back to article Chair legs it from UK govt smart meter installation programme

The chair of the government's controversial smart meter programme, Baroness McDonagh, has left her post after recently criticising the roll-out of the widely hated scheme. Current costs of the scheme are expected to reach £11bn, while total lifetime costs were recently pegged as high as £19bn – the same amount that the …

  1. Kane Silver badge
    Facepalm

    F*%&wits

    "I look forward to working closely with a new Chair on the delivery of this programme, which will bring the benefits of smart meters to British households and businesses."

    So they still want to continue ahead with it then?

    F*%&wits.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: F*%&wits

      While there is a paid post to inhabit, there will be people to sit in it.

      Who says it has anything to do with the devices?

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: F*%&wits

      EU directive, money to be made, and directorships to be handed out. Of course they're going to roll it out.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: F*%&wits

      Of course they want to continue with it, but you need to understand why the government got involved in what is essentially a commercial scheme (beyond the relevant legislation) in the first place to understand why.

      In short, it's a government scheme for transferring public funds to private industry, and as such it's been a huge sucess already. However, if it ever actually works, it'll also provide the ability to remotely control your access to electricity, and which government, mindful of the distrust in which its held, would not find this irrisistibly attractive?

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        @LeeE

        In short, it's a government scheme for transferring bill payer funds to private industry, and as such it's been a huge sucess already.

        FTFY

      2. Charles Manning

        Re: F*%&wits

        "In short, it's a government scheme for transferring public funds to private industry"

        There is no need for a conspiracy theory.

        After all the hand-wringing caused by the climate change doom-mongers, the governments have to be seen to be doing something... anything..., but also something that voters are going to accept.

        Voters will not give up their cars or heating their homes or anything like that, so it has to be some grand program that still makes it look like they're doing something.

        Politically, smart meters are the perfect choice. Hey, we've done out bit, now it is up to you.

  2. JP19

    "I thank Baroness McDonagh for"

    driving the train so far but as we approach the wreck we need to find someone dumb enough to stand on the footplate....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "I thank Baroness McDonagh for"

      "as we approach the wreck we need to find someone dumb enough to stand on the footplate."

      The unfortunate thing here is what this says about Amber Rudd. I suppose appointing a history graduate from Cheltenham Ladies College as energy minister signifies everything that is wrong with the Conservative party, and with the depth, breadth and quality of our rotten and useless parliament (and things are no better on the opposition benches).

      Clearly Ms Rudd isn't clever enough to realise that the whole misbegotten smart meter project is a huge waste of money that this country doesn't have, in return for no meaningful benefits. At the same time her department is saying there's no money for energy efficiency schemes, the clowns (including her) are still proposing to splash £19bn up the wall (assuming no project over-runs!) in return for nothing.

      And she's clearly not astute enough to realise that the Major Projects Authority report (plus DCC delays), along with her arrival, are a heaven sent opportunity to re-run the cost benefit analysis, conclude that the whole scheme is a waste, and kick it into touch in a manner fully compliant with the rules handed out by Brussels.

      I don't expect much from Lightweight Dave, who seems uniquely talented in getting into pickles entirely of his own feckless making, but he's surpassed himself with this appointment, ensuing that UK energy policy will continue to be even more of a slow motion train wreck than the smart meter programme.

      1. paulf
        Holmes

        Re: "I thank Baroness McDonagh for"

        @Ledswinger

        "...everything that is wrong with the Conservative party, and with the depth, breadth and quality of our rotten and useless parliament (and things are no better on the opposition benches)."

        I think you're right there. You only have to look at the way Michael Dugher (Shadow transport sec) has been blocking experienced and knowledgeable railway journalists, because they keep challenging him when he spouts rubbish in public, to confirm things are about the same on both sides of the house.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: "I thank Baroness McDonagh for"

      someone dumb enough to stand on the footplate....

      What's Martha Lane-Fox doing these days?

    3. launcap Silver badge

      Re: "I thank Baroness McDonagh for"

      > driving the train so far..

      .. before succumbing to an unfortunate attack of conscience and letting people know what the situation really is.

      Either that or suddenly gaining another level in the CYA skills tree.

  3. astrax

    New Olympic event...

    The 200 smart meter hurdle race.

