SavvyWoman.co.uk, the UK’s leading money website for women, has found that customers are being charged to get their gas or electricity meter checked. Depending on their provider, customers who think their meter is faulty could be paying a hefty price to get it checked out. SavvyWoman.co.uk reported that the highest fee for a meter check is £140.
SavvyWoman.co.uk contacted eight of the UK’s top energy firms and found that some charge for meter testing upfront and will only refund the cost if the meter is faulty, others don’t charge for one of their engineers to test a meter, but do charge if the meter needs to be tested by an independent expert and isn’t faulty and some don’t charge anything if a meter needs to be tested. None of the major energy companies have any special rates or arrangements for vulnerable customers or those on a low income.
Sarah Pennells, founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, said: “Energy companies have a duty to make sure people only pay for energy they are using. If someone is worried that their meter is faulty, they shouldn’t be put off contacting the company because of the cost of getting it tested.”
“Energy companies should not be profiting from customers who want to check that their meter is accurate. I would like to see the regulator, Ofgem, set a maximum level for meter testing charges and to force companies to make it clear that customers will only pay this charge if in-house meter testing doesn’t resolve the issue. At the moment this isn’t always made clear when a customer rings the call centre.”
The highest charges were from First Utility, which charges £130 for an electricity meter and £111 for a gas meter (£241 combined) and OVO, which charges £89.25 for an electricity meter and £138.32 for testing a gas meter (£227.57 combined), if they are tested and found not to be faulty.
- British Gas: no charge for testing a potentially faulty meter. However, if you were to ask for an accuracy test because you think your meter(s) aren’t giving the correct reading, but it turns out that the meter is working correctly, you would be asked to pay a fee of, typically, between £63 and £75. This would be added to your bill.
- EDF Energy: no charge for testing a potentially faulty meter.
- E-on:no charge for tests carried out by E-on but a £93 charge per meter if it’s sent away for testing by an independent expert. The £93 charge is refunded if the meter is found to be faulty. These payments could be ‘spread across time’.
- First Utility: the vast majority of queries related to usage and meter reads can be resolved via a conversation and a photograph of the meter showing the reads. There is no charge for an engineer’s visit to check a meter if there is a fault and replacement is free. If the meter is found not to be faulty, there is a charge of £130 for an electricity meter and £111 for a gas meter.
- Ovo: customers must pay for a meter accuracy test (MAT) upfront, but Ovo will let you spread the cost if you ask for this (Ovo’s tariffs ask customers to pay for energy in advance and for their account to remain in credit, so it’s in line with their tariff). The cost for testing an electricity meter is £89.25 and the cost for testing a gas meter is £138.32. If the meter is faulty, you’ll get a refund in full and a new meter free of charge.
- nPower: No charge for checking a potentially faulty meter.
- Scottish Power: If you wanted your meter checked and it was found not to be faulty, there would be a charge of £50 for an electricity meter and £120 for a gas meter. This cost would be added to your bill.
- SSE: the first test is free but if you were to ask for a second test, it would cost £31.80 per meter, which would be added to your bill. There is no refund if the meter turns out to be faulty.
Sarah Pennells, founder of SavvyWoman.co.uk, is also calling on Ofgem to force energy suppliers to bring in special rates for vulnerable customers. She said: “I cannot believe that the prospect of paying an upfront charge of £100 or more won’t put some vulnerable customers off getting their meter tested. There should be a reduced rate for pensioners and other low income customers who receive certain benefits.”
Maria Wardrobe, from National Energy Action, said: “We agree there should be a cap on what energy firms charge for meter tests, such charges could pose a major deterrent to customers requesting a check, particularly those who are already struggling to pay their bills. Hopefully with the roll-out of smart meters customers will better understand their energy usage and suppliers should be able to recognise abnormal usage patterns that could suggest there is a fault with the meter.”
Sarah Pennells has passed the research onto Ofgem. A spokesperson from Ofgem said: “Ofgem’s rules state that suppliers must take into account a customer’s ability to pay and whether it would be fair to impose charges and the timing of refunds due to a customer.”
What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?
It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?
The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.
A Strategy, Instead of a Plan
But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.
The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.
A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth
But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.
Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push
While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.
The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.
But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.
This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.
Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.
In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.
It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.
How Much Energy Does Bitcoin Use, Really?
Many headlines have capitalized on the rapid rise of Bitcoin’s value. However, there’s a darker side of things that may entirely escape people’s awareness — the vast energy usage associated with Bitcoin mining. The practice involves adding information about transactions to a publicly accessible record called the blockchain.
Bitcoin miners increase the amounts of the cryptocurrency they own by being involved in mining. That means there is a built-in incentive to start mining and keep doing it. The energy consumption associated with mining may not be as visible as it is in traditional types of mining because everything happens in the digital realm — however, it’s exceptionally high, which is a cause of concern to many individuals in the know.
The Rise in Value Brings About Higher Energy Consumption
It’s not hard to find impressive headlines and news stories about how the value of Bitcoin has soared over the last few months. Many people even suspect they’ll soon witness the inevitable burst of a “Bitcoin bubble.” Miners are taking advantage of the current boom, though, which involves depending on power-sapping computers and related equipment.
In the early days of Bitcoin, it was possible to mine on basic home computer setups. Now, the most dedicated miners invest in the best computers around. In some cases, that means the machines they use are quite energy efficient, which is a good thing. However, the purchase of equipment that uses electricity well isn’t enough to make a significant dent in the overall Bitcoin energy usage.
The Approximate Energy Usage Statistics Vary
When you start doing in-depth research about just how much energy consumption Bitcoin demands, be prepared to come across many different figures. Although people are doing diligent research, they still can’t reach an agreement. For example, according to statistics from the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, the annual energy usage is just under 32 terawatt hours.
That’s the estimate for per-year energy use of Serbia and more than 150 other countries. However, analysts find it impossible to reach a unified conclusion about the per-transaction energy consumption for Bitcoins.
Figures from Digiconomist estimate one Bitcoin transaction takes 255 kilowatt-hours of power — or enough to power an American household for more than eight days. Marc Bevand, another analyst, disagrees with that figure, though his remarks on the matter are not as specific. He discusses how many of the highly publicized statistics fail to account for the technological innovations that occur as equipment improves.
He gives the example of an S9, which is a standard piece of Bitcoin equipment, claiming 16% of the S9’s revenues went towards electricity costs. If that figure is more accurate, it would mean each Bitcoin transaction uses enough power to keep an American residence going for just under four days.
Bitcoin Miners May Be Able to Branch Out From Cryptocurrency
Some Bitcoin miners are attracted to their trade for more reasons than just the lucrative and ballooning prices of the coins. People from a wide variety of industries, from banking to insurance, are looking at uses for blockchain technology. In the insurance sector, fraud costs $40 billion per year, but the verification method that miners understand and work with dramatically reduces fraud and makes blockchain appealing to insurance professionals.
Also, banks are increasingly researching Blockchain as a supplement to their current methods. As the prominence in the market goes up, the allure of being a Bitcoin miner does, too.
Also, going back to Bitcoin specifically, as the value of each coin goes up, people become more motivated than ever to invest in better technologies that help them remain profitable for as long as possible. When all these factors combine, it’s not hard to understand why energy consumption rises.
Do Banks Use More Energy Than Bitcoins?
Some analysts argue that even if the energy demanded by Bitcoins is exceptionally high, it’s still not at the level of energy used by banks. To keep things in perspective, it’s important to realize that the banking industry keeps its total energy usage figures under wraps, leaving people to do lots of speculating.
One analyst determined there are approximately 30,000 banks in the world, and each one has ATM networks, offices and other components that require electricity. When adding all the relevant factors together, the final figure this individual came up with is that banks use about 100 terawatts of power per year, less than the earlier-cited figure related to Bitcoins.
However, people have given opinions that the amount is too conservative. It does not include the energy used by bank employees, such as when employees drive to their offices or fly to meet clients. It bears mentioning, though, that the Bitcoin figures mentioned in this piece probably don’t either.
There are countless statistics about Bitcoin energy usage, and most of them are not promising. But instead of reading a few of them and immediately feeling shocked, it’s important for people to take a broad look at the findings and reach their own intelligent conclusions based on the collective research.
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