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Smart Metering is FCUKED

November 27th, 2013 |  Published in Smart Energy  |  20 Comments

Having delayed the Fiendishly Complicated United Kingdom Enduring Deployment** of smart meters earlier this year because of technical delays, you might expect that the British Government would have spent some time reviewing the technology they had mandated.  If they had done so, it would have become clear that the program was out of control.  Under the surface, too many cooks have ratcheted up the technical complexity to the point where it is no longer fit for purpose. However, it appears that no-one wants to point out that the Smart Metering Emperor is stark naked.  That’s largely because those overseeing the programme don’t have the depth of technical knowledge to understand the implications of what is going on.

As always with big Government driven IT programs, whilst there’s money to be made by the metering industry and consultants, momentum rules.  It seems perfectly justifiable to carry on and saddle consumers with a £12 billion white elephant which will further inflate domestic energy bills.  As a result of this lack of due diligence, smart metering is firmly on course to be the next big UK Government IT disaster.

It’s not that there’s a fundamental problem with smart metering, but there are massive mistakes in the way that the UK has decided to do it.  When the programme started, it was seen as world-leading.  It should have set a global standard for smart metering, giving UK plc a commanding lead in exporting expertise to the rest of the world and creating long term employment opportunities.  Instead it has resulted in an out-dated, over-complicated system which will be incompatible with any other solution in the world, cost more than any other, fail to deliver the promised customer benefits, add risk to our energy security, threaten jobs, further alienate customers and make the UK energy industry a laughing stock.

If we look at the issues, the GB smart metering program appears to have a unique capacity not just to duplicate major errors from previous Government disasters, but to combine many of them into one overarching Government- destroying fiasco.

Download the Smart Metering is FCUKED report

There is a parallel with other UK Government led IT disasters, where a focus on the overall benefit obscured the failures of the underlying technology strategy.  The NHS spine is a good example.  Nobody denies the benefit it could have delivered had it worked.  Smart Metering appears to be a close cousin, where there is a major disconnect between the strategy and the implementation.  As with the NHS Spine, those at the top failed to comprehend that the underlying technical detail was out of control.  In both cases, the specifications lost sight of the benefits and users of the system.  Government departments, working way beyond the limit of their technical knowledge allowed vendors to introduce arbitrary new features.

The same pattern is apparent with smart metering.  Unsupervised specification creep allowed has allowed utilities and vendors to play a game of technical one-upmanship reminiscent of schoolboys competing to see how high they can pee up a wall.  In a further twist, nobody appears to be asserting long term ownership and control of the  GB metering specification, allowing it even more scope for constant change, largely defeating its purpose of defining an interoperable standard.

As with the NHS, many within the industry are only paying lip service to the programme.  Most utilities don’t want smart metering.  In fact they seem to have used the wrong dictionary.  It is difficult to find anything smart about the UK deployment, until you realise that the utilities use smart in the sense of “it hurts”.  They consider they have a perfectly adequate business model which has no need for new technology.  In many Government meetings, their reluctant support seems to be a veneer for the hope that it will all end in disaster, letting them go back to the world they know, of inflated bills and demands for money with menaces.  That brings back another parallel with the medical profession’s quiet but relentless opposition to the Summary Care Records scheme which eventually brought it to an ignominious end.

Even when smart meters are deployed, there is no evidence that any utility will use the resulting data to transform their business, rather than persecute the consumer.  At a recent US conference a senior executive for a US utility which had deployed smart meters, stated that their main benefit was “to give them more evidence to blame the customer”.  That’s a good description of the attitude displayed by our utilities.

The other challenge is the eternal one of calculating the financial benefit.  Whilst everyone expects Government projects to overrun and under-deliver, smart metering takes this to a level which makes the HS/2 assessments look like models of financial prudence.  Successive analyses have shown no net benefit, so DECC has made up illusory benefits in an attempt to justify the smart metering deployment.  Each of these has needed more unproven technical complexity to be incorporated into the meters to deliver the benefits, making the overall cost uneconomic.  So the cycle is repeated until a set of make-believe benefits can finally be submitted to gullible Ministers as firm returns for the programme.  Alex Henney – an industry veteran who has charted deregulation and the rise and demise of competition within it, summed up the case as, “civil servants have cooked the numbers to come up with a net benefit”.  Many agree with him. Taken together it’s repeating the classic failure cycle of a changing specification leading to conflict and more change, while driving costs out of control and causing deadlines to slip.  In 2012, a Cabinet Office review gave the project a red light and recommended it should be abandoned.  DECC drove through the light and carried on.