  4. Trollslayer

    Reality

    forbidden.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the chair left the post

    the post left the letter.

    the letter left the box

    the box... uhm... is it Friday afternoon yet?! :(

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: the chair left the post

      The ambiguity is in the box -- Python reference from years before the fillums.

      There was once 'ElPeas'.

  6. Zippy's Sausage Factory

    It's like Yes, Minister

    I can just imagine Sir Humphrey saying "But it's not your job to actually deliver the project, or even oversee the delivery of the project, merely to reassure people that the project is being delivered according to plan."

  7. smudge
    FAIL

    Correction

    "As we know from experience, governments are not good at big infrastructure projects because it's not their business," she said.

    No. Other, non-UK governments are good at big infrastructure projects because they are committed to serving their citizens, not to lining the pockets of themselves and their mates.

    Or, for the cynical, "...as well as lining the pockets..." :)

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Correction

      Other, non-UK governments are good at big infrastructure projects because they are committed to serving their citizens, not to lining the pockets of themselves and their mates.

      Citation required.

      Also, I think this assertion may be susceptible to the application of Hanlon's Razor.

    2. Red Bren
      Pirate

      Re: Correction

      Or to look at it another way, "As we know from bitter experience, big businesses are not good at big projects, but CEOs know how to hide bad news just long enough for their share options and huge pension entitlements to mature. Then they disappear into the (tax haven) sunset before the truth is uncovered and the company collapses, or gets a state bailout.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What

    The amount of taxpayers money governments spend on big infrastructure projects you could argue it fucking IS their business. And they're shit at it because there are never any consequences for failure. Which cushy job is Baroness Whatsferface off to now, after collosally cocking this up? Perhaps there's some inquiry she can go chair.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What

      I wish it was infrastructure like for example Boris' Island. That was projected to cost roughly the same amount and would have been infinitely more useful.

      Presently the sole function of metering is to be a tool to cripple one - the grid. Flip the switch on smart meters in all of London a few times up and down in the middle of the day and watch the grid collapse (along with public order).

  9. Graham Marsden
    Unhappy

    "Was Baroness McDonagh pushed or did she jump?"

    Either way, I bet she had a gold-plated lifeboat...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Was Baroness McDonagh pushed or did she jump?"

      Perhaps if we offered the cushy-jobs-for-life-for-our-mates crowd actual solid gold lifeboats, they could all be persuaded to jump ship. Except then we'd need a highly paid Chair of the Sunken Golden Lifeboat Salvage Delivery Agency, I suppose :(

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Was Baroness McDonagh pushed or did she jump?"

        You'd also need a 'Chair of the Salvage Committee' (and a Salvage Committee.) On the plus side, you'd only need one solid gold boat, but I'd recommend a dozen solid gold life vests.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Was Baroness McDonagh pushed or did she jump?"

          Golden bullets would work just as well.

  10. Drefsab_UK

    The problem is that smart meter's will benifit me personally in no way that I can see. I will use the same amount of electricity with or with a smart meter, I know how much my bill will be because i've been paying it for years. I already provide my meter readings on a regular basis anyway, I've never had to wait in for a meter reader if im in when they come great if im not well tough luck.

    The claims that it would save me money is not true because I will only save money if I use less energy and well if I wanted to use less I could do that on the old meter.

    So where is my incentive to change from a device that works well to one that has problems?

    I may be just a lowly pleb when it comes to this take up lark but I can clearly see how they could imrpove things.

    Firstly they need to make make a stardard for the meters and ensure all providers can use that stardard as it stands if you have a smart meter currently you cant switch to just any provider as not everyone is up to spee yet.

    Secondly enforce a discount (maybe 5%) on your tarrifs for customers on smart meters for all customers.

    Bang there you go all of a sudden instead of it being something that offers me no incentive to something that will actually save me money.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Firstly they need to make make a stardard for the meters and ensure all providers can use that stardard as it stands if you have a smart meter currently you cant switch to just any provider as not everyone is up to spee yet.

