'My smart meter is spying on me' and nine other myths busted

29 October 2019

Are you keen to have a smart meter installed or do you worry about the negative stories surrounding them? Here, energy experts help to debunk some common misconceptions

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Smart meters are designed to save households money and give people more control over their energy usage. This type of gas and electricity meter works by sending your meter readings digitally to your energy supplier and bringing an end to estimated bills.

However, the £11 billion government rollout, which began in 2016, has been marred by difficulties, from meters that stop working to questions over just how much money they can save.

As a result, in September the government revealed the rollout deadline would be delayed by four years to 2024.

Here, we separate fact from fiction to bust some of the most common smart meter myths.

Myth 1: My smart meter will spy on me

Verdict: False

Smart meters only have the ability to record information about your energy use.

They cannot record personal details, and any information collected by your energy supplier cannot be shared with anyone else unless you give prior permission. Therefore, it is hard to argue that they are spying on you without your knowledge.

“Smart meters only know about your energy consumption and some may know about individual appliance consumption,” says Cesar Cerrudo, chief technical officer for cybersecurity services and research company IOActive.

“Unless you’re concerned about the energy company knowing how much electricity your washing machine is consuming, there is nothing to worry about.”

Myth 2: A smart meter could make my dog ill

Verdict: False

As the technology of smart meters is still relatively new, fears over health including that of our pets have been expressed by some.

However, Steve Storey, energy services director for OVO Energy, says there is no need to worry because there is no evidence that smart meters are linked to health issues.

Public Health England has collated various studies and assessments to measure the effect of smart-meter radio waves.

“It has concluded that the radio waves produced by smart meters don’t pose any risk to the health of people or pets and there is higher exposure to radio waves from devices used closer to the body, such as mobile phones,”

Mr Storey adds.

Myth 3: A smart meter will interfere with my wi-fi

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Verdict: False

When you have a smart meter installed, it doesn’t use your existing wi-fi connection and therefore shouldn’t impact on it.

“Smart meters work off what is effectively a mobile phone SIM card and they send their readings using this to your provider,” explains Mark Todd, spokesperson for Energyhelpline.com.

Myth 4: I won’t be able to switch providers

Verdict: False

You can still switch providers with a smart meter and that is one of best ways to save money on your energy bills - by around £250 annually if you have not switched in a while.

“The only thing that may happen is that your smart meter may go back to being a digital meter whereby you will need to give manual readings,” explains Mr Todd.

This will only happen if you have an older model, known as ‘SMETs1’, and therefore Mr Todd advises requesting a newer ‘SMETs2’ model from your supplier in order to avoid the problem.

The Data and Communications Company (DCC), which is behind the technology connecting the meters, is working to fix this and has said this problem should be eradicated by 2020.

 

'I’ve been unable to use my smart meter since it arrived'

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Tom Rodgers, 37, from Manchester, liked the idea of a smart meter and had one installed but the reality of using it was very different.

“I was excited when our smart meter arrived and wanted to get going and find out what kind of real difference to my wallet my [energy consumption] decisions would make.

“However, the signal is not strong enough for the display unit to pick up the data from our meter, despite the fact that we live in a ground-floor flat.

“I would estimate that the distance between the display monitor and the smart meter itself is around 8ft. The signal has to go through wooden floorboards, but that’s about it.

“I’ve been really disappointed with the meter, and it hasn’t changed anything for us. The box just sits in the living room doing nothing and will probably stay there gathering dust until we move.”

Myth 5: My smart meter could be hacked  

Verdict: True

Fears over hackers getting access to smart meters have been rife in the past year, with households worried that if a hacker can access their meter they could steal information from other smart devices in the home.

Mr Cerrudo says: “While smart meters could be hacked, it’s very unlikely and difficult to do so and if it did happen, they wouldn’t be able to access your personal data or other sensitive details.”

He admits that while it is a possibility, it is very unlikely, and that there are far easier ways for an attacker to hack into someone’s devices to get their private information.  

“Maybe in the future it will be more likely that this type of attack occurs, if more functionality is added to smart meters or if different technologies are used, but I don’t think we will see this with current ones,” he adds.

Myth 6: A smart meter could affect my health

Verdict: False

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There is no evidence to suggest having a smart meter could affect the health of the people living in the house.

Smart meters are covered by UK and EU product safety legislation so they will have undergone rigorous product testing before being installed.

