back to article British Gas signs Voda so meters can snitch direct

British Gas is to upgrade two million meters to call home with automated readings - but this isn't just about making the gas man obsolete. Automatic meter reading is a great thing - estimated bills are a constant headache for those of us too lazy to read our own meters - but the infrastructure proposed by British Gas goes way …


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  1. Dafydd Lawrence

    Changing Suplier

    I am curious as to what happens when you change supplier. As this system seem very vendor-centric it seems as though you would nequire a new system to be installed everytime you change suppliers?

    As changing (or at least evaluating) suppliers at least every 12 months is recommend this could be a problem.

    1. Adam 10
      Thumb Up

      Industry standard

      By publishing this standard, they're hoping other suppliers will adopt the standard.... Switching would be much as it is now, you wouldn't need another meter. Also, there would doubtless be a "legacy" sort of meter so a man could come and read it (if nothing else to check every few years that it's not been hacked somehow).

      I'm surprised it's not Transco developing this seeing as they are the gas/leccy distributor are they not?

      I wonder if they've specified the standard to accomodate feeding back to the grid (renewables, eh) or the addition of a water meter.

      1. Ministry of Truth


        ... became part of National Grid and run the transmission networks. Thats the EHT stuff, or the big gas pipes.

        In the liberalised market, the distribution networks are quite seperate, and though any of the parties might have a metering business, these have to be ring fenced and this is enforced quite stringently.

        There are lots of distribution networks, and we've seen regionally specced metering before (pre-payment was only very recently unified) so it makes sense that it's BG (by far the biggest supplier) who pushes the smart metering standard.

        To be honest, it's a good move by them to make it an open standard so that other suppliers can make sure they are compatible. BG are dominant enough in the market that they could have made it more difficult for the other players to enter this area so easily.

        However, make no mistake about it, energy that is metered through the smart network is going to cost you more, cause the additional infrastructure costs will need to be recovered - from the end consumer.

        And it's dubious as to how much of an overall energy saving there will be, cause consumers tend to have a lot of inertia. Still, it's a start...

  2. Anonymous Coward

    That spec infringes on so many patents it is not even funny

    The biggest problem with using ZigBee for this is that the idiots who standardise it did not sit down in time and specify the gateway specifications to other networks and apps. This opened a BIG window of opportunity for both "inventors" and outright patent trolls. As a result the key portions in this "reference design" are patented and Landys & Gyr, Vodafone and Centrica have just set up themselves for a nice ambush from a number of patent trolls.

    This is not surprising actually as IP and telecoms were always considered as "given" by Centrica and it explicitly forced the issue that "it is interested only in the utility side".

    So what you and me think that we will be paying here is nothing compared to what we will really be paying after the trolls take Centrica under the bridge and beat some pennies out of its wallet. So for some people this means that the time to laugh all the way to the bank has really come. BWAHAHAHAHA... Where did my white cat go...

  3. Number6


    I always did used to run my washing machine overnight when I was single - I deliberately bought a clockwork machine (that is still working 15 years later) and a timeswitch so that it came on at about 3am. However, with a family, the degree of organisation required to achieve that is too great and often would require being up in the wee hours to put in a second load.

  4. cs94njw

    And if you have a femto cell installed?

    I guess you get to intercept what gets sent.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Chicken wire works better

      Chickin wire works great... Supplement this by spraying the cavity wall interior towards the meter with halfords' zinc primer spray through a pinhole. This way _NOTHING_ gets sent.

      In fact - respray the interior of the meter cubbard with this and paint with innocuous white paint on top.

      Problem solved. Here is your tinfoil hat for a meter.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Dear god, I'd hoped we'd put such insanity as 'smart' appliances behind us with the dotcom crash. I don't need a refrigerator that orders groceries for me, and I certainly don't need a touch-screen-enabled-crowdsourced-feedback-providing-Web2.0-cloudy-hooked-up smart e-meter. The Metro had a piece this morning, gushing about it providing real-time feedback on energy consumption. My meter already does that - it's got dials that spin! How much more real time can you get? Sheer idiocy. I thought only governments wasted this much money on ridiculous half-baked projects... British Gas must be getting some sort of "green" subsidy for it.