      Supposedly the SMETS2 specification (available on the web) is that common standard. But the underlying problem is that DECC, in a complete fit of idiocy, decided that meters should be the responsibility of the energy suppliers. As network connected assets, my cat could have told them that meters should be the responsibility of the distribution operator (which is how things originally were). Civil servants like the idea of multiple owners of things like meters, because they believe this will provide some mystical benefits from competition. But when (say) electricity supply shows how competition really works, of gravitation towards identical low margin commodity propositions from a small number of large providers, where economies of scale are paramount, and customer service is something customers demand but won't pay for, the civil service fools squeal "foul", and spend years looking for "market failure". We're going through this again at the moment with the CMA inquiry, but we've had repeated inquiries, reviews and investigations over the past twenty years.

    2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      @Drefsab_UK: I will use the same amount of electricity with or with a smart meter

      Me too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No you wont, because the meter itself will use additional electricity.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      > I will use the same amount of electricity with or with a smart meter

      But that isn't the real point of smart meters!

      With a smart meter, the energy companies can introduce various fancy new tariffs that enable them to increase the amount you pay in real terms, whilst making you think you are getting discounted energy.

    4. Hollerith 1

      The benefit is to the electricity company

      It will allow them to read your meter from a distance. Accurate readings, no disputes, no estimated readings, no meter readers.

      There will be some 'green' types who will assiduously study their smart meter and end up doing the laundry at 3am (until the flat below makes them stop), but I agree: don't want one, won't look at it from one year to the next.

      1. Red Bren
        Flame

        Re: The benefit is to the electricity company

        "There will be some 'green' types who will assiduously study their smart meter and end up doing the laundry at 3am"

        They will be wasting their time if they do. When my supplier tried to push a smart meter on me, I asked if there would be a price difference between peak and non-peak periods (like a more fine-grained Economy 7) but was told no, the unit price was the same no matter what time of day you were using it.

  11. wiggers

    What benefits and to whom?

    Still unclear about the benefits side of the equation and how these provide value against the cost. And to whom do the benefits accrue? So far all I've heard is that it will mean the end of estimated bills (why not read your own meter once a month?) and some wishful thinking about the effects of instant feedback on consumption. The idea of appliances responsive to price is still a long way off. The IoT currently has wildly growing numbers of protocols, so what chance your Curry's washing machine imported from China will know what the price of leccy is?

    Far better to invest the umpteen billions in nuclear power to produce more power than we know what to do with, instead of implementing rationing by stealth.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What benefits and to whom?

      From the 2011 impact assessment over 20 years:

      "Total consumer benefits amount to £4.64bn and include savings from reduced energy consumption (£4.60bn), and microgeneration (£36m). Total supplier benefits amount to £8.57bn and include avoided site visits (£3.18bn), and reduced inquiries and customer overheads (£1.24bn). Total network benefits amount to £780m and generation benefits to £774m. UK-wide benefits from carbon savings amount to £1.1bn."

      Believe that if you want, its from the School of Made Up Numbers that claim that HS2 has economic benefits.

      1. wiggers

        Re: What benefits and to whom?

        So the consumers who, along with other taxpayers, are only benefiting to the tune of about £5bn will actually be handing around £9bn to the businesses that are charging them for power anyway. Not to mention the charge for actually having one of these things fitted.

        If they are so beneficial to the generating businesses why don't they finance it themselves instead of the taxpayer?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What benefits and to whom?

          If they are so beneficial to the generating businesses why don't they finance it themselves instead of the taxpayer?

          Generating businesses don't need meters - they trade in the wholesale market, and it is the suppliers who have an interest in customer meters. But to take that as the thrust of your question, suppliers are expected to finance these (as in buy them, or rent them from their parties), but that increases the cost base, and gets factored into everybody's bills.

          What you seem to be suggesting is that smart meters should be self funding from cost savings. The reason that doesn't happen is that the cost of manual meter reading is only about £5 per meter per year. There's some other expected savings from reduced estimated billing costs (maybe two quid a year), and some hoped for reduction in bad debt, maybe another couple of quid per meter per year. Sadly that won't pay the costs of smart metering, which are probably around £20 per meter per year (depreciation, interest, additional opex).

          So why are we doing it? Because DECC love the idea of spending your money on their toys, because the last Labour government made up the cost/benefit analysis, and because the current government are equally clueless. From an industry point of view, smart meters will be rolled out not because we want them, but because we will be subject to draconian fines if we don't comply. For customers, it's the slippery slope to complicated time of day charging, which DECC hope will disguise the vast increases in average bills that energy policy has already committed to. This is what passes for "democracy" in the UK today.

