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Our View: Host of concerns over smart meters

smart meter
A smart meter

Leaving aside the series of setbacks to the installation of smart electricity meters involving tenders, courts and the potential loss of EU funding, news out of the UK recently presents a cautionary tale as four million British households have been left susceptible to overcharging when their meters turned out to be less than smart.

It’s not that the irreversible march of technology should or can be ignored, or that things can’t go wrong even with the best of intentions but in the race to Net Zero, the public is rarely presented with any of the downsides to some of these policies until it’s too late.

Britain rolled out smart meters a few years ago and 35 million homes now have them. Yet the four million, some of whom have received bills in the thousands causing untold stress and hardship, is not a tiny minority.  And it’s not so much the miscalculations as the delays in securing refunds from the electricity providers after hundreds or even thousands of pounds have been automatically taken from bank accounts.

Cyprus could face similar problems unless the authorities are well prepared when the time comes. According to an EU-funded study by the Mediterranean Energy Regulators Association on the smart-meter rollout published in March, the challenges facing Cyprus include “potential privacy and security concerns due to data transmission and issues with securing a high quantity of data transferred via low-bandwidth networks”. Smart meters operate on mobile technology and if that’s patchy, it could result in false readings.

Technological glitches aside, the public is being told the meters will bring down their bills, according to the EU’s PR blurb by around 12 per cent a year. However bills can only come down if people use less electricity, just like now.

More worrying is that like a current proposal in the UK, the system could eventually morph into charging more at certain hours of the day to ‘incentivise’ – as a stick rather than a carrot – people to use less.

The Cyprus recovery and resilience plan uses the same soft coercive language saying smart meters will “strengthen the role of citizens as consumers” and could “enable behavioural change” by allowing customers to “engage in the electricity market” when we all thought that we were just paying for a service to keep the lights on.

The advantages of smart meters definitely outweigh the disadvantages overall, but the challenges should not be ignored in the attempt to win over the public. It should be made clear that smart meters will not automatically reduce bills. Only individual households can and, if they don’t do it willingly, they may be forced to.

Authorities also need to ensure that if higher peak-hour tariffs are on the cards to ‘incentivise’ people, that the disabled or the elderly – who may also have difficulty with the technology – will not be placed in a situation where they can’t afford to put on a heater or A/C when they most need it, while the wealthy continue to use as much electricity as they wish.

 

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