Existing gas meters could have ‘smart’ capabilities at little cost

Ray Cope argues that smart meters will do little to solve some systematic billing errors in gas – but existing meters have unused capacity that could fix the problem.

The political furore about energy prices has now died down somewhat. I was surprised that none of the politicians or political commentators mentioned the £12 billion cost of so called smart meters during this period of heated debate. If they were delayed or abandoned it would help, as this project will cost every consumer in the order of £600, albeit over a period of time.

I am not against smart meters in principle but I do question whether we are going about it in the most cost effective way and whether sufficient thought has been given to the specification.

I do not want to go into too many technical details but much of the existing gas meter stock could be linked electronically to create

smart meters and save money. The only explanation I have heard for not doing this, instead scrapping millions of perfectly sound meters, is that the smart meter specification requires a gas valve. Why on earth there could not be a derogation period of, say, 10-15 years to allow these meters to be used is beyond me.

The smart meter specification does not provide  any arrangements to adjust for variations in temperature or pressure. Electricity is easily measured but unfortunately that is not the position with gas and the billing errors can be substantial. It is no exaggeration to say there are variations of plus or minus 10% for the same amount of energy.

When I tell you there is a probe in millions of gas meters that could adjust for variations in temperature and it has never been activated you will think I am joking. I am afraid I am not joking. This probe is not a requirement for smart meters and there are meters being manufactured and fitted today that do not have the capacity to adjust for temperature and they have the nerve to call them smart.

To adjust for pressure variations is a simple arithmetical calculation once the height above sea level is known. In the past to collate this information

would have been a time consuming and costly task. However with the availability of GPS this is now available at the click of a button when visiting any property. I understand that Ordnance Survey now has a data base which contains all this information for every household, which they are prepared to share. None of the smart meters have this data recorded and nor do the gas suppliers.

So who is to blame for this mess? I think the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ofgem and then-Consumer Focus must share the blame. Ofgem issued a consultation document discussing billing errors over ten years ago. They have recently engaged a consultant to look at what can be done. Frankly it is too little too late, by a quango with an annual budget of £50 million.

Now Consumer Focus is called Consumer Futures and it has just published its first draft work plan. There is no reference to billing errors, but I have asked them to take this serious issue up with all the responsible parties. Only time will tell if anything positive will be done.

I doubt it.

Ray Cope was  formerly director of the Gas Consumers Council


This article is taken from New Power, February 2014 edition.  Also in this issue:

Think twice before making changes to the Carbon Price Floor

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How does wind turbine performance decline with age?

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