      2. Anonymous Coward 101

        Re: What benefits and to whom?

        "Total supplier benefits amount to £8.57bn and include avoided site visits (£3.18bn), and reduced inquiries and customer overheads (£1.24bn)."

        I wonder what the total increase in cost of site visits (sales forces etc.) and inquiries (fuckups etc.) has been since deregulation?

  12. IHateWearingATie

    Rule 1 for Quangos

    You must be outside the glasshouse before throwing stones.

    I suspect the Baronness was reminded of the rule on her way out the door

  13. lsces

    Just a meter connection?

    Given the volume of smart devices today, surely ALL that is needed is an add-on to the meter to give the total usage and the current usage rate. The utility company can make readings at regular intervals removing the need for meter readers ( although you probably still need them to check for fraud anyway? ) Local applications can then be used to do all the smart stuff which has no place 'in' the meter?

  14. J P
    Facepalm

    Chair legs IT

    I misread this as being some new form of IT derived from furniture components. Which would probably be about right actually...

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Synonymous Howard

      Re: No estimated bills in my house.

      I use my smartphone to take a photo of my meter readings .. it's fast to do, I can type the numbers in to the website in the GCH-warmth of my house and I have an audit log of them all, complete with datestamp, GPS location and MPRN/serial number.

      They are very useful to email over to the energy billing company (I refuse to call them suppliers) when you need to question the bill.

  16. Kubla Cant Silver badge
    Joke

    A modest proposal

    If they're going to all this trouble, why not install really smart meters that do algo trading? I'm thinking of something that can send an RFQ to all the energy suppliers and take forward positions to minimize my energy costs. With 26 million traders, it could be an exciting market.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: A modest proposal

      I think you had a little finger trouble here. When posting your excellent suggestion you seem to have accidentally added the joke Alert icon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A modest proposal

      If they're going to all this trouble, why not install really smart meters that do algo trading?

      They don't need to do trading - you could just take the wholesale spot price plus the network, balancing and settlement costs, plus a residential billing cost and the cost of a hedge contract to avoid being hit with "out of balance" charges and similar.

      Because supplier margins are around 4%, that's all you'd save, unless you can move all your demand off peak. But if you can, there's a contract already offered for that in the shape of Economy 7, but it suits relatively few customers.

      1. Kubla Cant Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: A modest proposal

        @Ledswinger Because supplier margins are around 4%, that's all you'd save

        I would guess that 4% is much larger than a typical Forex margin. And you're making the mistake of assuming that the meter is actually buying electricity for me to use, whereas I'm suggesting that it should build a position. Commodity traders don't actually eat all those pork bellies.

        Please note the icon that you seem to have missed first time round.

  17. DJO Silver badge

    Why oh why...

    For commercial users there are clear benefits to smart meters with half hourly reading but the benefits for domestic users are questionable to say the least.

    New installations and end-of-life replacements should be smart meters but replacing perfectly good meters just for the sake of it is throwing money away.

    Perhaps a pilot somewhere (Milton Keynes perhaps, they had it coming) followed by a 2 or 3 year assessment of any benefits to residents would make more sense than a full roll out, but it seems sense and government are mutually exclusive.

  18. Meter Man

    Meter Man

    Its funny that yet another person to express a negative remark about the smart metering program has been muted. The whole program is overly complex for mass roll out which in the long run will add increased costs to consumers bills . I wouldn't say I'm against the principle of a smart meters but the UK has let the quangos organisation have to much input creating a overly complex solution, that for the most part won't benefit the majority of homes. There is also too much collaboration between, Ofgem ,DECC, Energy UK and the meter manufacturers to even suggest there is any choice or competition in the meters used.

  19. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Variable tarriffs

    In theory the fuel cost could be varied according to demand, which would level off consumption etc.

    In reality we only need to look at how Economy 7 operates.

    Night usage is much cheaper than the normal day tariff..

    But the companies have made the cost of the day usage part of the Economy 7 so much more expensive than the normal cost that it can only save money if you are using several times more leccy in the few hours of night tariff than in the day. (And you won't be using storage heaters in the Summer).