    1. John70

      This is a title

      The "green" part is no more people driving round reading meters.

  6. Seanmon

    I live in a flat.

    Any c*** running a washing machine overnight should not be unsurprised to find themselves failing to benefit from reduced electricity bills.

    Because I'll have shot them.


  7. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    My neighbour

    used to run their dryer overnight to save on power.... right upto the point it failed , then set their shed alight.... and my shed, and the other neighbours shed, then we had a 12 hr wait while those nice firemen cooled down the propane bottles helpfully stored next to one of the sheds..

    Now they use the dryer overnight but inside the house..... where it rattles and shakes and keeps everyone awake.

    As for british gas... they still cannot do an estimated bill correctly within £25, even though my gas usage remains constant for summer/winter.....

    But I bet after 2016 when the power stations start shutting down with no replacements those smart meters will be used to shut off people's power, which is the real reason they want them.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      That is exactly what is the key here.

      It is not metering - it is "demand management" which they are after.

      1. Steve Roper

        Yep... and...

        ...if this thing turns off my fridge/freezer and ruins $150 worth of food I'm betting I won't have any recourse to sue the bastards for the loss - it'll just be too bad, go buy more food. And yes, they're looking at bringing these things in here in Australia too.

        Fuck this shit. The day they put this shit on my house is the day I move into a tent and live in the bush on what I can grow, trap and fish. If I can no longer preserve food supplies what's the point of living in civilisation?

        At least living in Australia I've got plenty of places to go where I won't be found...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I see problems

    1) Vodafone is patchy where I live. Although it could help them boost their coverage of the area

    2) Who pays for powering these smart devices? As they get more and more complicated, the power consumption will increase.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Who pays?

      The meters are powered either (for gas meters) by internal batteries or (electric meters) by tapping off the pre-metered supply, so those costs are eaten by the supplier - though cynics might suggest the suppliers will then simply bump their unit prices ever so slightly to recoup these costs...

      The consumer would only pay directly for the power to run the local display devices, but (unless things have changed in the few months since I changed jobs away from a company who designed these things) there's no requirement for the local displays to be turned on at all, so in principle there shouldn't be any additional energy costs for someone switching from a traditional meter to a smart meter.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    Will there actually be any GPRS networks around in 10 years given how keen the networks are to roll out 3G (and 4G) across any available spectrum. Even today I've got better 3G signal than 2G in many places as the old GSM networks seem to be left to rot... or is this just marketing speak for a mobile connection?

    Let's hope these things are software (or cheap/easy hardware module) upgradable.

    Oh, and Zigbee... I still can't stop laughing. Are they running it at 868 MHz (shared with all sorts of baby monitors, cordless headphones etc) or 2.4GHz (so busy it hurts)? Will that even work in an urban enviroment?

    1. ChrisC Silver badge


      Where I used to work, we had our Zigbee prototypes working quite happily in close proximity to wireless routers and bluetooth phones/laptops/dongles. I wasn't sufficiently closely involved in the Zigbee side of things to know just how resilient it was to interference, but I don't recall any of the guys who were involved in its implementation doing much swearing about poor reception - and trust me, working in a small open-plan design office, we all knew what problems everyone else was having with their projects!

      1. Danny 14


        but add this to a block of flats where there are 40 zigbees all clamouring for a tiny space

  10. Hollerith 1

    Benefits of smart meters

    No more estimated bills. You pay for real-time consumption. So no bills too high int he summer and sometimes too low in the winter to cover what you really use. A company I worked for had a more primitive version that clipped around the voltage cable, and it found householders were astonished at the spikes in use and actually changed their usage behaviour to do things at cheaper times, or to turn off machines on stand-by. They proposed having all this info on a website, where you could log into your account and see your usage and cost over any slice of time you wanted. I thought maybe 20% would really get into it, but that it was a nice idea. Sadly, they have gone for a less interesting option. But the power companies have no choice: smart meters have been mandated by the Government and they are coming for sure.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Joined up thinking

    British Gas are a retailer, one of many. In the delightful post-privatisation market-driven-insanity, it is entirely possible for each retailer to have their own standard for meters and meter reading and (if appropriate) connectivity. Marvellous.

