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OFFICIAL: Smart meters won't be compulsory

No offence to refuse in Blighty

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Vid So-called 'smart meters' will not be mandatory, the energy minister has confirmed. The pledge was made by Charles Hendry last Thursday, and confirmed to us by the Department of Energy and Climate Change today.

The energy minister in the previous Labour government, one Ed Miliband, introduced legislation to make smart meters mandatory for homes and small and medium-sized businesses by 2014 as part of the condition for licensing energy companies. The electronic devices must collect information every 30 minutes, and use wireless chips to phone home. The cost per household, including installation, was estimated at £340 per household, or £9bn countrywide, with customers footing the bill.

The advantages for suppliers are considerable: laying off thousands of employees, including meter readers and call centre staff, introducing per-minute variable pricing, and cutting off the energy supply remotely. It also promised a boom for the IT sector.

But Hendry told the House of Commons that:

We believe that people will benefit from having smart meters, but we will not make them obligatory. If people are concerned about the electromagnetic issues, they will not be required to have one. We have been willing to give assurances to Hon Members on that account.

A DECC spokesman told us:

This is not actually new. While smart metering brings significant benefits, it will not be an offence for householders to refuse to accept a smart meter and we have made it clear that we do not expect suppliers to seek an entry warrant simply to fit smart metering equipment.

Until the licensing conditions for energy utilities change, however, we must assume it's full-speed ahead.

"We are determined to take the scheme forward, with ministerial oversight and safeguards for consumers built in," Hendry said last month.

And it's not just the suppliers who stand to gain from the installation of smart meters. Earlier this week the Wi-Fi Alliance teamed up with the ZigBee crowd at DistribuTECH to demonstrate how marvellously their respective technologies can deliver Smart Grid applications, based on the recently published Smart Energy Profile 2.0.

ZigBee is a low-power mesh-radio technology which has been looking for a killer application for a few years now. It has had some success in industrial settings, but is a prime contender for IP-addressable smart meters.

Voluntary smart meters might not be so compelling, despite this jolly video which would surely convince the most adamant sceptic to sign up:

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