Millions of households using “smart” meters to monitor their gas supply could be shut down without warning this winter. This is part of the problems that have plagued smart meters since they were first introduced a little over a decade ago.
To date, meters have been installed in around 19 million households. However, up to 14 million have first-generation devices that are sometimes "dumb" and only work like a traditional meter when you switch suppliers.
While electrical smart meters are connected to the National Grid, the gas meters are powered by batteries that are designed to last for at least a decade. This means that thousands of batteries could fail in the coming months. Once the device dies, in some cases the gas supply will automatically shut off and a technician must replace the battery unit before reconnecting the supply.
"Fiasco": The introduction of smart meters was fraught with problems. Now gas meters can even interrupt the supply
Retired aircraft controller Derek King has suffered the inconvenience of the death of his smart gas meter, leaving him temporarily without gas. He only found out that the smart meter no longer worked when his heating was not switched on as usual.
The married 73-year-old from Rushden, Northamptonshire says, “I can't believe there wasn't a failsafe mechanism. When the meter died, the gas was suddenly turned off without warning. It could have happened on Christmas Day with a turkey in the oven, or with someone more vulnerable than me and maybe living alone. & # 39;
Derek called local gas pipeline supplier Transco on the recommendation of a boiler mechanic he spoke to who believed the problem with his gas supply was due to an external gas leak. However, the Transco engineer soon identified the problem as a "dead" smart meter. He replaced it for free with an old-fashioned meter that didn't need batteries. It meant that Derek was without gas for a day.
Experts say that up to 11 million devices will be prone to failure in the next few years.
Alex Henney is a former government advisor who worked with former Energy Secretary Cecil Parkinson on energy privatization in the late 1980s.
He says, “When people are stranded with no gas in the middle of winter, it is an indication of the incompetent way this entire installer has run. It should be stopped immediately. We should have waited until all smart meter technologies were fully tested before imposing on the nation. & # 39;
When the meter died, the gas was suddenly turned off without warning. It could have happened on Christmas Day with a turkey in the oven, or with someone more vulnerable than me and maybe living alone
He adds, "This smart meter fiasco is a huge waste of money that hits the poor the hardest – as households pay the bills for this ridiculous project in higher energy bills."
The smart meter project has cost £ 13.5 billion to date, with more than £ 220 million spent on marketing to encourage everyone to embrace a smart meter.
According to Smart Energy GB, the organization overseeing the rollout, smart gas meters use lithium-ion batteries and should have a lifespan of at least ten years.
It is admitted that when the early smart meters – known as "Smets 1" units – were introduced, it was up to individual suppliers whether the gas would remain off or on in the event of a battery failure.
It does say, however, that all devices should send what is known as a "dying breath" signal when the battery is low to warn the utility company to send a technician to replace it.
The potential of leaving people without gas in the middle of winter is an indication of the incompetent way this entire installer has run. It should be stopped immediately.
Former government advisor Alex Henney
A spokesman for Smart Energy GB says: “Battery failure should occur very rarely as the battery attached to a smart meter is expected to have an average life of 15 years.
"If the batteries run low, suppliers can hire a technician to fit a replacement before it runs out."
Gordon Hughes is Professor of Economics at the University of Edinburgh and a former senior consultant on energy and environmental policy at the World Bank.
He says, “When the early smart gas meters were rolled out, many experts believed that the batteries would last longer than the meters.
"The gas supply would be designed to shut down when the battery runs out, as companies fear fraudsters could take advantage of the situation and get gas for free."
On Friday, British Gas said its older meters "fully meet the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy [BEIS] specifications" and that they "should continue to supply gas if the battery ever fails". At this point it would receive an "automatic warning" that the battery has failed.
Npower insisted that the gas valve doesn't change when a battery runs out. In other words, the gas won't turn off. Eon said that when a gas meter battery begins to lose its power, it is "informed as part of the remote communication that takes place between the meter and our systems".
Dying gas detectors are the newest problem with the introduction of the devices.
The £ 13.5 billion project started in 2009 and all households should have a smart meter installed by this year so that utilities can remotely read how much electricity is being used. But it is currently four years too late.
It was originally scheduled to be completed this year – with smart gas and electricity meters in all 27 million households.
Claims that smart meters reduce energy costs have been criticized as misleading.
Although smart meters allow a device to be installed to monitor energy consumption, the only way that new technology will help consumers save money is to encourage them to change their usage habits. The verdict on this remains open.
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