    If we had a national network of fibre to every home, or even a programme committed to deliver such a facility, it could be used to read the gas meter, and maybe for a few other things. You could use the fibre to deliver proper digital radio (for example) rather than the ridiculous DAB we're all being fobbed off with (there'd be a few rough edges with that, but no more than with DAB). You could (obviously) use the fibre for high speed broadband, and delivery of "TV" content, and phone service, and...

    But there's no joined ip thunking so all these independent services all have their own independent infrastructures each costing a small fortune, just like the madness of the competing LLU broadband infrastructures. And the politicians have the cheek to talk about public sector inefficiency... Aren't market forces wonderful.

    There is an outfit down south who have been promising to deliver phone, TV, and broadband over a mass fibre-to-the-home rollout, and who have recently added water meters to their service portfolio. Unfortunately like everything else they've talked about it's little more than a promise, and a promise is worth (0) until it's delivered.

  12. Paul Hates Handles


    That'd be good for me if my 'leccy company did it - the fuckers never come and read my meter; I always get "Estimated by pulling numbers directly out of my arse".

  13. Anonymous Coward

    "Washing machine overnight"

    Umm, haven't they just reinvented Economy 7?

  14. Nick 6

    Two way traffic

    The objective is to install remotely controllable meters, not just data collection. Its sold on cheaper gas, monitor yourself, be green etc. But really its a means to remotely control your usage, and update the billing parameters in real time, based on demand.

    The data collection angle is false - many people are reading it themselves for most of the year, with occasional data collection via sneakernet by their own meter readers.

    Back at HQ, they'll have a big friendly button marked "Optimise Profit". And your meter will simply obey. Look out for those revised terms and conditions....

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    ".. SAP, which will integrate the system with British Gas's existing IT systems" hahahahahahahahahahaha <breathes/>, these people can't run a billing system.

    " they will be able to take advantage of more complex tariffs " - this is the nitty gritty, more ways to fleece the customer by confusion marketing.

  16. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    BG's money making schemes!

    BG make a ton of spondoolics by over-egging the direct-debits and then paying the money, AFTER they have creamed off the interest on havng thousands of over payments in BG's accounts.

    What scam will they come up with to cover the loss of interest when they know exactly how much you have consumed to the nearest microsecond? Ah yes, selling the obly supported monitoring gizmos to al the other energy companies!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Another one bites the dust...

      So BG are making a fortune by over egging your bills each month?

      You will be happy to know then that once you have one installed, all bills being sent out will be against firm reads detailing your exact usage (providing no fault on the meter) so your over egging problem will be no more? If you read the government mandate then all billing on smart sites have to be billed to reads from the meter ensuring no estimated bills are sent.

      And yes, I do work for an energy company and am involved in rolling these out, however not for Grittish Bass.

  17. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Just the two years to get my meter changed...

    so for two million meters, that'll be four million years, then. I'll not hold my breath.

  18. Blake St. Claire

    Reduce my carbon footprint?

    By running my dryer at night?

    The carbon footprint will be the same, day or night.


    1. AndrueC Silver badge


      It's true that you will generate the same pollution but you'll be using base load. That means in effect that a fair amount of the carbon would be emitted anyway. Not only that but in a lot of cases base load is supplied by nuclear stations. Those things are buggers to spin up and spin down so they are mostly left to trundle along 24/7/365 whether anyone needs the power or not.

      In effect you are finding a use for power that would have gone to waste otherwise.

      1. Blake St. Claire


        See my reply to Simon. It's a gas dryer.

