power. Smart Meters are unnecessary to do this (although accurate monthly billing would help).

b) Electricity companies would like to smooth loads by shifting demand way from peak times. Half-hourly Smart Meters might enable them to influence consumers through Time-of-Use tariffs. Smart Meters plus HANs may allow the companies to control switch-off of your appliances.

c) Apart from Economy 7, the price consumers pay doesn’t directly reflect the wholesale price so electricity suppliers carry risk when they buy. They’d like to shed this risk by passing on price changes, using half-hourly Smart Meter data.

References

(ref 1) "Britain's energy challenge: meeting energy generation and carbon emission targets", The Independent
(ref 2) "Smart Metering Implementation Programme: A call for evidence on data access and privacy", DECC, §22
(ref 3) "How do they do it Dinorwig 28 03 2007", Discovery Channel, 6:34 min video
(ref 4) Response to Prospectus Consulation: Data Access and Privacy, DECC & Ofgem, §1.18 – 1.20
(ref 5) "Smarter Grids: The Opportunity", DECC, p2
(ref 6) Response to Prospectus Consulation: Data Access and Privacy, DECC & Ofgem, §1.13 – 1.17

Tianc Thu 27-Oct-11 11:03:51

Garlic that article from Wired was a good find. Here's a précis.

There's already a state-sponsored piece of malware called Stuxnet which targets control systems typically used by power stations. It's hard to detect and has been circulating for some time. Possibly it was invented by the US & Israel to attack the Iranian nuclear programme, but it's now loose in the wild.

In its own tests, the US govt sent a generator up in smoke by a (test) malware attack at the Dept of Energy's National Laboratory in Idaho.

Some utility companies seem naive and unaware of how open to the internet their control systems actually are. Smart Meters may offer similar vulnerabilities both for entry into the systems and as mass targets.

"The US is bracing itself for a serious attack on its energy infrastructure from Stuxnet-style malware along the lines of the exercise in Idaho. "It is going to happen," says Patrick Ciganer, director of the US Department of Energy's Transparency Initiative.
"Your gas meter: The new frontline in cyberwar", Wired, 31 Jan 2011

Tianc Sat 29-Oct-11 13:23:25

Sorry next chunk is taking a while. I'm trying to make sure it's well referenced, because you actually won't believe it otherwise. I still have days where I think, This is a huge hoax – no one would really take a risk like this.

Then I remember the banks and think, Actually they probably would.

PattySimcox Sat 29-Oct-11 14:11:25

This is horrifying.

Thank you so much Tianc for taking the time to go through these documents and highlight the salient points, but most of all, for making us aware of the issue. My first ever use of thanks for you

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