    Just using you washing machine and dishwasher on a timer overnight isn't enough to justify the major cost of the day usage, even though these are probably going to be your biggest users.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Variable tarriffs

      In theory the fuel cost could be varied according to demand, which would level off consumption etc.

      How? The discretionary element of peak demand is very low unless you're prepared to turn off all the TVs and computers, and sit round playing snap. Or the population could all eat salad, and we'd be freed of the tyranny of using electricity to cook on. Or people could sit in the dark, saving all that wasteful lighting. Shops, offices and factories could shut by law at 5pm, so that there's no wasteful overlap between domestic and commercial light and heating.

      Is this really your vision of the 21st century? The cost of a peaking optimised OCGT is a few quid a year on the average bill. Personally I'd rather have that than piss about trying to match my usage to whatever cock-and-bull generation curve that DECC's policies create.

      And E7 will soon be history, as the mass build out of wind and solar creates vast unpredictability and huge wholesale cost swings, and overnight charging of EVs raises overnight demand and prices. The only way you'll get cheap power in five years time is letting the system operator dictate what random times of both day and night your "discretionary" appliances may run.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Variable tarriffs

        @Ledswinger

        You miss the point

        Which I will spell out.

        *There has been an opportunity to spread out domestic usage by encouraging increased night time use when domestic demand is low. This is Economy 7.

        *The companies chose to lever the costs so that being on the tariff means that any day time use is far more expensive than day time use on a standard package.

        *For almost all users the night time savings do not even come close to covering the cost of the day time usage

        *They did not choose to reward off-peak usage to encourage load spreading

        *This has meant that it was virtually impossible to use this in a cost effective way.

        the companies threw away the chance to even out usage between day and night.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Variable tarriffs

          You miss the point

          Au contraire, sunshine, you miss the point, and you miss it spectacularly. Even though E7 has a higher daytime rate than a flat rate (see next paragraph) the opportunity for consumer gains from price arbitrage still exists, and in fact exists to a greater degree because the peak/off-peak range is greater than if the E7 daytime rate were the same as a supplier's standard flat rate. Its that range that can drive arbitrage benefits for those able and willing to change their demand.

          Coming back to the perceived unfairness of the higher E7 day time rate, this reflects a dramatically simplified demand curve where the cost of energy varies. On APX today, there's an eleven fold variation between overnight minimum at 04:30 and daytime traded peak at 08:00 (peaks in the morning because it's summer). What this means for people on a flat rate is that they are paying extra for all off peak electricity, about par for the course in standard periods, and getting it cheap at times of peak demand.

          You can cut any number of different tariffs, what you can't do is say "I'll have the E7 tariff during the E7 period, but then I'll have the 24hr flat rate at times of higher demand".

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: Variable tarriffs

            Ledswinger

            You still, despite your patronsing comments, miss the point;

            .... able and willing to change their demand.

            The difference between the higher rated daytime tariff and, the off peak rate is prohibitive for all but the highest night consumption - which pretty much means night storage heating.

            If the load spreading advantage of moving domestic use to times of low demand is to be gained the tariff needs to be pitched so that customers who use their main appliances during the night and are out during the day have the chance to make some saving,

            i.e. so that the cost of running a dishwasher and washing machine (plus the night consumption of 24hr devices) is at least close enough to break even point.

            And, to labour my original point, the opportunity to manage demand by time slices across the day by using variable pricing doesn't seem very attractive to consumers when the current Off-peak pricing has not been used to give us any great advantage

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Variable tarriffs

              Oh, and by the way, having blinked at your use of the word "arbitrage" in the context of buying from a single supplier and referred my aging brains back to when I did some economics at Uni a good many years ago, I thought I should check my recollection of what it does actually mean.

              "the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets :"

              Which is what Wikipaedia today and my lecturers at the University all those years ago said it was.

              Not quite the same as buying fuel from one supplier with two fixed prices.

              Now if I could buy leccy from one supplier for the standard day tariff and another for the off-peak, that could be arbitrage, I guess, stretching it a bit.

  20. David Ramsay

    Lets face it whether the cost is £11BN or £19BN, scrap the project now and most of the £12BN cuts required to balance the books is gained instantaneously.

    Oops, I forgot the EU mandated the introduction and the UK Government of any hue always obeys the rules even if Germany said they were not cost effective and would not go ahead with them!

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