  19. Simon Ball

    @ Blake. St Clair

    Not true. Day generation will include gas-fired peaking plant (and what little grid-connected solar we have), whereas night will mainly consistent of the nuclear and coal base-load stations.

    I don't know precisely where that would leave the average carbon production per KWh, but it does vary.

    1. Blake St. Claire

      @Simon Ball

      Well, my dryer is gas.

      This was nominally about (British Gas) installing smart meters on the gas line, and running my dryer at night will definitely not reduce my carbon footprint. Okay, so I'm ignoring the little electric motor that makes the drum spin around.

      If I really want to reduce my carbon footprint I'll need to convince my better half to put the clothes out on a line and air dry.

  20. AgeingBabyBoomer

    And who will pay for all this infrastructure?

    One wonders...

    Of course, if the Mandybill goes through, there will

    be strong a incentive to hack the connection,

    aggressively surf for pr0n, and get the meter disconnected.

    Double result.

  21. Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate

    Pentabytes of data to be stored for years

    I worked for an electrical company which has similar data collection for industrial customers. These generate piles of data which needs to be shoveled around the disks. Would you like an electrical bill with the cost of the power listed in 15 minutes increments? 4 readings per hour * 24 hours * 30 days = 2880 detail lines. All of these details must be kept for years because of audits etc. The quantity of data for each customer has gone up 3000 times but the disk budget likely won't get a penny. Something is going to fail.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But can it be bypassed

    by putting a fscking great jumper cable between the meter's input and output?

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    who did bung the Lordship to get this included in the bill?

    Note a few points

    Analogue gas meters have an accuracy of +/- 2%. eMeters were -2/+3% with a 5 year battery life. so what accuracy these things will give (10yr battery life. Better electronics or bigger battery?)

    Patent liabilities, security holes and demand management. This is little to do with consumers managing their *own* demand and about having it *managed* for them. Multiple interfaces (Zigbee & GPRS, which may be gone in 5 years) and as others have said whose going to pay for that storage space?

    I hope this is another one which a new government would review but it's *so* seductive they may not.

    Hardware compatibility, trolls, security, underinvestment in storage. Alert status FAIL.

  24. Nick Sargeant

    DOS attacks will be more fun in the future ..

    I'm looking forward to an Internet DOS attack that turns off the meters belonging to 2 million housholders .. of course the regulations say that each meter must be visited by someone from the gas infrastructure suppliers, or the householder must confirm it is safe to reconnect the gas on the phone ...

    Ah, can't wait.

  25. Nick Sargeant

    Another thing ...

    .. if it is not safe to use a cellphone on a petrol forecourt due to the possibility of a spark near volatile gases, why is it a good idea to strap a cellphone to your gas meter?

  26. Sillyfellow

    call me old fashioned

    yes. perhaps i am a bit old fashioned in this case. i totally don't trust these new 'smart' meters.. if they're as smart as the companies/staff deploying them then we're royally screwed!!

    not to mention the obvious target to hackers (and who'll end up paying for that then?)..

    seems to me that since i own my house, it's completely my decision about what equipment is installed in it. i can and will tell british gas 'NO thank you'. i'll stick with my current one. if they don't like it, then tough!. they're not the only gas suppliers around.

  27. Fred 24

    Disconnecting the customers

    Having read all the PDF's I have to wonder why they are so intent on being about to switch off the customers supply on a regular basis - the switches have a 10,000 operation lifetime in the specs.

    Is this the level of load management they are willing to go to.... we can't cope so just turn them off?

    The really alarming thing that leaps at my read of the specs is the requirement to log at 1 minute intervals, or less - so if that resolution of billing is needed that the scary predictions of 60% energy price hikes does appear to be on the way.

    One topic - security - did make me chuckle though, they are spec'ing for defence to 6 types of attack and so seem most worried about magnets of 600 gauss and 25mm in size......I wonder why!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What Amazes Me

    What amazes me about this story is that British Gas have two million customers. Where did they find all those suckers?

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