“We believe people will benefit from having smart meters. But we will not make them obligatory.”
Charles Hendry, energy minister.
The news today that smart meters will not be compulsory is an extremely positive step, but the issue is far from resolved.
Smart meters have the capability to reduce energy consumption and help people beter monitor their energy spending. They also have the potential to give someone outside your home the ability to see if you are in, look at what appliances you are using and to see in real time how much energy you use.
There is no legal framework for protecting consumer privacy as part of the smart meter roll out, yet hundreds of thousands have already been installed. Consumers are not in control of the information on the meters, and the rush to install them is creating very real privacy issues.
Energy companies must not be able to force customers to have the devices installed – or indeed be able to exploit pricing plans to penalise those who do not adopt them. Consumers must be able to see when information is sent to their providers, and be in control of how frequent readings can be taken. Given our previous work on people misusing their access to NHS, police and local authority data, it must be a core design feature of the smart meter architecture that every communication with our meters is recorded and accessible to consumers.
Big Brother Watch is part of the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s group on smart meter privacy and we will continue to campaign to protect the privacy of consumers.
Giving energy companies direct access to real time energy use, along with direct-debit payments and the ability to remotely disconnect customers must not be rushed and every care needs to be taken to protect consumers. If the only way of achieving this is an intermediary body, not part of or controlled by energy companies, then it is essential such a body is put in place.