The energy smart meter row: is is a flop?

electricity pylons

The smart meter debate rages on. British Gas has unveiled a new generation of them that it says could save households 10% off their energy bills. Meanwhile, an academic study claims they don't work at all.

So who is right?

The argument in favour
The smart meters will certainly put us in the picture. Rather than saving up a horrible surprise for when the bill drops onto the mat, we can see as we go along exactly how we are using energy. The new generation will even let you put in details about your property and then will set realistic targets for cutting energy usage. It can show you what you're using at the moment, and what you were using the same time last week, month or year. It even breaks this down into pennies, so we can keep a close eye on what we are spending.

According to the Energy Saving Trust it can help us save £105 a year. Of course they are going to cost an incredible £11.3 billion to roll out, but it will be worth it if we can all stand to save a small fortune over the decades to come. The question is whether this saving will materialise at all.

The argument against
Research from the University of East Anglia monitored households using them for a year, and the results were decidedly mixed. The problem, according to Dr Tom Hargreaves of the School of Environmental Sciences, was that after an initial flurry of enthusiasm, households lost their liking for the meters.

In some cases they just stopped bothering with them. In other cases, it helped fuel the inevitable battles between family members about who was wasting energy and how they could cut back.

Hargreaves said: "Rather than feeling motivated to save more energy and money, householders were left feeling frustrated and despondent that the changes they could make were very small and they were receiving little or no meaningful support from anywhere else, such as government and local authorities."

So is this a waste of money?
There's an argument that we are left watching the usage tick away and face forcing a teenager to turn off the Playstation or give up on the fridge if we want to make a meaningful difference. In this instance you could say they are an expensive waste of money. Given that they are going to cost billions - which will inevitably be passed onto us - you could say this is something we really cannot afford right now.

However, on the flip side, there's another argument that it helps us see the things we are doing that cost money. Over time, when we come to replace the fridge we will think twice about buying a cheaper more wasteful model; when we come to wash clothes we will at least have a bash at a lower temperature.

Meanwhile, a teen who has had rows over energy usage will understand the cost of what they are doing. They are unlikely to willingly give up their computer time. However, they will understand the value of the energy they use, which will put them in a better position when they move on and they face tacking bills themselves.

But what do you think? Are these meters a useful money-saving device or an expensive flop? Let us know in the comments.

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