Smart meters will not be compulsory says Minister

Image: Moore Associates

“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.



  1. SayNo
    1st February 2012

    Will it be possible to have Smart Meters removed? If someone moves house and a SM is already installed will they be able to have it removed?

  2. Moley20
    1st February 2012

    That was my first thought too SayNo

  3. BrianSJ
    5th February 2012

    Presumably not having a smart meter will mean being forced onto some high rate tarriff?

  4. Notsoevil
    6th February 2012

    I think this article is slightly misleading on a number of counts – I think it’s worth clearing a few things up here – call it a touch of “myth-busting”. 
    Firstly, BBW is not “a part of the Department for Energy and Climate Change’s group on smart meter privacy” – although it is a stakeholder that DECC has recently started to invite to workshops. A good move in my opinion to have any stakeholder at such events provided they a) understand the industry concerned (it’s quite complicated – not just produce electricity, and send a bill) and b) can deliver a balanced view to proceedings (info from smart meters is needed for less obvious reasons and the more stakeholders can understand this, then the better for all of us).
    Secondly, Government is not “Giving energy companies (or anyone else for that matter) direct access to real-time energy use” – Government has already confirmed that no-one will have direct access to smart meters – all requests for information and subsequent deliveries of information requested will go through a central body who amongst other things will confirm the requestee is duly authorised to request and receive that information. It is also misleading to say that any party will have access to “real-time” information – this won’t be like logging a problem with your internal IT department where they can remotely access your PC to see what the problem is on your screen – instead the meter will record a meter reading once every half an hour and store it on the meter. Then, your energy supplier (who has to comply with the privacy and security obligations being developed by DECC right now) who has already chosen his preferred meter reading schedule from a list of services from the central body (again, being developed by DECC right now), will then receive the relevant information according to the service requested – typically on a weekly basis. So if your energy supplier has requested to receive one meter reading per day from your meter, then once a week, the central body will download daily meter readings from the last 7 days. This is not “real-time” by any stretch of the imagination. So we can really dismiss any concerns about “direct access to real-time energy use”.
    Thirdly, GB smart meters will record a meter reading once every half an hour and store it in it’s memory. So if you take two half-hourly meter readings, the most you can tell from those two meter readings is how much energy has been recorded by the meter. No matter what you do with the difference between the two readings, you will never be able to see what appliciance in the home has used that energy – so myths such as “you’ll be able to tell when I’m in the shower” – way short of the mark I’m afraid – I’ve not seen anything in the smart meter spec that includes a web-cam.
    Finally, the recent commotion regarding something Charles Hendry apparently wrote about smart not being compulsory. Government does have some thinking to do here because the changes being proposed to energy supply licences will make it illegal for an energy supplier to install anything other than a smart meter from a certain date. There may well be some limited expectional circumstances so that the energy regulator can turn a blind eye (so to speak) – but from what I’ve seen to date, those limited exceptional circumstances won’t include the ability for a consumer worried about ‘privacy issues’ to refuse a smart meter – so it is essential that Government get the privacy framework right – and if we’re honest about this, if Government put some very cumbersome rules and procedures in place and your energy supplier has to put in place some costly and difficult processes to get your permission to see smart meter data – then there’s only one group that suffers – we all do! Surely none of us think that any company who provides a service to consumers does it for free? No – the price we pay for that service includes all of the costs the company incurs for providing that service. Get the level of information that energy suppliers must have right, and just accept that this is the information they need to provide you with the servicve you’re taking. No-one moans that your mobile phone provider can see where you are when you make a call, who the call was to and for how long, or what you’re downloading onto your smart phone.
    So a few myths cleared up – and yes, this post will no doubt start a cyber war about the rights and wrongs of smart meters/privacy/global recession/whether John Terry should be hung before trial. But, there is work to do especially to ensure that all consumers feel comfortable with the fact that their energy supplier might want to understand how much energy you’re using in more detail than they can currently – it’s not rocket science though!

