Are Smart Meters Really a Smart Idea?

Great Britain is in the midst of a cost of living crisis. Food shopping prices have risen, as have fuel prices, public transport, utility bills and almost anything else that can be purchased from a store.

As a result, people are understandably stressed about their finances. Strikes from crucial industries – namely the railways and postal services – made Christmas more of a headache last year, as people rallied for a fairer wage to tackle the crisis.

The new year has been and gone, and people are still adamant about not turning the heating on in their houses, despite the cold temperatures, in order to save money. Dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and more are also being switched off at the wall, when not in use, in order to save those crucial one-pound coins.


Introducing the Smart Meter

In order to help people save money with their utility bills every month, utility services are offering Smart Meters to help people become more aware of their daily spending.

Smart Meters are small displays that are permanently plugged into a socket in your house, that display your energy usage throughout the day. The meter will show you how much money is being spent in a given moment, as well as a total for the day so far.

On paper, the Smart Meter is a great idea. Having access to figures that tell you how much energy you are using can help you cut down unnecessary spending by turning off unused electronics, managing how often you use your washing and drying appliances, as well as being more cautious about leaving lights on.

But, for some people, the Smart Meter can cause more stress than good.

How Smart Meters can become obsessions

An issue many have found with Smart Meters is that they obsess too much about the numbers being displayed on the screen. It is very easy for the Smart Meter to be the first thing you look at when you walk into a room, as you are so weary about your spending habits. Many people have gathered to forums online to explain their constant checking of the device.

And while the meters certainly help people reduce the amount of energy they are using, sometimes people take the meter so seriously that they are actively inconveniencing themselves in order to save money.

An anonymous woman, from Plymouth, in her forties spoke to The Doughnut, sharing her experiences with Smart Meters. When asked if Smart Meters make her more anxious, she said that it is possible to get a little ‘caught up’ with them.

“You can have these little machines that tell you how much [gas and electricity] you are using, and it records how much that cost is per day. I think you can get a little bit caught up with that and become a little bit obsessive with it.”

“I did have one of those little readers, but I disconnected it because I was finding that I was looking at it all the time to find out how much [energy] I used. Now I don’t worry about it.”

Is the anxiousness caused by Smart Meters really the best way of reducing energy consumption, or is there a better way?

A different solution

Utility providers are working on different ways to help bring prices down for customers, while saving overall energy consumption in the process. For instance, Octopus Energy have implemented a system where they pay customers for not using energy during peak hours.

Labelled as the ‘Big Dirty Turn Down,’ Octopus claim to have paid ‘around 100,000 households to shift their energy out of certain peak times’ during a trial period. Users were emailed a day in advance of each event with a personalised two-hour schedule of when to lower their consumption, in exchange for those two hours being totally free.

In order to do this, people would change the time of day they use their electronics, such as washing machines and dish washers.

The energy company claims to have 85% of the tested households take part in one of these events, while 71% took part in two or more.

According to the results posted by Octopus, 197MWh of energy was turned down during the entire trial, which they explain is the equivalent of two-and-a-half millions hours of Netflix streaming.

Not only is this an impressive result, but making the motive about saving money instead of worrying about spending more seems to have been a big benefit. Octopus explained this as one of their ideas going into the project:

“While on an individual basis the “reward” might have seemed very small, our trials were about the power of collective action. Plus, we’ve already seen how tiny incentives can lead to changing behaviours; [notably] the plastic bag scheme.”

The Smart Meter is still a good idea

Despite the fact that Smart Meters do cause worry for some people, not everybody feels the same way. For many, the Smart Meter is a helpful indicator at most, and not to be taken too seriously. A lot of people have still managed to save a lot of money with Smart Meters – meaning their effectiveness is unique to the people using them.

Despite the worries the Smart Meter brought, the anonymous woman still believes Smart Meters are the future:

“I think everyone having Smart Meters would be the way forward, but that won’t ever happen because there are people that are on pre-payment meters, because they can’t afford to pay by direct debit or quarterly. 

But, I think these energy suppliers, like Octopus, are bringing in these incentives schemes, and I think they are a really good idea because it will encourage people to use their utilities off peak to save money. That will do good for everybody.”

Final Thoughts

With the cost of living crisis not looking to be ending any time soon, if there is anything to take from it, it is that there are other ways to reduce your energy usage – without using a Smart Meter.

The question is, which side of the fence are you on?

Joe McCormick

[Image Credits]:
Image 1: Siân Wynn-Jones via Unsplash
Image 2: Andrey Metelev via Unsplash
Image 3: PlanetCare via Unsplash

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