There is an obsession to make “smart” meters do things which are far better done over other channels, such as demand response and consumer engagement. But because the industry is so technically backward, it’s picked an architecture that is several decades out of date and which cannot deliver the information in the way which customers want.  Today consumers have smartphones.  They want the same sort of smart experience from their utility.  Instead they’re going to get a retro ’70′s technology experience, whilst paying twenty-first century prices for it.  It’s a back to front world, where utilities are leading the Government down a path that it and consumers will regret.

It is becoming more urgent as consumers scream about the current cost of energy bills and trust in utilities is at an all-time low.  The current plan will not deliver short term savings; instead it will see energy bills rise still higher.  That’s a toxic legacy for any Government.  The party in power when the smart metering bubble bursts will probably find itself unelectable.  There is still time to address this, but the current blinkered approach from all concerned is fast driving us past the point of no return.

Download the full, 20 page “Smart Metering is FCUKED” report to read the full story of what has gone wrong with the GB smart metering programme.

 

** It is technically the GB deployment, as it doesn’t cover Northern Ireland.  That in itself is a strange decision, as it leaves Northern Ireland as a no-man’s land between the GB mainland standard and the incompatible IP based approach of Southern Ireland.  FCUKED seemed a particularly appropriate acronym for the GB deployment.

20 comments ↓

#1 paul on 11.27.13 at 1:47 pm

Nailed it. Congratulations on a great article.

#2 JazzyFizzles on 11.28.13 at 11:44 am

This is a terrible waste of public money which could be better spent on social projects for the vulnerable in society.

The electricity industry along with other vital service providers such as water should never have been privatised in the first place, at least then profits don’t have to made for shareholders. I consider the foreign investment in the UK’s nuclear programme to be particularly worrying, especially anything involving the Chinese with the security issues this raises on the energy production side, and of course with the potential for the remote control of smart meters.

I note in your full article, reading Ref[17] “Who controls the off switch?” that the authors mention on page 3, foot note 1, “… where even meter vendor technical staff and the Royal Academy of Engineering were excluded from meetings to settle the specification of the smart metering programme” – I would like to know the reason why they were excluded from such a basic meeting.

Your excellent article needs a far wider political and media audience.

#3 Carpet on 12.05.13 at 9:43 am

I’ve never understood why this is a government project when it’s in the supplier’s interests. With smart metering they get correct meter readings whenever they want and so can manage their power demand forecasts. They also reduce the manpower requirements for meter reading and I imagine customers get creative with their meter reading at certain points of the year (Christmas?) which probably has a short term effect on the supplier’s P&L

Why is any of this in the government’s interest?

Clearly they’ve been sold on the idea of energy usage monitoring, where a customer can see at any point how much energy they’re using and how much it’s costing, but you could do that with a standard meter and a stopwatch if the tariffs were simpler.

#4 Nick on 12.05.13 at 11:38 am

It’s only in the Government interest in as far as it’s an apparently consumer friendly programme that they can trot out whenever they’re accused of not having an energy policy. After smart metering was highlighted in the EU directive as a tool to improve the European electricity infrastructure, it was promoted in the UK by a group of meter manufacturers, lobbying through BEAMA, largely selling the message to Government that smart metering would:

• End estimated bills,
• Make consumers more aware of energy, letting them reduce their bills
• Make switching easier, letting consumers reduce their bills, and
• Reduce peak demand, which could reduce energy bills.

These are principally the non-technical reasons for smart metering, but they’re easy for ministers to understand and give them some good consumer friendly sound-bites to make it look as if they have an energy policy. Which is probably why all three political parties have endorsed the programme.