  5. Sayno
    6th February 2012

    @df51db6d26d490e7af321c2b30c31a50:disqus In an ideal world we would be able to trust energy companies and governments etc with information such as you discuss in your comment.  But we do not live in an ideal world.  I would not trust an energy company to maintain my privacy regarding energy consumption.  We live in an increasingly punitive country where we are being punished for the hell of it – just because they can.  This is not the kind of life that some of us want.
    Even if energy companies plan to download information once a week or whenever, the fact that they can do this is not for the consumer’s benefit.  It is like being spied on in your own home.

    As they are still creating the privacy policies etc then it is simply not possible to ‘know’ that people’s privacy will be maintained.  Even once the policies have been created the fact that human beings are involved and many of them (if current experience is anything to go by) do not ‘get’ privacy or the rationale for data protection etc, then we are at the mercy of the weakest link in the chain.

    I would beg to differ re your comment about mobile phones.  I object very strongly to the amount of data mobile phone companies request and process.  Because of this I only have a very basic pay-as-you phone and use it sparingly.  I only buy top-ups in cash and would not dream of registering my phone no matter how many incentives the phone company offers.

    • Notsoevil
      6th February 2012

      Trust me, information about my energy use isn’t a) sexy, b) interesting, c) valuable to anyone other than me or the energy company really, or d) going to give anything away that can’t be obtained by other means. If someone wants to spy on me in my home, then they will do it with a pair of binoculars and a listening device, just like they always have done (I love a good ole spy film) – they’re not going to try and do it by obtaining info about how much energy I’ve used in a day. If someone wants to see if I’m home at night – look to see if lights are on – not a complete indication – but probably more obvious and less effort than trying to obtain my consumption data.
      At the end of the day, some people will trust no-one, regardless of what protections are put in place by means of policies, legislation etc. And yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion – I couldn’t agree more.
      My opinion  – the reputation associated with the energy industry is down there at the bottom of the pile and all involved are only interested in improving that reputation – so they have a lot to lose. It sounds very wierd to think that an energy company might want to improve the services it offers or try and reduce its costs so that it can lower the price we pay – but that’s how a competitive market works isn’t it.
      My point here is that if articles are posted intended to help you form an opinion, then whoever writes them should take the time to research the subject matter and write accurate information so that people can base their opinion on the truth – not myths. I think they call it scaremongering – rather than factual reporting!

  6. chicofruitbat
    5th August 2012

    Has no-one heard of the ‘internet of things’ and how that is related to smart meters? Do you really want RFID chips and ‘back doors’ built into every single domestic appliance that you own because that is where this is heading if people don’t object now. If you do not believe me just look up what Leon Panetta had to say about the internet of things and how in the future your washing machine will be able to spy on you. It is on record that smart meters can recognize every appliance you use. It is also on record that all smart meter records will be lodged at GCHQ just as in the US they will be lodged at the new NSA spy centre. It is also on record that smart meters can be hacked very easily and that there will probably be a host of as yet unforeseeable consequences to the adoption of this technology. People who cannot see where this is going and want to be deluded by the govt propaganda are just hiding their heads in the sand. You need to remember that this is all based on the global warming scare and that has been proved to be a totally fraudulent scam based on junk, contrived science. When even the BBC does a documentary to show just how skewed the science is then you know something is really wrong. None of this is even necessary. We need more CO2, this is the food of plants and the planet has too little of it, not too much. All that is necessary is for the govt to build more power stations which these days only give off water vapour and CO2. The earth’s climate is driven by the sun, yes they left the sun out of their calculations enabling them to prove that the earth’s climate is driven by CO2. Also research how there are copious low cost or free energy technologies available which the establishment has continually tried to suppress. Heaven forbid that people should be technologically empowered and live free from govt interference in their lives. They would rather allow eco mania to ride roughshod over the public interest making vast fortunes for people like Al Gore and Maurice Strong in their crony capitalist system. Think about this. Also be aware of the well-documented and well-researched health problems with all microwave tech, emf frequencies. The authorities hope that ppl will not care in their mad dash to save £25 per year while being charged something like £350 per installation. Do the math people and get wise to what is really going on.

  7. 4wales
    26th August 2013

    Wont refuse to have it fitted, but will immediately cover the thing in Tinfoil, so that no radio waves are received or sent. Simple.