“Smart meters use low-frequency radio emissions to communicate the information they collect, in a very similar way to other wireless electronic devices, like mobile phones, wi-fi computers, and televisions,” explains Mr Storey.  

Myth 7: My bills will go up

Verdict: False

There are many reasons why your energy bill could rise. The most common are your supplier putting up prices, or coming to the end of a fixed deal and being rolled over to a more expensive tariff. More than 10 million homes saw a rise of an average of £100 in April this year alone according to the Energyhelpline.

The only way a smart meter could push your energy bills up is if you use more energy than your supplier’s estimated readings but you would have had to pay this money eventually.   

Myth 8: Third-party firms can access my data

Verdict: False

Data from your smart meter is only sent to your energy provider to tell it how much energy you’re using so it can produce your bills. Nothing can be shared to other companies unless you have given them consent for this to happen.

Gavin O’Neill, chief executive, of technology firm Generis, says: “Personal details such as a customer’s name, address, and bank details are not stored on or transmitted by the meter.

“Your supplier can’t use any data from your smart meter for sales and marketing purposes unless you give them permission to do so.”

Myth 9: Smart meters push up prices for everyone

Verdict: True

“Sadly, this is almost certainly true,” says Mr Todd.

“The National Audit Office estimated that fitting smart meters would cost an average of £467 per household, across 28 million UK homes, or £13 billion in total. However, it has said smart meters should save bill payers an average of £18 annually.

“That means it will take nearly 26 years for the savings to outweigh the costs.

“In reality, the savings will never outweigh the costs as many smart meters are likely to cease to work after a few years and they will need to be replaced before they pay themselves back,” adds Mr Todd.  

Myth 10: I have a prepayment meter, so I can’t have a smart meter

Verdict: False

Households with a prepayment meter pay for their energy in advance, as is the case with a credit meter.

However, those with prepayment meters are still able to have smart meters fitted.

Smart meters can be changed between prepayment and credit modes and for prepayment customers, meters will display how much credit is remaining on an account. These can be topped up online, making the payment process a lot more convenient. 

'Now I always know what I’m spending'

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Since having a smart meter, Lynn James, 42, from Hertfordshire, now competes with her children to see who can save the most – if they beat her they get the difference back in pocket money.

“I’ve always paid by direct debit and once I ended up with a huge bill and I had to pay £400 towards energy I hadn’t realised I’d used.

“With my smart meter, that will never happen because I’ll always know what I’m spending, and so will my supplier.

“We keep our in-home display by the sink in the kitchen, and because I work from home, I tend to check it every time I make a cup of tea.  

“After a month of having it, I’ve already seen our energy use go down.”

No use to me!

I am quite capable of monitoring my energy consumption without a so-called "smart" meter which is, apparently, going to cost me over £400 and is of benefit only to the energy suppliers.

In reply to by David Williams (not verified)

I agree!

I agree David. The only reason is to help the energy suppliers. Think of the staff they can dump! The tv adds are pure BS. A father of a mate fits them for a living, and HE won't have one!

In reply to by David Williams (not verified)

Smart meters

No, it doesn't only benefit the energy providers, it is very useful to the Government as they can switch off any house's electricity supply at will.

No sending out people to disconnect you, no arguments about access to the house, just an instantaneous click if you dare to disagree with them in any way.

smart meters

Whilst I would agree that for most people smart meters could not lead to an increase in payments, there could be an effect for people with solar panels, particularly those who are at home all day and who consume most of the electricity they generate. At the moment an assumption is made that 50% of what your panels generate go back to the grid and you receive a payment (FIT Payment) for this from your energy supplier. A smart meter would be able to see what electricity you draw from the grid and what was solar generated. So if this showed you used 100% of what you generate there would be an argument that you should not get any money back. Whilst that may sound fairer, the published rebate system is factored in to the overall cost of ownership at the time of purchase and projected over the life of the system.

Smart meters

If the government force me to have a smart meter, I'll be fitting a faraday cage around it.

False is False

Items marked False will not be false in the future when we all have smart meters. They call them smart meters so can I read my actual meter reading from the indoor display, my smart water meter does to 3 decimal places so I Never have to go to the main meter, if they don't I don't want one as they are not a smart meter, I already use the Owl and one issued by Npower that don't do anything other than display what you are using and that's not accurate. When fitted we need a signal jamer fitting near meter to stop them altering things in the future without us knowing.

