€1.2bn ESB Networks scheme viewed negatively due to unfavourable tariffs that readers say will not result in any cost-saving
Electricity customers are frustrated over the lack of information around smart meters, the absence of any obvious savings to be made from them and a rigid “no going back” clause.
Reaction has been strong to the revelation in yesterday's Irish Independent that almost one million smart meters installed in homes and small businesses are not being used.
Readers have been getting in touch to say why they have not opted to activate the meters’ information-gathering and data-sharing capabilities.
Others who did activate the meters explained why they have not switched to the ‘time of use’ or smart tariffs the meters are meant to facilitate.
People have to see what’s in it for them with any of these changes
They all said they could see no personal benefit in making the switch and felt the scheme favoured electricity companies rather than customers.
ESB Networks began rolling out the €1.2bn installation scheme three years ago and has installed 930,000 smart meters in homes and small businesses in that time.
It aims to have 2.4 million smart meters installed by the end of 2024.
But just 37,900 customers, or 4pc of those with smart meters, have moved to smart tariffs so, for the vast majority, the smart meter is doing nothing more than their old meter.
Smart meters are meant to improve accuracy of electricity use data and inform the development of variable tariffs to incentivise people to use less electricity at peak times.
That would the ease power supply strains the country is experiencing, and reduce carbon emissions as peak-time demand is met by turning on back-up electricity generation plants which are the oldest and most polluting kind.
Readers’ reactions, however, show this is not how the smart metering scheme is currently being perceived.
The benefits should be quite easy to show people at the moment because there is immense motivation there
The complaints included: complicated tariffs and unclear price comparisons; unfavourable tariffs that would not result in any cost-saving; fears of imposition of prohibitive peak-time tariffs; the locking-in of customers by preventing them returning to traditional tariffs once they switch; and data protection concerns.
Dr Tara Shine, a sustainability expert and founder of Change By Degrees , said a better communications strategy is needed.
“People have to see what’s in it for them with any of these changes,” she said.
“The benefits should be quite easy to show people at the moment because there is immense motivation there – people want to reduce their energy bills.
“But if you're not taught how to work the tech and, more importantly, make it work for you so that you reap the benefits, then we’re missing a trick.
“We never focus on people enough. We talk about the technology and the science and we don’t talk about the people.”
Data protection experts have expressed concern about the amount of information collected by smart meters.
They say once activated, the meters effectively track and record people’s activities and movements around the clock through their power usage.
Solicitor Fred Logue said he did not believe there was a sufficient legal basis for the extent of data collection.
“ESB Networks want to collect meter readings every half hour, gather all this data and hold onto it for seven years for various suppliers to access. I believe that’s excessive.”
The Department of the Environment said a smart meter data access code was being drawn up to specify who had access to data and in which circumstances.