The roll-out of smart meters will empower customers and boost competition in the much-criticised energy market, writes Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Smart Energy GB.
Imagine doing your weekly shop at the supermarket. You fill your trolley as usual, but when you get to the checkout, instead of a total price for your shopping you get a blank look from the shop assistant.
“It’ll be… er…. Actually, I’m not sure. I’ll give you my best guess at the end of next month – OK?” So you go home with your shopping and carry on running up a bill which you have no idea if you can afford – with your fingers crossed that you’ll have enough money in the household budget when an estimated bill hits your doormat weeks or months later.
We wouldn’t expect this service in any other part of our lives, yet when it comes to gas and electricity, it’s an everyday reality.
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Following similar results from Which? and Smart Energy GB’s recent study, there is now plenty of evidence about consumer dissatisfaction with our current billing systems for gas and electricity. All this research points to the need for change.
Thankfully, a smart revolution will be taking place in homes around Great Britain between now and 2020. During the national roll-out of smart meters, around 50 million new meters will be installed into more than 25 million homes in Scotland, England and Wales.
These new meters will give consumers the information they need in order to take full control of how they use and buy energy.
Smart meters will be installed for free by your energy supplier, with no additional charge on your bill. You will be offered an in-home display which will measure and display your energy use in pounds and pence by the day, week, month or longer – so you can see how your energy costs are ticking up, and reduce your consumption if you would like to.
Visits by meter readers and estimated billing will become things of the past, because the smart meter will automatically send the energy supplier all the information it needs to issue you with a fully accurate bill. You will have all the information you need in order to find out if you’re on the right tariff or with the right supplier for you.
We’ve spent the last year talking to people around the country about their experience of buying gas and electricity. Time and time again we hear about an information gap when it comes to energy bills – with so many people expressing a need for more information to help them buy and use energy differently.
When it comes to people on tight budgets, the issues are even more acute. We have heard from many who have switched to pre-pay meters, even though these carry a significant price premium along with the inconvenience of having to top-up the key at the local garage or newsagent, because they felt it was the only way they could manage their bills.
With a smart meter, there is no reason why you should pay more for pre-pay than by direct debit, and the technology will be far more convenient – which could mean that more people take advantage of the ability to pay-as-you-go, as so many do when it comes to travelcards and mobile phones.
Things are changing, and smart meters will bring a new era of better information, more empowered consumers and livelier competition between suppliers. This roll-out programme is an essential upgrade to the way we buy gas and electricity and will bring a better customer experience for households across Great Britain.
Sacha Deshmukh is chief executive of Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for explaining the rollout of smart meters and the benefits they can bring.