Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Groundhog decade - will ‘Smart Metering’ be the next NPfIT?

(By Anthony Miller in sunny Brazil) (Honest!) Having finally got a working broadband link here in Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, I’ve been catching up on my emails and spied a recent note from our good friend, George O’Connor at Panmure. He pointed to a Sunday Times report (see here) on nascent consortium bids for the government’s proposed ‘smart metering’ scheme which, according to the article, “requires each of the country’s 26m homes to be fitted with new gas and electricity meters – 46m meters in all – which will allow customers to monitor their energy consumption on easy-to-use digital devices”. The plan is to start the roll-out in 2010, and is expected to cost in the region of £7bn. Further, each utility will be responsible for fitting new meters for its customers. The ST says that “Ofgem is expected to run the tender for the contract, which would operate from 2010 to 2020. The winning group would likely consist of a telecoms provider and a systems integrator. There is an outside chance that the contract could be broken down regionally”.

Please, someone tell me this isn’t really happening ... again. While on the face of it the technical complexity of the scheme seems far less onerous than that of the NHS National Programme for IT, the sheer scale and logistics of the proposed project, along with the multiplicity of competing parties (and I mean both the energy companies as well as the IT/telecoms companies), rings all the same warning bells.

I have a cheaper – and I think more practical solution.

Today you can buy a household electricity monitor for around £30 (e.g. see here). I have one sitting on my desk at home which frightens me every time I turn on a lightbulb. In other words, the Government could kit out every home in the land with an electricity monitor for under £1bn – and there’s sure to be a small discount for 26m units I would think! But what about gas meters and remote meter reading? OK, why not divert some of the potential £6bn saved into adapting the monitoring unit to send meter readings electronically and to incorporate the necessaries to monitor gas usage too. I doubt the unit cost would increase hugely, but even if it doubled or even trebled, it’s sure to come in well under £7bn. Has anyone in government even thought of looking at this option or something like it? Enough of the grand IT schemes, please. Let’s apply a little common sense and a lot of British R&D instead. It could save us all a lot of money and, who knows, we might even get something that works!

1 comment:

apanciuc said...

Hi Anthony,
the displays are not the only solution, unfortunately. The fact that you see how much increases your consumption when you switch on a certaim device is not ebough to lower your bills in a long run.
Yes, the first several days you'll be excited about the new gadget, you'll switch off some appliances 'cause you see the money you spend on that. But, that's not for a long time - each gadget has it's "interest" life-time.
How about multitariff metering? A display cannot provide that. And namely TOU (multitariff) will decrease the bills in a long run. With such a feature you'll be able to save money on consuming in economical tariff zones - you'll heat the water in your boiler at night, when the energy is cheaper.
The estimated bills will remain, as there is no communication between the meter and the supplier - and the expenses to read the meter manually are also included in your bills and so on.
I've named only some benefits for the consumer - in what concerns the use of a smart meter. And there are features as well which are vital for the utility, and which in a longer term would lead to lower bills as well.
Investing now in displays, that's in fact investing in electro-mechanical meters which are already obsolete. Some years will pass and the smart meters will be a need, not a recommandation.
Do you still use abacus, insted of calculators?