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Explainer: What would mandatory smart metering mean for you?

The new energy metering system is intended to be rolled out in 2018 but public consultation ends this month.

FROM 2018, THE rollout of electricity and gas smart meters is scheduled to commence.

Planning for this programme began back in 2007 and after trials and cost-benefit analyses, the public consultation period began last month. This public consultation is due to end on 22 January, leaving people less than a week to voice their opinions and concerns about proposals if they haven’t already.

So here’s what you need to know in order to do so:

What is a smart meter?

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) describes them as the “next generation of energy meter”. They will replace the traditional gas and electricity meters you have in your homes at the moment.

Source: Tom Raftery/Wikimedia Commons

They work by communicating directly with your energy provider to give readings of energy usage. This means there will be no need to use estimates anymore and no need for any energy provider employees to visit your home to read the meter.

The meters also enable consumers to see how much energy they are using each day.

How much will installation cost me?

A spokesperson for the CER told TheJournal.ie that the cost of smart meters, building the infrastructure and servicing remaining mechanical meters would be recouped through existing network charges.

“This is not a change to existing policy as the cost of existing mechanical meters, including meter reading, is currently recovered through this charge.”

This means there will be no upfront charge for the new meters, rather the cost will be recovered over the lifetime of the meter.

What are the benefits?

According to the CER, the main benefit will be cost saving for consumers.

The ability for ESB Networks to collect meter information and communicate with meters remotely will enable Suppliers to provide a better standard of service, and a wider choice of services. There will also be much more information readily available for consumers to help them make usage and tariff choices, and potentially save money.

Smart metering would mean companies could offer a range of tariffs for energy use during specific hours of the day, tailored to different households depending on their routines.

Source: light switch image via Shutterstock

Pilot studies suggested the average savings would be 2.5% or around €50 per year per home.

The commission also said these meters will promote greater energy efficiency as people will be able to see how much they are using and when.

What are the criticisms and concerns?

On the subject of cost, The Times reported two years ago that a cost-benefit analysis indicated households would achieve savings of just €16.20 a year on their electricity bill and €18.52 on gas bills.

It also reported that the project was estimated to result in the net loss of €54 million.

A CER spokesperson said a further cost-benefit analysis is to be carried out this year before any final decisions are made.

Concerns have been expressed about what these meters, and the information they collect, will mean in term of data protection.

In 2010, The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned that smart meters would be used to monitor more than energy consumption unless safeguards are introduced.

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The watchdog warned that smart metering would enable the tracking of what households do within the privacy of their own homes, whether they are away on holiday or at work, if someone uses a specific medical device or a baby monitor, or how they spend their free time”

“These patterns can be useful for analysing our energy use for energy conservation but, together with data from other sources, the potential for extensive data mining is very significant,” said Giovanni Buttarelli, assistant director of the EDPS.

“Profiles can be used for many other purposes, including marketing, advertising and price discrimination by third parties.”

In response to a query, the CER said it has been working with the industry and with Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner to ensure the metering system follows best international practice.

An interim impact assessment is currently being updated to identify any potential privacy concerns for consumers, and to put in place measures to mitigate risks.

A key principle of the evolving data protection policy is consumers’ right to consent to the use of their own data. The CER considers this allows flexibility and choice for consumers if they want to share their data or not. It is also in keeping with the Data Protection Commission recommendations and best practice in Europe.

What if I don’t want one?

The CER’s proposal document states that customers at premises where the installation and operation of smart meters is feasible but where the energy providers have not been granted access, “may be subject to an additional surcharge”.

Any surcharge would be designed to reflect the additional costs being incurred, such that the generality of customers are not disadvantaged – and would be subject to an appropriate degree of regulatory oversight.

A spokesperson for the regulator stressed that no final decision on the implementation of smart metering has been made.

How can I let the energy regulator know what I think of the plan?

You can read the full proposal document here and send your response to smartmetering@cer.ie before 22 January.

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