Meters that 'may not be so smart after all'

Smart metering, the nationwide programme that could see £25.3bn in benefits for the UK's households and small businesses, will fall "flat on its face" unless consumers change their behaviour, industry commentators have warned.

The technology, which monitors energy consumption and feeds the information back to the occupants and the utility provider at regular intervals, is due to be rolled out to every household and many small businesses from 2014. Replacing traditional meters, it is a major programme that will involve a visit to every home in Britain at a cost of more than £11.5bn.

The average household is expected to save more than £65 a year with a 5 per cent drop in energy use as they respond to the usage monitor, according to a new report from Oxford Economics and British Gas – the first time the industry has been able to put a value on the rollout for the average household.

But the ambitious project has been plagued by a lack of information and fears over privacy with so much data becoming available to utility providers.

"This report is a welcome first step in opening up the debate about smart meters and starting to explain the benefits to consumers," Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch.com, says. "However, many of the benefits highlighted in the report rely on consumers changing their behaviour. This report has to herald the start of consumer engagement and education. Otherwise, instead of being a game-changer, smart metering will fall flat on its face."

Less than half the UK population knows what a smart meter is and a further third have heard of them but have no idea what they are, the aggregator has found.

The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) has warned the meters could be used to track how households behave inside their homes, from when they go on holiday to how they spend their free time and even whether they use devices like baby monitors.

"Profiles can be used for many other purposes, including marketing, advertising and price discrimination by third parties," warned Giovanni Buttarelli, assistant director of the EDPS.

Consumer Focus offers a free guide to the pros and cons of smart meters at http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/policy-research/energy/smart-meters.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

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