The reason BEAMA members wanted the Government to endorse smart metering was that it would transform their members’ business, as they’d get to supply around 50 million expensive meters over the course of the eight years of deployment, as opposed to 15 million cheap replacement meters. The working life of smart meters would also be shorter, potentially doubling ongoing sales after the deployment.

Consumer behaviour change part wasn’t the driving reason, but a convenient, largely unmeasurable one that was used by DECC accountants to claim that the whole program was cost effective.

#5 Alex on 12.06.13 at 11:06 am

If the suppliers cared how much energy we used, if that element was actually important to them, they’d read the meters more than twice a year and they wouldn’t do “estimates”. My experience of them is that your bill is a negotiating position, not a measurement.

Smart metering sounds like a solution to this, but I really don’t trust them with it and I suspect they will want to replace the pricing-power fuzzy billing gives them with something else, like just pushing up the per-unit price or perhaps more likely, pulling a BT and hiking the standing charge.

#6 Nick on 12.06.13 at 11:25 am

In other countries where meter readings are taken more frequently, suppliers have moved to a model where users pay each month for what they actually use. In the UK, even with accurate readings, the standard direct debit model is to ask for equal monthly installments against an estimated annual usage. That generally means utilities are sitting on our money for most of the year. As and when they roll smart meters out, I will be demanding that I only pay for what I use. I’d imagine most of our utilities will be unhappy at the prospect of that change.

#7 Peter K. Sour on 12.06.13 at 4:48 pm

Echoing your sentiment, The Atlantic’s writer for energy and the environment wrote: (http://bit.ly/IHPWXC)
The Smart Grid is rolling out lickety split because all the right interest groups love it: Utilities like the idea of cutting labor costs and being able to manage electricity usage;…..
Congress and the DOE wanted to throw money at such an eminently popular, modern, “smart,” concept. This enthusiasm covers up the fact that there is no coherent ideology there at all, never mind a green one.

Where seriously investigated, the watchword is: CAUTION

The largest investigation of Smart Meters was reviewed by Sage, a major consulting firm, with 3.2 million customers, in the US, alone, and they concluded “Policy makers ignored dangers, only looked after the interests of industry” .

#8 James Farrell on 12.06.13 at 5:52 pm

Dictionary definition of smart: A source of sharp, irritating, stinging pain. The ‘dummy’ that came up with this name for the ‘smart meter’ certainly got it right!

#9 Digital fragility | mmitII on 12.10.13 at 2:43 pm

[...] Take, for example, recent large scale systems failures at RBS (see a fascinating take on that here: http://coppolacomment.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/the-legacy-systems-problem.html) the UK Air Traffic Control service (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/dec/07/flights-grounded-swanick-computer-glitch) and possibly the impending disaster of electricity and gas “smart” metering (this is essential reading: http://www.nickhunn.com/smart-metering-is-fcuked/). [...]

#10 Angel Five on 12.21.13 at 6:12 am

SmartMeters is a topic we are aware of here in the states. The government wants to snoop in on your energy usage so they can allow the monopoly utility they work for to charge you more during periods of peak demand. It has nothing to do with your personal benefit but with the fact that investment bankers and hedge funds rule this planet. Don’t believe it check it out for yourselves here at http://www.bis.org/publ/otc_hy1311.htm

OTC derivatives market activity in the first half of 2013
7 November 2013

The latest BIS statistics on OTC derivatives markets combine the results of the semiannual survey of derivatives dealers in 13 jurisdictions and the Triennial Central Bank Survey of dealers in an additional 34 jurisdictions. They show that notional amounts outstanding totalled $693 trillion at end-June 2013. Of this total, $668 trillion was reported by dealers that participate in the semiannual survey and $25 trillion by dealers that participate only in the Triennial Survey. The latest data on CDS markets include a regional breakdown of foreign counterparties for the first time.

Developments in the latest data are highlighted in the statistical release. Detailed results from the semiannual and Triennial surveys are available on the BIS website. Data at end-December 2013 will be released no later than 15 May 2014.

Queries regarding the OTC derivatives statistics may be directed to statistics$bis.org (where “$” denotes “@”).

