Now firms can cut power off remotely
utilities will be able to disconnect customers for not paying their bills without calling to their homes when smart electricity meters are installed from 2018.
But the energy regulator says that not until the company takes all necessary steps to collect payment, including automatically switching customers to pay-as-you-go meters, will they be allowed disconnect.
The disconnection measures are contained in decisions published by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER).
It says that under the existing rules, suppliers must follow a prescribed process before disconnecting, including contacting the customer and attempting to agree a payment plan before power is cut off.
They are also not allowed disconnect customers dependent on electrical medical equipment. The smart meters allow the supply to be turned off remotely by sending a message to the meter, rather than by physically turning off the power, as currently applies.
Under the new rules, suppliers will be allowed switch the meter to a pre-paid mode, and only if the customers does not top-up can they be disconnected.
However, the regulator adds that companies must take "reasonable and effective steps, including if necessary by undertaking a site visit" to ensure people are not cut-off in an "inappropriate" manner.
"When a supplier is satisfied that all reasonable and effective steps have been taken, the supplier can exercise their right to send the message to remotely disconnect the customer," it adds. The meters also allow power to be switched back on remotely.
The programme, which is expected to cost €1bn, will involve 2.2 million electricity and 700,000 gas meters being replaced with new digital units. ESB Networks and Gas Networks Ireland will be responsible for rolling out the system.
Announced in 2012, the smart metering project is aimed at reducing energy consumption to help combat climate change and reduce customer bills.
This will be achieved by recording consumption every 30 minutes, which will be made available to customers either via a screen in an in-home display unit, through an app or by downloading the data to a laptop or PC.
This will allow them determine when they are using power, and they will be able to avail of time-of-use tariffs, where they pay less for using electricity at off-peak times.
Studies suggest average savings will be €50 per year, but as high as €175 for some households. More accurate bills can also be produced.