Smart Meters - Myth 1

As the meter transmits data from your home to the provider it does know who you are and where you live otherwise the data could not be associated to your account. In additon the transmissions show what power is used and when therefore providing anyone able to access the transmisison with information on when you are probably not at home or on holiday.

Spying

“Unless you’re concerned about the energy company knowing how much electricity your washing machine is consuming, there is nothing to worry about.”
===========
Apart from the smart meter knowing that you aren't at home, and probably on holiday, so burglars can rob you.
etc etc.

Myth that they aren't spying, busted.

I won’t be able to switch providers

Not a myth at the moment. True depending on your supplier

My bills will go up

True the commons looked into the cost of smart meters and compared it to the savings to the public.

The cost exceeds the savings, your bills will go up is true.

Smart meters

What a disastrous project!
Your article confirms most of my fears while claiming they are false.
Any credit card or information breach suffered is invariably without the required consent but that doesn't stop it. If the information has a use (or mis-use) someone will try and sometimes succeed in getting it, permitted or not.
And then there is the supposed saving. How much less will a kWh cost with a smart meter? Of course it won't cost less - that is an absolute lie. The only reason that can be advanced for claiming lower bills is based on the possible ability of the machine to nag YOU into using less energy. YOU might possibly reduce your consumption but the meter can only report what you use, not control it.
Finally, the idiocy of the scheme is stated in the article -
"“The National Audit Office estimated that fitting smart meters would cost an average of £467 per household, across 28 million UK homes, or £13 billion in total. However, it has said smart meters should save bill payers an average of £18 annually.

“That means it will take nearly 26 years for the savings to outweigh the costs.
“In reality, the savings will never outweigh the costs as many smart meters are likely to cease to work after a few years and they will need to be replaced before they pay themselves back,” adds Mr Todd.
Actually, it's worse than that. Have you ever heard about compound interest? A claimed saving of £18 p.a. is only 3.85% of the £467 cost. What return on investment do the promoters expect, never mind repaying the capital. No commercial enterprise would consider such a scheme.

Oh, and these machines use "low frequency" radio waves. Really!
Radio 4 on long wave (Droitwich) is low frequency. My wifi uses ~2.4GHz and most recent radio based equipment is similar or higher. Ok that's low relative to X-rays and gamma rays but not relative to typical radio communications.

The roll-out should be scrapped (together with HST) and the savings put to better use.

Uses my electricity for plug which I pay for

I have to have my smart meter plugged in all the time which uses my electricity for which I pay for. Why dont I get a rebate on this on my bill?

Smart meters and spying

If you allow your smart meter to upload data on an hourly basis it is theoretically possible for someone to work out when you're not at home.

Should the data fall into the wrong hands therefore there is a risk. Energy companies usually give you the option of uploading your consumption daily instead which is a better option if you are concerned about security.

Smart meter

Many rumours are spreading regarding the Smart Meter,! Lots of things hidden and not revealing the facts, first of all why they put the price up when the smart meter installed, the provider saved lots of money sending their staff to check quarterly to reading normal meter. They should be reduced this.

Smart meters do spy on you

A smart meter knows to the split-second when you are using power and therefore when you are at home or not at home, so it is spying on you, being well aware f your presence at home. Also, different devices use power differently: a TV uses voltage and current equally while a washing machine uses current out of phase to the voltage - technically it is known as the 'power factor' - but in the UK we aren't charged any differently on voltage or current. In France electricity is sold like a 'pay-as-you-go' mobile package: when you have used up all your current allowance - even though you still have plenty of voltage allowance left - you have to buy a top-up. So what could be better for power companies than a meter than can measure not only the exact amount of power you use, but also can see the exact nature and angle of the power factor? That way, they can precisely squeeze out as much money from customers as they can.

Smart meters do spy on you

Smart meters know exactly when power is being used in the home down to the last second, so basically they know if you are at home or not – spying on you surely?
Different device use electricity differently: light bulbs use voltage and current in equal amounts, but washing machines use current out of phase with the voltage – technically known as the ‘power factor’.
In the UK we are just charged for the combined power we use, but in France electricity is sold like pay-as-you-go mobile packages and when you have used up your allocation of current, even though there may be plenty of voltage left, you have to buy another package of power.
So if we were to have a system of meters that not only measured when power was being used, but also were able to measure how the power was used and consumers were then charged depending how the power was used specifically, who would that benefit most?

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