#11 Oliver Tickell on 12.23.13 at 5:42 pm

Hi, can we use this article as a Comment on The Ecologist please?

#12 Nick on 12.26.13 at 5:11 pm

Please do. Everything I publish is under a Creative Commons licence. I’d appreciate being referenced, but my main hope is to help stimulate discussion.

#13 Oliver Tickell on 12.26.13 at 7:01 pm

Full reference, linkback, bio etc will be provided. It’s all on the system now and will go out within a few days. Great work for which many thanks, Oliver.

#14 Oliver Tickell on 12.27.13 at 10:54 am

http://bit.ly/1iknlXM

#15 Oliver Tickell on 12.27.13 at 2:45 pm

Hi Nick, if you see our facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TheEcologist/ you will see some criticisms basically saying that you have not explained what’s wrong with the meters. I think you have written a great article here but what is true is that there is scope to say exactly what is wrong – the benefits that will not be realised but could have been, what kind of complexities have been needlessly created and how energy companies will be able to use the info gained against consumers. This could go into a follow-up article if you are up for it! Cheers, Oliver.

#16 Peter K. Sour on 12.27.13 at 5:29 pm

What’s wrong with Smart Meters:
ADDED COST: meters cost $300+installation (replacing a perfectly good meter -saving meter-reader costs = $3.52/yr)
ERODE PRIVACY: each activity will be reported; like when you are not home.
HEALTH ISSUES: Dismissed by many, thousands are victims of emf radiation -not I..
System VULNERABLE: Britain & Illinois report hacker attacks and more at:
http://currmudgeon-patriot.blogspot.com/2013/12/smart-meter-dangers.html

#17 John on 01.01.14 at 10:46 am

Whether or not your arguments have merit, was it really necessary to give your article that title? For me it is a turn off and comes across as low in intellect.

#18 Nick on 01.01.14 at 5:48 pm

I’ve spent several years writing reports with “nice” titles, which have achieved very little. So I thought I’d see whether a title that is deliberately provocative might have more effect. I share you view about the fact it may be a turn-off, but it has achieved significantly more press interest than any of the previous articles. Hence I think it may be justified as a means to an end.

#19 UK’s £12 billion ‘Smart’ Meter programme is FCUKED « Stop Smart Meters! (UK) on 01.18.14 at 3:17 pm

From stopsmartmeters.org.uk… This article was originally published at http://www.nickhunn.com/smart-metering-is-fcuked/

#20 Jake Maverick on 01.19.14 at 5:21 pm

Of course, it actually makes no sense whatsoever….unless you consider

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-08/06/wifi-radar

which is undoubtedly the real reason behind it…..RIPA legalised putting cameras in your home to film you bathing your children or b*** F***ing your wife….as well as other ‘unspecified devices’…..you also have to wonder why over the last 13 years nobody has actually been caught red handed installing these things…..or WHY murder by ‘burglary gone wrong’ figures are increasing at an exponential ratewhilst all other violent crime is supposedly decreasing….
you also have to wonder why environmentalists, activists, protestors etc also tend to be the main victims of these type of burglaries…..they tend to be pretty poor or at least not particularly rich as they spend their time protesting rather than earning…

who cares about the cost, the bee population or the increases cancer rates and other illnesses……the unit cost per victim is a lot lower when it’s blanker full 3d surveillance of everybody rather than the much more expensive cameras with their reduced technical capacity….I dnt think they factored the costs of ever increasing ‘health’ costs or costs to the economy from slaves dying too early etc when they did it….

it’s expensive to send a man to a foreign country and kill one man with one bullet. it’s much more cost effective to fly a robot overhead and murder thousands with a thermobarric…..

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About Creative Connectivity

Creative Connectivity is Nick Hunn's blog on aspects and applications of wireless connectivity. Having worked with wireless for over twenty years I've seen the best and worst of it and despair at how little of its potential is exploited.

I hope that's about to change, as the demands of healthcare, energy and transport apply pressure to use wireless more intelligently for consumer health devices, smart metering and telematics. These are my views on the subject - please let me know yours.

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